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Hierarchy in Chinese and Vietnamese


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Hierarchy in Chinese and Vietnamese

While in Chinese they invented so many words for the family members (I think there may be more than 5 terms in Chinese which can be translated as "uncle" only), there's only two "you" in Chinese: 你 and 您. There're some other words for "you" but they're not used in daily conversation anymore (e.g. 爾, 汝)

Let's have a look in Vietnamese, it's always fascinating to see how a Vietnamese can manage a conversation with so many words of "you" and "I" (anh, chỉ, em, cháu, con, bà, ông, bác, bạn/tôi, chú, etc...), but while the family value is something taken so important in Vietnamese, they don't make any distinction between niece/nephew and grandchild (both are "cháu) and I've heard that "ông bà nội" means both "grandparents" and "great-grandparents".

Just wondering, why?

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Why? That's a huge sociological/historical question!

For the moment, just say it's Vietnamese usage (so be it), before doing some research for the "why".

Just a few remarks:

nội (nei4 内) means "from the father's side" and ngoại (wai4 外)from the mother's side".

"Ông bà nội" means both "grandparents from the father's side"

Chị is the right spelling for "elder sister"

In the North, the eldest child in a family is anh/chị cả, while in the South it's anh/chị hai (starts with no 2)

One tip to remember the way to say "I" or "you": it's often the same word, designating the rank in the family hierarchy (or assimilated):

cháu = I, means "I , (as) your nephew/niece" or "I , (as) your grandson/grand daughter"

cháu = you , means "you , (as) my nephew/niece" or "you , (as) my grandson/grand daughter"

The word "mình" can be tricky, because sometimes, it means "you" (between close friends, or between a husband and a wife ) , sometimes it means "I"...

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Thanks for correcting my spelling, I really have some problem with the "chi." as this is at least the second time that I was corrected. :cry:

Yes, mi`nh is really tricky, indeed for me I think most "YOU" and "I" are very tricky. I talked to an "uncle" and referred to myself as "to^i" two months ago, he corrected me and said I should call myself "em" in this case. This was the first time I knew em/anh, etc, could be used to refer to "I"!

Never trust those textbook, I've finished the Teach Yourself Vietnamese, they mentioned nothing about it!

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I am amazed that Vietnamese have so many terms for "you".

In Japanese and Korean, they don't even have a general "you". Anata and 당신 are more reserved for the "intimate you" like girl friend and wife.

My teacher (He is an American that has a stayed a long time in Korea) even told me that he saw two Korean guys fighting because one has used the wrong "you".

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Japanese doesn't have personal pronouns, but they have terms they use to substitute.

Japanese:

Formal or between colleagues:

あなた 貴方、 お宅、貴男、 貴女.

Subordinate or close friends:

君、貴様、お前、手前、てめえ、おのれ、おぬし

Only written, never spoken conversationally:

貴君、貴兄、貴下、貴殿、貴台、尊台、尊堂、尊兄、大兄、足下

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In Japan, people don't just fight if they use the wrong "you", a few years ago a man killed his younger colleague because he insisted to call him "kimi" (君).

Indeed I think the "YOU" in Japanese can be even more difficult to use than Vietnamese.

Vietnamese "YOU" did put me into some confusion (but seemingly totally okay for Vietnamese) but no matter what mistakes I have made, Vietnamese are

very tolerant of it, and it can never be a very big problem if you call an older lady as "chị" (sister) even though you should call her "cô" (aunt, same as your

mother's age).

But Japanese is really tricky. Anata is used by wife to call her husband (not the vice versa), but in other cases, it's okay to use Anata (貴方) for the first

encounter for man or woman. If you meet a person for the second time, however, it's not okay to call her/him "anata" again because it keeps you a distance

from the subject, and Japanese can be quite sensitive about this.

So the tricky point is, since there's no intermediate term between the distant "anata" and the intimate "kimi", you can't call somebody "YOU" in most cases,

you have to call his/her name, "鈴木さん" (Suzuki-san).

I've asked my Japanese friend many times, what if I was introduced to somebody, I forgot his name, I met him for the second time, and should I still call him

"anata"? My Japanese thought for a long time before giving me the best answer. Get yourself familiar with all the Japanese surnames before you make

friends with Japanese! Indeed I think Japanese have already developed a habit of remembering names. I met a Japanese in Lhasa and talked for only 10

minutes, the next morning he left, I forgot almost all traces of him, I met him again after 12 months in Pakistan, he called my name when he saw me! It was

quite an embarrasing moment for me because I forgot his face too.

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Oh yes, I forgot the communist abolished the hierarchy system in China already... so everybody is gay... oh I mean they're Tongzhi.

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so many words of "you" and "I" (anh, chỉ, em, cháu, con, bà, ông, bác, bạn/tôi,

chú, etc...)

In fact, most of them are not pronouns for "I", "you", "he/she", they are nouns used as pronouns and their translations depend on the situation (who the speaker is, and whom he addresses)

It's the same in Chinese. Bo2 伯 ( Hán Việt: bá ) is bác in Vietnamese when it designates one's father's elder brother (or assimilated). In Chinese, Bo2bo 伯伯 may be translated as "I", "you", "he" depending on the context.

The only real pronouns for I are :

"Tôi" (commonly used).Tao is very rude if not used between very close friends. Parents could use "tao" when speaking (angrily) to their children, as in older days a superior to his subordinates. "Tớ" could also be used among close friends.

"Mày" is used as "you",and "Nó" or "Y" are used as he/she in the same context as "Tao" is used for "I".

In conclusion: except for "tôi" (rather formal), the other "real" pronouns should not be used, except before a fight...

if you call an older lady as "chị" (sister) even though you should call her

"cô" (aunt, same as your mother's age).

Not so easy... Cô (as in Chinese gu1 姑) is "aunt" but "a little" younger than your mother, but if you address an auntie "a little" older than your mother, you should use "bác" too. But because you're already an adult, in both cases, you could use "chị" if age difference is not too important.

For a girl about the same age as you, using "cô" means she's a little younger than you, and "chị" implies the reverse. You could be corrected for it...

It also depends on the word you use for "I": if it's "tôi", it's rather formal; if it's "anh" for "I" then "you" is "em" (not even "cô") , if it's "em" for "I" then "you" is "chị" : relationship is much closer in these two cases, like using 妹妹 or 姐姐 in Chinese

Another point :

When you hear " chỉ " meaning "she" (often heard in the South), it's in fact the contraction of " chị ấy " , as "ổng" is for "ông ấy" ("he")

Vietnamese is even less democratic than Chinese in the use of pronouns (no "neutral" - feudalistically speaking - pronouns as 我 or 你 ! )

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Nnt:

Thanks for your extensive explanation, but it's indeed still very confusing for me, haha. :wink:

I think one amazing thing to see in Vietnam, is many old ladies would rather be called with an older term (cô: aunt) than a younger one (ch?: sister). This is definitely very different from Hong Kong. I think if you meet a 55-year-old lady and call her "ch?" (阿姐) , she will be quite happy and probably won't ask you to call her "aunt" (阿嬸) instead.

And any more explanation on "cậu"? I am reading Ðôrêmon and people use this quite often. My friend told me it's "君" in Chinese, so is it the same as "you" too?

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in Vietnam, is many old ladies would rather be called with an older term (cô: aunt)

Not really an older term: it implies the auntie is younger than your mother...

And for a girl about the same age as you, means "cô em"... younger than you :wink: .

Cậu 舅 in Vietnamese/Nôm has the same meaning as in Hán Việt 舅 cữu (pinyin jiu4): a younger brother of your mother.

Another word for "you" or "I" .

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But can I use Cậu 舅 for a younger man?

I've just watched the Vietnamese version (dubbed by one woman only...) of Không Quên (忘不了), and it seemed that I heard 秦沛 (about 60 years old) calling Cồ Thiên Lạc (古天樂, about 30 y/o) as "Cậu", or something like this? :roll:

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Haha, it seems that this thread is a discussion for Vietnamese only, if I had known this I would have put this in the other board... :D

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I heard 秦沛 (about 60 years old) calling Cồ Thiên Lạc (古天樂, about 30 y/o) as "Cậu"

Not surprising. There is one more subtlety in Vietnamese.

Suppose you have a younger sister and a younger brother: you'd call them both "em". But once you've got a child, everyone gets promoted, including strangers. Your younger sister would become "cô" (chinese equivalent: cô cô 姑姑 ), because she has become the auntie for your child, and your younger brother would get promoted to the rank of "chú" (chinese equivalent thúc thúc 叔叔)... of your child. If your wife has a younger brother, he would become "cậu" (cữu cữu 舅舅) for the child.

This is to train everyone to get used to his new rank, and to train the children to correctly address their relatives.

Tần Bái 秦沛 (60) calling Cổ Thiên Lạc (古天樂) (30) "cậu" just means : you can be considered as my younger brother, so my children could call you "cậu", I call you "cậu" of my children...

(I think there are enough Chinese words to be kept in this section...)

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Thanks for your explanation NNT.

And what if I have a friend, she's younger than me by 2 years only, and she's a mother of a son already (and I haven't yet married), then what should I call my young friend? Should I call her "co^" or "chi." or just "em". Or what's the intonation implied if I called her "em"? Would it sound very impolite?

I asked this because once I called her "em", and everyone was so surprised (and of course, they laughed) while my friend looked a little bit embarrased.

Okay, I intend to compare these terms in Vietnamese and Chinese, so let me say something about Chinese too.

When I went to Beijing, I was so surprised that everybody called me "叔叔" (uncle) even though I was only 20 years old! It caused some embarrassment amongst the girls because the kids in Beijing called them "阿姨" (aunt), in Hong Kong a kid can only call a 20-year-old girl as "姐姐" (sister).

(PS: Just a minor correction of my previous post, it was actually 劉青雲, not 古天樂. :)

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And it may be the same as Chinese that, a wife sometimes calls her husband as "father" (爸爸) and the husband call his wife as "媽媽", they are saying the "father of our son".

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I have a friend, she's younger than me by 2 years only, and she's a mother of a son already, then what should I call my young friend? Should I call her "co^" or "chi." or just "em". Or what's the intonation implied if I called her "em"?

"em" in this case (married girl) means you're her husband :mrgreen: ... Because in such case anh/em is the way a husband and a wife (or lovers...) call each other.

"Chị" should not be used because she is younger than you.

"cô" is better and implies a certain distance, or just call her by her name, as you're friends, anh you use "tôi" as "I" (remember: "you/I" come in pairs in Vietnamese). That would be safer.

This is clearly a case the difficulties are not in the words (no bizarre character to memorize) nor in the grammar, but in social conventions.

There is a saying in Vietnamese: "Tiên học lễ, hậu học văn" 「先學禮後學文」

Everything is easy once you know that!

Vietnamese is as burdensome as Japanese in this matter!

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DavidHan

nnt uncle, can you explain me this sentence.

There is a saying in Vietnamese: "Tiên học lễ, hậu học văn" 「先學禮後學文」

Everything is easy once you know that!

Did you mean "Tiên học lễ, hậu học văn" is Everything is easy once you know that! in English??? Am I right if I think that sentence means: First, you must learn politeness before you learn knowledge???

Not sure not sure.........

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