February 28, 2008

Overheard in elevator

I particularly like overhearing conversations in Chinese where the speakers misunderstand each other. When I speak in Chinese, misunderstandings happen all the time, so hearing other people's misunderstandings is comforting in that you realize a certain amount if it is inevitable, and not all of it is due to your foreignness.

Here's a conversation between two fortyish men in an elevator:

A: ...他們也qie1工--

B: [Interrupting] 什麼叫做qie1工?

A: 人員不夠.

B: 噢, 缺工.

A: ...他們也qie1電.

B: [Quietly, as if to himself] 缺電.


A: ...they are shot on workers--

B: What does "shot on workers" mean?

A: They don't have enough employees.

B. Oh, short on workers.

A: ...and they are shot on electricity.

B: [Quietly, as if to himself] Short on electricity.

I'm not sure why one of the men had a problem with pronunciation of one syllable. His pronunciation was otherwise fine. The mispronunciation was not what I found amusing. Rather, it was the way that the other man repeated the correct pronunciation. There was no hint that he was correcting the pronunciation, he just repeated the word quietly with the correct pronunciation, as if for his own benefit.

I wish half of the population could respond so gracefully to my mispronunciations. Two of the most common responses I get are: (1) no response, I only later realize the mistake (2) (From the very few who know me well enough) a burst of laughter, sometime to be followed by the cell phone being taken out and the explanation: Hold on, I've got to call my friend to tell her about this one.

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