Real BeijingeRs

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For a taste of Pekingese colloquial and a slice of traditional life in Beijing, I offer this 4 minutes and 24 seconds rap video entitled "běi jīng tǔ zhù  北京土著  (Beijing Natives)":

Here follow a transcription and translation of the entire song. One thing that will be immediately evident is the fondness of Beijingers for adding final retroflex -r to the end of many words. There seems, however, to be some disagreement among individual speakers on when to -r, as it were, and when not to -r. Our transcription distinguishes three categories of -r: bold for when the singer adds an -r that is not in the original lyrics, italics for when he fails to -r but we think he should, and regular -r when the original lyrics have an -r. Sometimes the -r is subtle and sometimes it is very obvious; given the complexities of the phenomenon, we cannot guarantee that we've recorded all of them to the satisfaction of Pekingese aficionados.

Please also note that some of the tones and occasionally the vowel quality differ from what we would normally expect in Modern Standard Mandarin. The fact that it's a song also means that the contours of the melody sometimes are at odds with the tones.

Finally, the singer uses a few English expressions, so those appear both in the column with the Chinese lyrics and in the column with the translation. And there's at least one Pekingese morpheme (DER) in the lyrics for which there's no known character.

切一片西瓜四五两
qiē yí piànr xīgua sì-wǔ liǎng
Slice me a piece of watermelon, about four or five liangi
真正的薄皮脆沙瓤
zhēnzhèng de bó pí cuì shārángr
Only the truly thin-skin watermelon comes with this crisp and grainy texture
当四合院的茶房飘着茉莉花儿香
dāng sìhéyuànr de cháfáng piāozhe mòlìhuār xiāng
When the scent of jasmine wafts in the tea room of the siheyuanii
夏天的炎热全部被遗忘掉
xiàtiān de yánrè quánbù bèi yíwàng diào
One forgets all the heat of the summer
酌一杯佳酿漂远方
zhuó yì bēi jiāniàng piāo yuǎnfāng
Pour a glass of fine wine as your thoughts wander afar
胡同里酒香醉人肠
hútòngr lǐ jǐuxiāng zuì rén cháng
The senses are drunk with the fragrance of the wine steeped within the hutong alleys
当老城角儿的夕阳回荡拨浪鼓儿响
dāng lǎo chéngjiǎor de xīyáng huídàng bōlànggǔr xiǎng
As the sun sets at the corner of the old city wall that echoes with the beat of the toy rattle-drum
北京的土著有一点点感伤
Běijīng de tǔzhù yǒu yìdiǎndiǎn gǎn-shāng
This native Beijinger feels a little sad
我一个人蹲在墙根儿没人der
wǒ yí gè rénr dūn zài qiánggēnr méi rén der
Squatting alone at the corner of the wall, receiving not even a passing glance
眼睛愣着神儿心中纳着闷儿
yǎnjīng lèngzhe shénr xīnzhōng nàzhe menr
With eyes unseeing and confusion in my heart
怎么今天的我这么没有精气神儿哟
zěnme jīntiān de wǒ zhème méiyǒu jīngqì shénr you
Why do I feel so weary today?
好像写歌词写丢了魂儿哟
hǎoxiàng xiě gēcír xiědiūle húnr you
Feels like I lost my soul while writing my lyrics
大清早路边的馄饨摊儿
dàqīngzǎo lùbiānr de húndùntānr
A wonton stall by the roadside in the early morning
一个板儿农骑着板儿车拉着板儿砖上班儿
yí ge bǎnrnong qízhe bǎnrchē lāzhe bǎnrzhuān shàngbānr
A farmer rides a three-wheeled handcart as he pulls his load of bricks to work
豆腐脑一块钱一碗
dòufùnǎor yí kuài qián yì wǎnr
A bowl of jellied beancurd costs a dollar
风声中飘着京韵大鼓的小段儿
fēngshēng zhōng piāozhe Jīngyùn dàgǔ de xiǎoduànr
The music of a Pekingese big drum storyteller rings in the air
喝一碗豆汁就一个焦圈
hē yì wǎn dòuzhīr jiù yí gè jiāoquānr
Drink a bowl of sour soy juice with a fried ring of doughiii
青花瓷罐滚着麦芽香的油渣
qīnghuār cíguànr gǔnzhe màiyárxiāng de yóuzhār
Dregs of oil scented with malt heave in porcelain jars with floral design
胡同口的小贩串着冰糖葫芦串.
hútòngkǒur de xiǎofànr chuānzhe bīngtáng húlùchùanr
A hawker at the entrance of a hutong alley is stringing candied haws,
旁边的茶馆摆着一张马三立的相片
pángbiānr de cháguǎnr bǎizhe yì zhāng Mǎ Sānlì de xiàngpiānr
There's a photo of Ma Sanliiv displayed at the teahouse nearby
缸比盆深盆比碗深碗比碟子深
gāng bǐ pénr shēn, pénr bǐ wǎnr shēn, wǎnr bǐ diézi shēn
The vats are deeper than the basins, the basins are deeper than the bowls, the bowls are deeper than the plates
Waiting for your consideration Waiting for your consideration
一放好多年它还是这么哏那
yí fàng hǎoduō nián tā háishì zhème gén na
After being left there for so many years, they're still so funny…
北京的土著 pay attention……
Běijīng de tǔzhù
Native Beijingers, pay attention
站累了蹲着蹲累了坐着
zhànlèile dūnzhe, dūnlèile zuòzhe
Squat when you're tired of standing, sit when you're tired from squatting
坐累了躺着躺累了趴着
zuòlèile tǎngzhe, tǎnglèile pāzhe
Lie down when you're tired of sitting, lie prone when you're tired from lying down
趴累了睡着睡不着眯着
pālèile shùizhe, shùibùzháo mīzhe
Sleep when you're tired of lying prone, nap when you're unable to sleep
养一只八哥是倍有面子
yǎng yì zhī bāgēr shì bèir yǒu miànzi
Keeping a myna brings special prestige
做人要厚道要知道礼貌
zuòrén yào hòudào yào zhīdào lǐmào
Be kind and generous and courteous too
见人要问好,千万不要迟到
jiàn rén yào wènhǎo, qiānwàn bú yào chídào
Greet others kindly and never, ever be late
斤斤计较只会自寻烦恼
jīnjīn jìjiào zhǐ huì zìxún fánnǎo
Keeping score only means making trouble for yourself
不如微笑世界无限美好
bùrú wēixiào shìjiè wúxiàn měihǎo
Better to smile and the world turns, infinitely beautiful
公园里老头牵着他的老伴
gōngyuán lǐ lǎotóur qiānzhe tā de lǎobànr
There's an old man in the park, hand in hand with his old wife
七八十岁走起路来还是那么有范
qī-bā shí suì zǒuqǐ lù lái háishì nàme yǒu fànr
About eighty years old and he still looks so suave
含一根冰棍儿穿一件背心
hén yì gēn bīnggùnr chuān yì jiànr bèixīnr
Sucking on a popsicle and wearing a vest
周口店的血统是非常的纯正
Zhōukǒudiàn de xuětǒng shì fēicháng de chúnzhèng
Bloodlines run pure at the home of Peking Manv
就在那右右右右安门的旁边
jiù zài nà Yòu-Yòu-Yòu-Yòu’ānmén de pángbiānr
At the side of the Right-Right-Right-Right Gate of Peace
有一家狗狗狗狗不理的包子
yǒu yì jiā Gǒu-Gǒu-Gǒu-Gǒubùlǐ de bāozir
There's a shop selling Dog-Dog-Dog-Dog Wouldn’t-Noticevi buns
切切切切糕买了半斤
qiē-qiē-qiē-qiēgāo mǎile bàn jīnr
Buy half a jinvii of sliced-sliced-sliced-sliced glutinous cakeviii
逛一个天桥好似神仙
guàng yí ge Tiānqiáo hǎosì shénxiān
Spend a day free from worries at the Heavenly Bridge,ix just like an immortal

Lu Zhao, a true Beijinger of Manchu heritage, and Yilise Lin, a cosmopolitan Singaporean, helped with the transcription and the translation.

i A liǎng is the equivalent of 50 grams.

ii A traditional form of Beijing residential architecture with four buildings surrounding a central courtyard.

iii A jiāoquān 焦圈is a circular fried piece of dough. It is a characteristic snack of Beijing.

iv Ma Sanli (1914-2003) was a famous crosstalk performer born in Beijing.

v Zhōukǒudiàn 周口店 is the place where the bones of Peking Man were discovered.

vi Gǒubùlǐ狗不理 buns are a famous brand of steamed stuffed buns originally from Tianjin, but later marketed throughout China.

vii A jīn is the equivalent of 500 grams.

viii A qiēgāo切糕 is a cake made of glutinous rice and sold in sliced pieces, a famous snack of Beijing.

ix Heavenly Bridge (Tiānqiáo 天桥) was an area of old Beijing where street artists congregated and entertainment could be found. It has now been reopened for tourism.

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24 Comments »

  1. Rubrick said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 3:20 am

    Not exactly the same flavor as U.S. rap. Except maybe "Dog-Dog-Dog-Dog Wouldn’t-Notice buns".

  2. Philip Spaelti said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 4:50 am

    Is it just me, or did someone just reformat this table (thank you), but then in the process unfortunately kill all the italic and bold 儿s?
    [(myl) Yes, sorry, that was me. It should be fixed now, subject to Victor's checking.]

  3. Orbis P. said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:09 am

    I don't know anything about Chinese, but that was a very educational and entertaining post nevertheless! More youtube song analysis, please :)

  4. Andrew West said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:32 am

    And there's at least one Pekingese morpheme (DER) in the lyrics for which there's no known character

    Right … I'll believe that when I see it : 我一个人儿蹲在墙根儿没人瞪儿

    There are plenty of examples of 瞪儿 der "to glance at" on the internet, e.g. 有时生气不瞪儿他 "sometimes I angrily ignore him"

  5. Beijing Sounds said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    Thanks for the great clip and careful transcription, Victor. It seems to be a fact of written convention that only a few of even the most common 儿 are included when writing, even when attempting to write in Beijing dialect.

    There's another phonetic phenomenon that even those who don't follow Mandarin can hear in this piece: the lack of n-closing on the last /n/ of "consideration." Somebody can shoot me for getting the technical term wrong, but by "n-closing" I mean the tongue closing off all passage of air through the oral cavity in making the N.

    Beijingers (and maybe most Mandarin speakers??) do not close the N as completely as English speakers at the end of most syllables. The resultant n-sound feels kind of "lazy" or "loose" to English-speakers' ears. In the case of the singer saying "consideration" right after two consecutive rhyming shēns, you can get a taste of it.

  6. John Cowan said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:19 am

    I see italics and bold on the English side, but not on the Chinese side.

    [(myl) It was missing for a while, but the italics/bold stuff is definitely there now in Chinese, and I think it was there when you posted this comment -- is it possible that you have a font problem of some kind?]

  7. pc said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:33 am

    Of possible interest on the subject of rhotacization are two recent articles by Qing Zhang (now of U of Arizona): A Chinese Yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity (Language in Society 34) and Rhotacization and the 'Beijing Smooth Operator': The social meaning of a linguistic variable (J Sociolinguistics 12).

  8. goofy said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    Is 儿 a zhuyin fuhao character?

  9. Jongseong Park said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

    Is 儿 a zhuyin fuhao character?

    Yes and no. 儿 is used as a zhuyin fuhao (or bopomofo) character to represent 'er', but it is also a Chinese character in its own right.

    儿, read as 'ren2', means 'human' and is one of the Kangxi radicals.

    However, in modern China, 儿 is used as the Simplified Chinese version of 兒 meaning 'child' and is read 'er2'. This is where the zhuyin fuhao character comes from, I think. Since it has the same form as the zhuyin fuhao symbol and as a full-fledged Chinese character, it doesn't seem out of place to use alongside the Chinese characters to indicate the -r.

  10. Benjamin said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

    Jongseong, I'm curious as to where you've seen 儿 read as ren2…none of my favorite online dictionaries list that as even an alternate pronunciation.

  11. David Marjanović said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

    rén "human" is 人.

  12. Scott said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

    Benjamin,

    Here is the full entry from the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary, edited by John DeFrancis. It is copyrighted, but I hope they would appreciate the use for clarification in a setting such as this.

    359 儿(F兒) [ér] child; 儿子 son; 女儿 daughter [r] (noun suffix) [rén] radical 10
    儿[兒] ²ér b.f. ①child értóng ②youth ③son érzi ④male ◆n. (my) child (spoken by parent to child); (your) child (spoken by child to parent in self-reference)
    儿[兒] r suf. ((diminutive) non-syllabic retroflex suffx; pronunciation feature in Beijing dialect) | pén∼ basin | dìfāng xiǎochī∼ regional taste treats | wán∼ have fun; play | zhè∼ here | mànmān∼ de slowly

  13. Jongseong Park said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    Hmm. I see that none of my Chinese dictionaries (as opposed to Chinese character dictionaries) don't show that reading at all, either.

    However, my Korean Chinese character dictionary (Dong-A Hyeondae Han-Han Sajeon) lists 儿 as a Kangxi radical and calls it 'walking human in (걷는 사람 인)'. I've also heard it refered to as 'benevolent human in (어진 사람 인)', with the same Korean adjective that is usually used for the meaning of 仁 (ren2 in Chinese).

    The dictionary explains that 'walking human' refers to the small seal script form of 儿. It is distinguished from the 'standing human' form of 人 (ren2), which is the usual Chinese character for 'human' as David Marjanović mentions and is itself another Kangxi radical. The dictionary goes on to explain that in China, the character is now used as the simplified form of 兒, as everyone here knows by now.

    This must be one of those cases where a little-used character with few strokes takes on a new role as the simplified form of a different, more common character, and no one remembers that the new simplified form happened to be a different character in its own right before.

  14. zhwj said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

    Kangxi reads "儿《集韵》《韵會》竝而鄰切音仁《説文》人也" and cites another source to explain that 儿 and 人 are different combining forms of the same character.

  15. goofy said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 8:52 pm

    so in this text it's not zhuyin fuyao, it's the character 儿 ér, and it's being used to represent this phonological feature? that's interesting.

  16. Scott said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

    I'm a relative newbie at studying Chinese. I've been learning on my own and with people who teach me Chinese while I teach them English, as well as at a Chinese School for children on Sunday afternoons (I was able to convince the American parents of adopted Chinese children that their time would be better spent in a classroom learning the language than in the hallway waiting for their 小儿. Which brings me back to 儿…

    We've learned it in a few words. Some of which it is a regular suffix, like:

    画 画儿 (huà huàr), which means to draw drawings and
    一点儿 yīdiǎnr子 (érzi) meaning son

    Also, a very common word that changes its meaning with the addition of 儿 is

    这 (zhè), which most commonly means means "this" and is often used like "这个xxx" (zhège, meaning "this one"). When you add the 儿, it becomes 这儿 (zhèr). This is most often used to mean "here" and is combined with 在 (zài) to mean "located here" as opposed to 在那儿 (zài nàr) which means "located over there".

    I hope this helped somebody. I don't know if everybody knows all this already. Have a good one.

    Other times, though, you see it as a variant, which is undoubtedly just a way of signifying the Beijing dialect. Examples include:

    一点 yīdiǎn (a little bit, or, an hour), which becomes 一点儿 yīdiǎnr and

  17. Scott said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

    Oops, I didn't take the "yīdiǎnr" out from the line with érzi, please disregard it.

  18. Scott said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:39 pm

    On further examination, I really mangled that post! I don't see a way I can edit it, 对不起. I'll be more careful the next time I post here.

  19. Benjamin said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. I am famiiar with 儿's use as a suffix as with the DeFrancis citation.

    I did not know about its close relation to 人 as Kangxi points out. Thanks zhwj.

  20. Baoru said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    Yay! Love this piece! Hurray for Pekingese! :-)

  21. David Marjanović said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    so in this text it's not zhuyin fuyao, it's the character 儿 ér, and it's being used to represent this phonological feature?

    Yes, yes, and not quite. It does, theoretically, have a meaning: it's a sort of nominalizer that once was a diminutive (which explains why it comes from "son").

  22. J. Taliaferro said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

    I can only say I have much love for this post and it's comments! Thank you!

  23. Chas Belov said,

    March 27, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

    I found this post via Google after watching a video about Chinese rap singers having different points of view on whether to rap in Mandarin or in their own Chinese language or dialect (both referred to as dialect in the videos). (Part II of the video) I didn't even think about whether this was an issue for Beijing performers, but there you are.

  24. Blake said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    Is 人儿 common in Beijing? I thought it was more of a Dong Bei thing.

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