Thursday, June 28, 2007


Part three of the Sichuanhua Primer will be up next week. Even though internet strangers don't seem to care much for sichunhua (so far I've had about three downloads of the files I put up), that's pretty much what I expected, and so I'm going to continue with the series.

Also, let me just apologize for the fact that the first few portions of this will be incredibly boring. Until I start posting dialogs I will not at all be interested in making this stuff interesting or fun--there's a lot of boring rules that have to be explained first, and I'm not one for pretending that boring rules can be made interesting. I always find that language books that simply list rules of the language are, if a little bland, at least far more useful than books that try to jazz up the rules and make them cool or fun. My goal with this part of the primer is really to make it as useful as possible for those few individuals interested in learning this dialect.

Also, in other news, I'm currently giving myself a crash course in html (it's all changed a lot since I made my last web page, sometime in high school), and so I will hopefully have a flashy new real web site put up at the end of the summer.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*--part 1: tones

Sichuanhua Primer


sǐcuáhuǎ rǔmen*

from longleggedfly

by kmm

Part 1 Tones


There are some general rules that can be followed in the conversion of tones from putonghua to sichuanhua, although they are not always consistent. After I publish the first few parts of the primer, I will try to write up a list of exceptions to these rules and add them as an appendix; however, I think the best strategy is just to learn them as best you can, and then make a mental note whenever you hear an exception in actual speech. If you’re not in an area where you’re listening to sichuanhua on a daily basis, then I am both surprised and impressed that you’re reading this, and I’m sorry I can’t provide you with a list of exceptions at present.

Here are the rules for converting Mandarin tones into sichuanhua.

Rule #1: First tone becomes second tone.

Rule #2: Second tone becomes the special Sichuan tone

Rule #3: Third tone becomes fourth tone.

Rule #4: Fourth tone becomes third tone.

Note: The fluctuation in pitch of the putongua third tone is, in sichuanhua, often not as extreme.

The first tone in Mandarin pops up sometimes in sichuanhua. In the appendix I note as many instances as I am aware of.

Again, these rules are not always applicable. My guess is that about 85% of tones can be converted this way.


No doubt if you’ve already studied the tones in mandarin the idea of needing to pick up a new one is rather discouraging, and rightly so. Tones are a pain in the ass, and this one is not distinguished for its ease in replicating.

As noted in the introduction, this tone will be designated by an asterisk placed after the syllable.

What does the special Sichuan tone sound like? The tone that it is most closely resembles to is the fourth tone in Mandarin, as it is a falling tone; however the pitch begins at a much lower level than the Mandarin fourth tone.

Here is a short sound file of the pronunciation of , Mandarin “má” and sichuanhua, “ma*”


Here is a sound file for the Sichuan tone on the word , Mandarin tóng, sichunahua tong*.



Following is a table converting putongua pinyin into my own not-so-cleverly designed sichuanhua pinyin.

There is a sound file attached detailing the differences in tones in putonghua and sichuanhua. I highly recommended you download and listen to begin catching on to the differences.

Figure 1




AUDIO (Mandarin and sichuanhua)

AUDIO (sichuanhua)


As in Mandarin, when you have two syllable with falling/rising tones in a row, the first syllable of the combo will take on a rising tone.

For example, two fourth tone words in Mandarin will be pronounced as “rènshì;” but in sichuanhua, these fourth tone words become third tones, and so will be converted into third tones, like this: “rěnshǐ.”

However, in actual speech the first third tone in a third tone pair will change to a second tone, meaning that in sichuanhua the word should be pronounced as “rénshǐ.”

(Well, actually, to be more accurate, it should be pronounced as “zrénsǐ,” but I won’t get into consonant changes until the next installment of the primer).

This isn’t confusing at all, is it? Don’t worry, it only gets easier.


audio hosting

I'm about to post the second part of the Sichuanhua Primer and I thought I'd make a few quick notes. The first is that I'm hosting files at this site, because as far as I can tell blogger does not provide much in the way of file hosting.

Secondly, I'm recording these files on my cranky old laptop, with a cheap Chinese microphone. Please to not expect audio of the highest quality--as I become more experienced, and get some better equipment, most problems should hopefully be fixed.

Finally, at the beginning all the files will be .wav files, because most of them don't last much longer than three seconds and I don't see much point compressing a file that's already quite small. Once I post some bigger files I will begin converting them into mp3s.


Monday, June 18, 2007


The intro to the Sichuanhua Primer is up and ready for dissection for those interested in helping with the project. I will post Part 1--Tones as soon as I find a good site for hosting audio files.

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sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*


sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*

from longleggedfly

by kmm

v. 1.0


Sichuanhua, also known as Sichuanese, comprises the major Mandarin dialect group of Southwestern China, spreading from Sichuan east to Chongqing, south-east to Guizhou, and south to Yunnan. Altogether, there are nearly 120 million people who speak sichuanhua or one of its variations as their primary language (so many, in fact, that if sichuanhua were classified as a language in its own right, it would rank ninth in the world in terms of the population of its primary speakers, coming just behind Japanese, with 125 million speakers, and just ahead of German, with 100 million speakers). Indeed, the province of Sichuan alone, with a land mass of 450,000 square kilometers and a populace of over 80 million, is roughly the same size—and has roughly the same population—as the entire country of Germany. Yet, despite its influence as the primary tool of communication for nearly all of South-Western China, there is not a single, easily accessible English language reference text that has been written for sichuanhua

Therefore, this guide is being written in an attempt to provide basic materials for individuals interested in learning sichuanhua. It is based entirely upon my own observations and work. Please be aware I am not a professional linguist. Descriptions and explanations of the dialect will contain no linguistic lingo and, indeed, may not even always be 100% accurate. If you are looking for an academic or professional analysis of sichuanhua you will need to search elsewhere.

Of course, because I am not a professional linguist, I also highly value thoughtful feedback, and would like to make this primer as much of a collaborative process as possible. If you would like to make suggestions or corrections, please feel free to do so. My email address is


Sichuanhua, pervasive and thriving in this part of China, provides an exciting and almost vulgar contrast to the standard Mandarin pumped out of television sets and radio stations throughout the mainland. Native speakers here are fiercely proud of their dialect. Locals will tell you that, back in the day, when votes were cast to decide which variety of Chinese would be selected as the standard for the whole country, sichuanhua lost to its northern counterpart by only one vote. While many middle schools and high schools may use standard mandarin as the language of instruction, many do so incorrectly, infusing it with a thick sichuan accent and thus assuring that even locals brought up in the national education system speak their own variation of the language, and not the national standard.

Clearly, sichuanhua is no danger of extinction or even diminished influence. Its basics are a necessity for anyone seriously considering living in this part of the world, and certainly for anyone interested in traveling outside the major population centers.

But what does it sound like?

To someone familiar with putonghua, the most immediate and obvious differences in sichuanhua will probably be the tonal and pronunciation variations. There are three reasons for this:

  1. Sichuanhua has a tone that does not exist in mandarin.

  2. Certain standard tones are reversed in sichuanhua

  3. Numerous consonants, vowels, and diphthongs are slightly different, or do not exist in Mandarin.

All these variations that exist between sichuanhua and Mandarin have given it a totally unique sound, pretty much incomparable to any other language (at least that I’ve ever heard). It’s not as harsh and sudden as putonghua; there’s something more consistent, something more of a constant music to it, rising and falling with a kind of wild, yet deliberate rhythm. There’s an explosive aspect to it as well, making it powerful, and filthy. Swear words fly out like the everyday necessities they are, with speakers holding onto the most important syllables in mid flight, waiting for the perfect moment to release and let the word come crashing down with its foul authority. In fact, it can be fairly said that when speakers of other Chinese dialects swear, it always sounds like a poor imitation of their true Sichuanese masters.

But, of course, Sichuanhua’s importance is more than as just a bunch of unique sounds—it’s also about how the local people identify with the language, and how this then affects their sense of place and significance in greater China. It has been a fundamental component of the culture and people of the Sichuan basin for thousands of years, and, as noted earlier, people here look upon it as a source of pride, a source of identity and uniqueness in a country where mass media is overwhelmingly broadcast in standard, northern Mandarin. So to understand sichuanhua is to begin to understand this amazing and little known part of the world.

And that bring us nicely to the next part:


This is a very good question because, frankly, unless you have a passionate interest in learning Chinese, trying to learn sichuanhua would be a colossal waste of time. But, honestly, to study sichuanese—and eventually, of course, to understand it or even to speak it—is to open up a possibility of experiencing an entirely different kind of Chinese, and an entirely different kind of China.

Here are some other reasons why one might want to learn Sichuanhua:

  1. Because you are living in Sichuan.

If that's not the case, here are some other reasons:

  1. Most places outside of the northeast do not speak putonghua.

  2. You ever intend to travel in southern China

  3. Understanding one dialect helps you more quickly adapt to others.

  4. As follows from #4, any serious student of Chinese should be familiar with at least one dialect, and that does not included northern dialects.

  5. Beijinghua and erhua in general contain some of the ugliest sounds capable of being gurgled and spit out of the human larynx and it’s a tragedy many students only study these dialects.

  6. Sichuanhua is a major dialect, spoken by 120 million people, which is more people than speak Korean, Dutch, Norwegian, or any number of other languages.

  7. It is the key to unlocking all the han Chinese portions of southwestern China (also, minorities in these areas often speak mandarin with a thick sichuanhua accent)

  8. You want to swear in Chinese but just don’t feel satisfied by the other dialects.

  9. You want to be as much like a hard-drinking, tea guzzling, mahjong addicted native as possible.

  10. Some Sichuan guy stole your bicycle, and you need to find him ASAP.


Because sichuanhua has a tone that does not exist in Mandarin, I cannot adequately represent the sounds of the language using traditional pinyin tone marks. Therefore, I have chosen to use the asterisk * mark after each syllable that uses the special Sichuan tone.

If you can think of a better way to do this, please do recommend something, as I think the asterisk is ugly as all hell.


How one chooses to go about studying sichuanhua is completely dependent on your individual needs, goals, and current level in putonghua. I should note, however, that this guide is written for people with at least some knowledge of Mandarin. It does not teach sichunhua from the ground up, but rather uses bits and pieces of Mandarin and to piece together a functional system for reading and writing a kind of sichuanhua pinyin. Therefore, students who, for example, are not familiar with standard mandarin tones, will find no explanations herein.

Also, I recommend that, if you are currently studying standard Mandarin, you first aim for listening comprehension in sichuanhua, as it is difficult to learn two different tonal sets at once (also, most people who speak sichuanhua will understand standard Mandarin).

If you do want to learn spoken sichuanhua, I imagine it eventually comes naturally, after enough time familiarizing yourself with dialect, and after a point at which your Mandarin is already quite good. But, of course, if you would like to go full steam ahead and study sichuanhua from the very beginning, at the expense of your mandarin, go right ahead. More power to you. And the locals will love you.


As a warning, the first few installments of this primer will be incredibly boring.


Once again, I am not an expert on sichuanhua but I have done my best to provide as much information on the dialect as I can. Treat this first installment of the primer like you would the beta version of a new program. It will be riddled with all manner of errors and, if you look at it wrong, might just make your computer explode. But, after enough time and feedback, it should hopefully become as accurate as possible.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

blogging inconsistencies

I thought I'd make a quick note to explain some things to the two or three people who visit this website frequently, excluding my family and that guy who keeps on sending me pictures of his big toes in various famous locales (note--please stop sending me pictures, guy).

The frequency with which I write will always be as it has been--that is, there will be periods where I write lots and post everyday, followed by even longer periods where I write nothing and, uh, do not post everyday. This will probably be the way I continue to blog forever, assuming that I do indeed continue blogging forever, because it reflects my spastic personality, and also my laziness. Moreover, because blogspot is blocked in China, my motivation to write is seriously diminished (which has led me to consider making a real, actual website)

So, to my two or three fans who continue coming to this website everyday because they think I will at last start writing about Prussia, please be patient with my inconsistency. It will change eventually. Or maybe not.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

news from the wire--by barbara bush--"tofu lake! tofu lake!"



HEFEI, CHINA—For nearly thirty years the Gap between China’s rich and China’s poor has been growing at a terrifyingly fast rate, prompting worldwide condemnation from civil rights groups and doomsday scenarios from many of the worlds leading economists

Now, however, it appears that researchers working in China’s Anhui province have finally pinpointed the Gap’s location

Mr. Peng Dehua, leader of the Fourth Economic Gap Expeditionary Force (FEGEF), announced its finding yesterday at a news conference in the city of Hefei, capital of Anhui province.

“The Gap has been found,” Mr. Peng said, to great applause from the assembled media representatives. “It is slightly north of that one poor place and slightly south of that other one—I would say approximately it is in the middle-right of Anhui.”

Even though its discovery is hugely significant not just for China, but also for the rest of the world, Mr. Peng was quick to add a cautionary note. “Much of the Gap remains a mystery to us. How deep does it go? What color is it? Do any monsters live in it? Faeries? Like many people, I've had a thing for faerie folk my whole life. But the fact of the matter is, right now we just don’t know what's there, and it's best not to get too excited about the possibilities.”

FEGEF had been searching for the Gap for over five years, and had actually been criticized for its rather brazen decision to look in the countryside, rather than the cities.

“Most other researchers criticized our decision to search in the countryside,” said Mr. Peng. “They believed the source of the gap had to be in a major metropolitan area. But we believed all along that the real place to search for this problem, or any problem in China, was at the source, the very base of production and society—the countryside.”

FEGEF said it may take another four years before the gap is fully understood, but solutions on how to fill it are already being proposed in droves. Calls for democratization have already been issued from hundreds of civil and political rights groups, who believe that having greater control over their political futures will encourage China’s poor to fill the gap on their own.

But Mr. Peng is not interested in the opinions of foreign civil rights groups, whom, he says, are incapable of fully understanding the unique situation of China. In fact, he has already come up with his own, simpler solution: filling the entire Gap with a thick tofu solution. “Tofu is cheap and easy to produce. If we can mobilize the entire country to make as much tofu as possible in special backyard tofu barrels, we can fill the gap in a matter of just five or so years.”

Until that time comes, however, the Gap between China's rich and poor will remain--dangerous as ever, and utterly lacking in tofu.


Friday, June 01, 2007

sichuanhua primer

I've already got about seventeen pages of the sichuanhua primer written and so far it's both lots of fun and incredibly useful. My listening comprehension is improving rapidly and hopefully it will be up to my putonghua level in another four or five months.

Why is it necessary to actually work on studying sichuanhua, and why do some people skilled in putonghua understand absolutely nothing at all (and that includes many native Mandarin speakers)? Well, let me give you a few examples from what I've learned over the past couple of weeks:
1. Sichuanhua has five tones--the four tones you find in putonghua and a fifth tone that is special to sichuanhua. The sichuanhua tone is like the first tone in putonghua, but at a much lower pitch.

2. The tones in sichuanhua and putonghua are often reversed--for instance, third tone becomes fourth tone, and fourth tone becomes third tone.

3. Sichuanhua has four distinct consonant, vowel, and diphthong sounds that do not exist in Mandarin, including a truly terrifying pseudo-consonant sound that I've chosen to represent as "ng."

4. There are a total of 12 consonant, vowel, and diphthong changes from putonghua to sichuanhua, including not only the frequently seen CH-->C, ZH-->Z, SH-->S, but also a number of other changes, such as the dropping of any "N" that follows an "A" vowel sound.
To deal with all of these changes I've come up with a makeshift sichuanhua pinyin that so far seems to work quite well. My only problem is that I don't know how to add a fifth tone to words, and thus have resorted to putting an asterisk after each syllable that uses the fifth tone (for example, Sichuanhua Primer--四川话入门 --in my pinyin system looks like this: sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*.) Does anyone have any suggestions on how to add a fifth tonal mark to vowels?

Also, just generally speaking, if any reader anywhere is interested in this definitely let me know--once this is posted I'd love to work collaboratively with other people interested in learning sichuanhua.

I'll post the first part of the primer in about three or four weeks, including audio files--well, so long as I can find a good file-hosting service.

PS--On an unrelated note, I won't be able to reply to comments until blogspot is unblocked in China. Although I can log in without a problem and can view my page through a proxy, for some reason none of these proxies allow me to leave comments. Weird.