Classical Chinese, or 文言文 (wényán wén), is a written language. Its dry wording and terse format bear little resemblance to ordinary daily speech. It wasn’t until after scholars like Hu Shi actively promoted the written vernacular Chinese, or 白话文 (báihuà wén), in the early 20th Century that modern standard Chinese took root and became widely adopted by the Chinese people. Colloquial speech incorporates the essential padding that smooths out the flow of verbal communication. With computer keyboards, touch screens, speech to text conversion functions and Gigabytes of storage memory at hand, we can choose to be just as verbose in our written communication.
If you simply string together a bunch of Chinese words in a grammatically correct sentence, you should be able to get your idea across all right. However, your speech may still sound foreign or stiff, i.e. 生硬 (shēngyìng rigid, harsh). Today we will look at one way to help you speak a little more like a native Chinese. It involves saying certain words twice.
How would you describe the little bell-shaped flowers of the blueberry plant shown in the above picture? You could say:
Lán méi huā xiǎo, kěài.
The blueberry flowers are small; they are cute.
But this sounds more agreeable:
Lán méi huā xiǎo xiǎo de, hěn kěài.
The blueberry flowers are rather small; they are cute.
Similarly, you could say:
Tā de gèr gāo.
He is tall.
But this sounds more conversational:
Tā de gèr gāo gāo de.
He is rather tall.
Following are a few more examples of how the repetition of certain words helps to relax one’s tone or to bring about an added effect.
Hóngdòu tāng tián tián de, hěn hǎochí.
Red bean soup is kind of sweet and rather tasty.
Tā wàng zhe wān wān de yuèliang.
She looked at the crescent (curved) moon.
Tián li de xiǎomài lǜ yóu yóu.
The wheat plants in the field are glossy green.
Tā jìng jìng de zuò zài nàr.
She sits there quietly.
Tā fèn fèn de zǒu le.
She left in anger.
Tā hěn hěn de dèng le wǒ yī yǎn.
He scowled at me with vehemence.
Nǐ jí jí máng máng yào shàng nǎr?
Where are you going in such a hurry?
Wǒ qù wèn wèn tā.
I’ll go ask him.
Wǒ lái kǎo kǎo nǐ.
Let me give you a quiz.
Wǒ qù chá chá kàn.
Let me go check on that.
Wǒ dào wàimian sàn sàn bù.
I’m going out for a short walk.
While talking to other people in Chinese, you may pick up other words that are used in this manner. The above sentences feature repeated adjectives, adverbs and verbs. To review the correct placement of the various parts of speech in a sentence, please see Chapters 8 through 19 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.