December 2, 2012 | Mandarin
I Can’t Say No in Chinese
Literally. There is no simple translation of that word!
Since I began studying Chinese a month ago, I have marveled at the complexity involved in refusing or denying something. Simple negatives do not work the way they work in English or, as far as I can remember right now, any other language I’ve studied.
Street Fair Yesterday, Manhattan’s Chinatown
There is no simple equivalent for the word “no.” Instead, you combine a not-like word (translated often, but not always, as pu) with the verb that was either expressed or implied in the preceding question.
The not word so far does not appear to be self-sufficient and able to stand on its own.
Let’s pretend English is Chinese for a moment, and I’ll give you some examples of the shortest route to refusing things in Chinese, based on what I have encountered so far in Pimsleur and my Beginner’s Chinese book by Yong Ho. As usual, these include my own amateurish transliterations (I haven’t yet studied up on pinyin):
“Would you like to go bike riding?” she asked.
“Would not like to,” he said. (Pu shiang in Chinese.)
“Do you want to see a movie?” she asked.
“Not want,” he said. (Pu yao.)
“Are you just plain lazy?” she asked.
“Not am,” he said. (Pu shi.)
There is no shorter way to say no, as far as I know!
Also, Pimsleur has been teaching me that if I want to say, “No, I am not,” I should say, Pu shi, wo pu shi. Which looks to me like, “Am not, I am not.” Meaning there is a lot of repetition.
Pimsleur sometimes tells you you can stop doing certain primitive things when you get whatever idea they are trying to get you to get and have moved on to more advanced lessons.
In the meantime, I don’t know whether people actually say Pu shi, wo pu shi in real life, but examples in my Beginner’s Chinese book suggest not necessarily. In one instance, “No, I am not” is translated as a simple pu shi (though the author uses pinyin for the transliteration).
By the way, you can’t say yes in Chinese, either—not the way English speakers are used to. Strip all the pu’s from my above “no” answers and you will have the yeses: the simple verb form standing alone: shiang, yao, shi. (Not being able to say “no” made a bigger impression on me, though, because it involves more syllables and repetition.)
Yesterday I went to a street fair in Manhattan’s Chinatown. For a cold, clammy day there were quite a few people out!
Peking Duck House
Hungry People Waiting, Peking Duck House
Singing in Front of Chase Bank