Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Fame Ketover of Lenguin.com, and this is Mandarin Chinese.

But who are you? Well, that's what we're going to found out today in today's lesson on questions and answers about names.

In the following conversation an American in Taiwan by the name of Daniel King is asked who he is and responds with his adopted Chinese name Wang Danian. Wang is a translation of King. Danian is a phonetic approximation of Daniel. For each line of the exchange you'll hear the English once, and then the Chinese twice.

Listen:

Who are you
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Wang Danian
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

The word that makes the first line a question, is the word that means "who".
shéi
shéi
shéi

Listen to the conversation again and try to spot the word for "who" ("shéi").
Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Wang Danian.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

In the English sentence "who are you?" the question word "who" comes first, but in the Chinese sentence "shéi" comes last.

Listen again.
Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Wang Danian.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

If we translate the Chinese question word for word it's more like, "You are who?"

Here's the word for you.


Listen for "you", in Chinese: "nǐ".
Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Wang Danian.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

Here's the word for "I":


Listen for "I" ("wǒ") in the answer.
Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Wang Danian.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

We have now looked at each word in this exchange except for the "are" in "Who are you?" and "am" in "I am Wang Danian". Chinese does not distinguish between "am" and "are".

Listen to "am" or "are".
shi
shi
shi

Listen for "am" and "are" both "shi" in the conversation.
Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Wang Danian.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

You may have noticed that "shi" is weakened in the sentences to a toneless SH sound.

Listen.
Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

This weakening of "shi" is rather like the weakening of "am" and "are" in the English contractions "I'm" and "you're". Later you'll find that "shi" is not weakened when it is emphasized or in slow deliberate speech. Like when you'd say "I am" or "you are" in English. You just heard the conversation we've been working on live, without the English and without repetition. Now listen to a new exchange live.

Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.

What's going on? Listen again.
Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.

This time Mr. King is finding out the woman's name. Here's how it goes.

Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

I'm Hu Meiling.
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.

Now listen to both of the exchanges we've had between Mr. King and Miss Hu live.

Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.

Again.

Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Nǐ shi shéi?
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.

Up to this point Mr. King and Miss Hu have been discussing each other and themselves using "Nǐ" for "you" and "Wǒ" for "I". Now listen to them discuss a third person, Mr. Ma Mingli.

Who is he?
Tā shi shéi?
Tā shi shéi?

He's Ma Mingli.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.

Did you pick up the word for "he"? Here it is.


Listen for "Tā" meaning "he" in the conversation.

Who is he?
Tā shi shéi?
Tā shi shéi?

He's Ma Mingli.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.

We said that "shi" could be translated either as "am" or "are". Here after "he" it translates as "is". Chinese has the same form of the verb for the first, second, and third person. "I am", "you are", and "he is" are simply: "Wǒ shi", "nǐ shi", and "tā shi". Listen for this as Miss Hu runs through our cast of characters for Mr. King. And notice that "shi" is in its weakened and toneless form.

I'm Hu Meiling.
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.

You're Wang Danian.
Nǐ shi Wáng Dànián.
Nǐ shi Wáng Dànián.

He's Ma Mingli.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.

Since "shi" translates as "am", "are", or "is", it'll be simpler just to identify it as the verb "to be" Later we'll find even more reasons for this simplification, since shi also translates as "was", as "were", and even as "will be". This is typical of Chinese verbs. A single form does all the work. When you study a European language you have to learn the variety of forms and endings. When you study Chinese you don't. You only have to learn one form for each verb.

Listen to Miss Hu run through the cast again live.
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng.
Nǐ shi Wáng Dànián.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.

Now listen to Mr. King do the same.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Nǐ shi Hú Měilíng.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.

So far we've had, "I", "you", and "he", but we haven't had "she". Listen carefully as Mr. King identifies Mr. Ma and Miss Hu for us.

He's Ma Mingli.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.

She's Hu Meiling.
Tā shi Hú Měilíng.
Tā shi Hú Měilíng.

Notice that both the "he" and "she" are "Tā". This is another distinction that Chinese gets along without.

Listen again live:
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.
Tā shi Hú Měilíng.

Again.

Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.
Tā shi Hú Měilíng.

Chinese uses different written characters for "he" and "she", but both are pronounced "Tā". Essentially the Chinese word "Tā" makes no more distinction as to gender than the English expression "that person".

Asking directly who are you is considered somewhat blunt in China. The customary approach in China is to ask you for your surname. Listen to Miss Hu ask Mr. King for his surname.

What's your surname?
Nǐ xìng shénme?
Nǐ xìng shénme?

My surname's King.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.

There are two new words in this exchange. Let's take them up one at a time.

Here's the word for "what".
shénme
shénme
shénme

Listen for "what" ("shénme")
What's your surname?
Nǐ xìng shénme?
Nǐ xìng shénme?

My surname is King.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.

Notice that "what" ("shénme"), comes at the end of the question as does "who" ("shéi"). Let's compare questions with "who" and "what".

Who are you?
Nǐ shi shéi?
Nǐ shi shéi?

What's your surname?
Nǐ xìng shénme?
Nǐ xìng shénme?

The other new word, "xìng", may be translated "to be surnamed".

Listen.
xìng
xìng
xìng

Listen to "xìng" ("to be surnamed").

What's your surname?
Nǐ xìng shénme?
Nǐ xìng shénme?

My surname's King.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.

Since both are verbs, "xìng" works in the sentence just like "shi", despite the fact that we translate them with quite different English constructions. For example, "my surname is" versus "I am". If we translate word for word,
we can see how the Chinese is actually put together, with "xìng" functioning like "shi".

You are surnamed what?
Nǐ xìng shénme?
Nǐ xìng shénme?

I am surnamed Wang.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.

Here's another example.

He is surnamed what?
Tā xìng shénme?
Tā xìng shénme?

He is surnamed Ma.
Tā xìng Mǎ.
Tā xìng Mǎ.

Compare the answers, "I am Wang Danian", and "My surname's Wang".

I am Wang Danian
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián.

I am surnamed Wang.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.
Wǒ xìng Wáng.

That's the end of this lesson. Remember to head over to Lenguin.com to do the exercises. That's Lenguin as in Lenguin the Penguin. Thanks for watching!

I want to thank all of our subscribers and supporters for their gracious help in making these courses possible. In future lessons this is where I'll be giving shout-outs to our Patreon supporters. Be sure to visit our Patreon page to see all the goodies we're offering.

Until next time, stay cool.

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