What’d you Say? An Introduction to the Sichuanese Mandarin Dialect
Photo: baike

Buzzes and lots of "er's" and "ol's" and "lo's" is all you'll hear the first time you touch down in Chengdu. But what you're actually hearing is Mandarin being spoken in a charming southwestern drawl. Just as English has its' own various styles, Mandarin is teeming with different accents and dialects as well. Quite often, words and pronunciation can vary drastically in different regions of China. One such dialect is the southwestern Mandarin dialect known as Sichuanhua. Expats in Chengdu hear the Sichuan dialect everywhere, from Chengdu's famous hotpot restaurants to its stores, clubs and bars. If you're living in Chengdu or nearby, you should definitely master a few useful Sichuanhua words and phrases. It will earn you more respect from the locals, get lower prices when haggling and provide you with a greater understanding of Sichuan's people and culture.

Notable Pronunciation Differences

  1. The "h" sound in Mandarin pinyin is dropped when it is in the "sh", "ch" and "zh" form. For example, "shi" is pronounced as a slurred "si" in Sichuanese. This creates the buzzing sound of the Sichuan Mandarin accent.
  2. The "ue" pinyin sound in pinyin forms like "jue" are pronounced like the "ol" sound in the English word "whole". For example, "jue" is pronounced as "jol".
  3. The pinyin "an" sound is pronounced like the "an" in the English word "can".
  4. Sometimes the "e" in "ge", "re", "de" and "ke" change to an "ei" sound. For example, the character for hot, ,pronounces as "rěi" in Sichuanese Mandarin. This is not 100 percent consistent; see number five below.
  5. Sometimes "ge", "re", "le" and "ke" sound close to "go", "ro", "lo" and "ko". Note that the "o" there is pronounced like the "o" in the pinyin sounds "po" and "mo".
  6. Chinese characters with the Mandarin pinyin pronunciation of "guo" take on the pronunciation of "gui" in Sichuanese Mandarin. For example, America, měiguó美国,is said as mèiguì.
  7. If "h" starts a certain pinyin sound, like "hu", it is pronounced as an "f". For example, passport, hùzhào 护照, has the sound of fùzào. Note how the zhao loses the "h" sound.
  8. If "n" starts a certain Mandarin pinyin sound, it is pronounced as a subtle and slurred "ln" combination.
  9. There is no real magic formula for understanding tone differences in Sichuanese Mandarin. Explanations among experts vary. Many tones are the same as Mandarin, but a lot are also completely different. The examples presented here are some examples of elementary level words that are different from Mandarin.
  10. The level tone (one) is used infrequently in Sichuanhua. It usually takes on the sound of the neutral tone (five) or the rising tone (two).

Ten Sichuanhua Words You Must Know

Below is a chart of some basic Sichuanhua words that differ greatly from standard Mandarin.

Sichuanese Mandarin 四川话

Standard Mandarin普通话

English

1) sázi 啥子

shénme 什么

what

2) suà 耍

wánr 玩儿

to have fun or to play

3) suáile 甩了

gānbēi 干杯

cheers or finish the cup

4) zóngguì 中国

zhōngguó 中国

China

5) céi 车

chē 车

car

6) xiàodei 晓得

zhīdào 知道

to know

7) básì 巴适 (this word is especially useful when eating, drinking beer or getting a massage)

shūfu 舒服 or shuǎng爽

comfortable, good or refreshing

8) yáodei 要得

duì 对 or hǎo 好

good, right or okay

9) xiàomèr 小妹儿 (this word is used to get the attention a younger waitress)

fúwùyuán服务员

young waitress

10) kóyi可以 (remember the "o" in "ko" sounds like the "o" in Mandarin pinyin's "mo")

kěyǐ 可以

can, able to, okay

Some Useful Sichuanhua Phrases

Here are a few useful phrases to throw around. It will throw off, and maybe amaze, the locals a bit if you say the phrase correctly.

Sichuanese Mandarin 四川话

Standard Mandarin普通话

English

1) mèidéisi 没得事 (mei dei means "not have" in Sichuanhua)

méiguānxi 没关系

It doesn't matter or no big deal

2) hàoduóqiàn 好多钱

duōshǎoqián 多少钱

How much is it?

3) lnì si lnágo guìjia dei 你是哪个国家的

nǐ shì shénme guójiā de 你是什么国家的

What is your home country?

4) lnì suó sázi 你说啥子

nǐ shuō shénme 你说什么

What did you say?

5) lnì lnǎi lnàr 你在哪儿

nǐzàinǎr 你在哪儿

Where are you?

 

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Keywords: guide to Sichuanese Mandarin dialect introduction to Sichuanese Mandarin dialect how to speak Sichuanese Mandarin dialect Chinese dialects introduction

3 Comments Add your comment

1

claire
comment|23707|65982

cool. this clears up some words i have been hearing, especially mei deisi! I never knew what that meant.

Jan 16, 2012 00:26 Report Abuse

2

Ben
comment|33751|0

How do you say "WHEN" and "WHO" in Sichuan dialect?

Nick Callos, the editor, should update this website page again.

Nov 17, 2012 18:35 Report Abuse

3

kuriku
comment|57678|299605

Wow, this is really informative and accurate.

Mar 29, 2015 02:00 Report Abuse