Mr. and Ms. in Chinese

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Didi Kirsten Tatlow is trying to trace the roots of the word xiānsheng 先生 (lit., "one who was born earlier / first / before" –> "sir; mister / Mr.; teacher; gentleman; doctor / Dr. [dated]").  She writes:

Today of course it's applied to all men, women being nǚshì 女士 ("Ms.; lady; madam"); once upon a time I believe it meant a teacher. Yet a woman considered especially smart may be given the honorific xiānsheng 先生 (!).

Am wondering about its origins and when/how it came to be applied to all men, and whether perhaps it came from the Japanese, like many other terms in modern times (i.e., post 1911 or even earlier?).  Does anyone have any light to shed, with references?

Xiānsheng 先生, which is often abbreviated in Pinyin writing as "xs", e.g., Zhang xs = Zhāng xiānshēng 张先生 ("Mr. Zhang"), is one of the most versatile nouns in Chinese, certainly one of the most versatile terms of address.

The word has a long history, which is recounted in Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 汉语大词典 (Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic), 2.238ab (entries copied into Zdic and Baidu).

We may summarize the chronology of its development as follows, beginning in the second half of the first millennium BC, passing through the classical, medieval, and late imperial periods, and coming right up to the present (most of these usages are terms of address):

1. "first born" (Classic of Poetry)

2. "(father and) elder brother(s)" (The Book of Etiquette and Rites)

3. "person who has resigned / retired from office" (The Book of Etiquette and Rites)

4. "senior, learned person" (Mencius)

5. "teacher" (Record of Rites)

6. "literatus" (Records of the Grand Scribe / Historian)

7. "Taoist" (Tang period)

8. "ancestor(s)" (Mongol period)

9. "physiognomist; soothsayer; geomancer; doctor", etc (this type of usage goes back to the Western Han period)

10. "prostitute" (late Qing / Manchu period)

11. "scribe; clerk" (late Qing-early Republican period)

12. wife's term of address for her husband; term of address for another woman's husband

13. polite address for people of good manners

14. reference for a representative specialist from a certain area or occupation

Xiānsheng 先生 can be used as a respectful second person address and third person reference.

As noted above, xiānsheng 先生 may be used to indicate or address a fortune teller, physiognomist,  storyteller, bookkeeper, fengshui expert, etc. (i.e., master of an esoteric profession or popular trade / skill), though most of these are dated.

Further information may be found in the Chinese Wiktionary, which gives,

in addition to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), the pronunciation of 先生 in Cantonese, Minnan (Taiwanese) and Wu (Shanghainese).

The English Wiktionary provides important information about 先生 in Japanese, where the term is pronounced as sensei and the usage has a somewhat different set of emphases:

1. one who was born earlier; an elder

2. one who excels at a subject; a scholar

3. one who teaches; a teacher or professor

Sensei 先生 seems to be a very respectful term in Japanese, at least that is how it strikes me when I am around Japanese who use it.

Xiānsheng 先生 is still very much used, though some of its domains have been eclipsed by other, more fashionable, terms, which come and go.  For example:

tóngzhì 同志 ("comrade", but now more often implying membership in the LGBT community)

shīfu 师傅 ("master", applied to a wide variety of occupations and professions)

lǎoshī 老师 ("teacher")  This is now the most popular way to refer to a teacher, but when I was learning Chinese forty-five years ago, most students addressed their teacher as xiānsheng 先生.  I still have the habit of referring to people I respect as so-and-so "xiānsheng 先生".

Didi's main interest is in knowing to what extent xiānsheng / sensei 先生 can be used as a term of address for women.  It would also be good know whether this term is used in Korean and Vietnamese, and whether the usages in these languages vary from those in Chinese and Japanese.

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43 Comments »

  1. J. Xiao said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 1:58 am

    先生 as an address to teacher is rare but not unheard of in Cantonese. Back in kindergarten that was the prevalent way to address teachers. For reasons unknown 老師 becomes ubiquitous after I went onto primary school.

    Also, the single character '生' (sheng1 in Putonghua, saang1 in HK Cantonese when used as an address) seems to have an interesting contrast of usage in HK and other areas. For example, 張生 (zoeng1 saang1) would be taken to mean 'Mr. Cheung' in a respectable manner, akin to a short form of 張先生, while in Classical Chinese and to a certain extent Mandarin (personal experience seems to suggest a higher prevalence in Taiwan), 張生 (zhang1 sheng) would likely be a way the teacher/mentor of this "Cheung" address him, as a disciple/student/junior.

  2. Plane said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 3:14 am

    You've quoted the senses listed under "Noun" from Wiktionary, but it seems that Wiktionary divides the senses for this word into "Noun" and "Suffix" categories. The additional sense listed under "Suffix" is, I think, more common:

    a title used after the name of teachers, doctors, lawyers, or certain other professionals

    I think it's worth quoting that, as well.

  3. Bjorn T said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 3:48 am

    In Korea they address teachers(regardless of sex) and adult males as 선생님(先生任/seongsaengnim).

    While I was studying at university in Hong Kong, we called our instructors "name"+先生 regardless of sex.

    In mainland China, at least where I am in Chongqing, you wouldn't call a woman 先生.

  4. David Morris said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 6:04 am

    It might be cognate with Korean 당신 (dangshin), except the usage is very different – in Korea: '[used] to a stranger is usually considered insulting; it is more commonly used between mature married couples. Instead, the person's title is often used, or 선생님 (seonsaengnim, “(respectable) teacher”) if the person's title is unknown, for strangers or superiors' (Wiktionary).

    When I was in Korea, most students addressed me as 'Teacher', which I had to grin and bear, accepting the intention. Some addressed me as 'Morris', to which I replied '*Mr* Morris, please!'

    In Australia, one student addressed me as 'Judy', which is my female colleague's name.

  5. dw said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 6:40 am

    Compare Spanish "señor", Portuguese "senhor", Italian "signore", English "sir", etc. — all from Latin "senior" (older).

  6. JQ said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    @David Morris

    Err, assuming by "it" you meant 先生, then no, it is not *cognate* with tangshin (당신 / 當身), which basically means "you" when talking to your husband / wife.

    In Classical Chinese 當身 meant "me".

    No woman would address her husband 先生 today (unless they were playing out some sort of domination fantasy), though if they were being formal they might use it to refer to their husband.

    Breaking it down, 先生 would seem to mean "born before". Compare to 後生 ("born after"), which means "young" (adj) / "adolescence" (n) in Cantonese slang and "son" in Min.

  7. Suburbanbanshee said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    Sensei is used to both men and women in Japan, although most times I've seen it used for women, it's to professors, medical doctors, or distinguished artists.

    Apparently it's polite to call any published writer "sensei," even if you're the writer's publisher or agent. This doesn't seem to apply to manga writers, though maybe I've just missed that.

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

    I happened to notice in a relevant wikipedia article that the (or at least a) Taiwanese word for "teacher" (in POJ romanization) is "Sian-siⁿ," which I suppose could be the cognate to Mandarin "Xianshang" as predicted/explained by whatever the standard phonological variations between Mandarin and Taiwanese are or could also be a more recent adaptation (via the 50 years of Japanese rule) of "Sensei" and thus of ultimate Sinitic origin via a much more indirect route.

  9. richard said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

    Although sensei is used for both men and women in Japan, in my experience, men are addressed as Family-name-sensei, whereas women tend to be addressed as Given-name-sensei. In fact, I heard this just the other day, a young woman addressing a female university professor as Given-name-sensei, and then being scolded for doing so.

  10. David Morris said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

    @JQ Thanks for the explanation. Yes, I did mean 'xiānsheng' and I was basing my speculation entirely on the very slight resemblance between that and 'dangshin'.

  11. Matt said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 7:31 pm

    This doesn't seem to apply to manga writers, though maybe I've just missed that.

    It absolutely does, although the general trend towards informality in contexts where manga writers are mentioned may conceal it to an extent (you probably wouldn't say "Takahashi-sensei's latest work blows", but you would certainly say "This retrospective of Takahashi-sensei's work is sure to be of interest to all professional and amateur manga historians"). You can see it a lot in manga about the manga production process, where harried editors ask if anyone knows where X-sensei is, offer to cook dinner for Y-sensei so that they can keep working, etc. (Assistants to manga artists, however, do not receive the title.)

    It seems like the Japanese word sensei became attached to professions, signifying someone who does a certain thing rather than is a certain thing. Thus, when women began forcing society to recognize them as professionals in these roles, they were able to inherit the title as well — although as richard says there are still subtle ways of recreating the traditional hierarchy within the new system.

  12. Rubrick said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    The progression into "prostitute", then back out again, is remarkable. Or was that perhaps just a regional or specialized usage (similar to "madam" in English, come to think of it)?

  13. Kellen Parker said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

    It was mentioned in passing in a class of mixed Mainlanders and Taiwanese that there is even now, in the most formal of settings and among those with a strong background in classical Chinese, a distinction to be made between Xiānsheng with 轻声 and Xiānshēng without. I don't how if there's any truth to this, as the professor was the only one who was confident of the distinction.

  14. Kellen Parker said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

    And I've just remembered my other point. In Taiwan, 小姐 is ubiquitous as a term of address for women, sometimes without regard to age. With this in mind and knowing that 女士 is taken to be a bit stuffy, I once asked someone how I should refer to my 70 year old landlord when I call her on the phone. I was told that despite her age, 张小姐 would be just fine.

    I had to stop myself on many occasions when on the Mainland last month to keep myself from calling all the women xiaojie.

  15. Jean-Michel said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

    The Chinese film The Grandmaster (which just opened in the U.S.) has the Zhang Ziyi character referred to as 先生 by her father's students/disciples. It seemed a bit unusual to me–like Bjorn, I live in mainland China, and I don't hear females referred to as 先生 here–but I assumed it was either a martial-arts convention or a period usage (the film is set in the 1930s-50s).

  16. Victor Mair said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

    The Chinese Wikipedia article that I cited in the original post gives for the Taiwanese pronunciation of 先生:

    Pe̍h-ōe-jī (Church Romanization) sian-seⁿ / sian-siⁿ

    Taiwanese Pinyin sian-sinn

  17. Martin said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

    I went to primary school in Hong Kong in the 90s and all my teachers (male or female) were addressed as X先生. It's not rare in HK Cantonese, it's the absolutely bog standard way to call a teacher in HK Cantonese.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

    From Bob Ramsey:

    All those terms of address are rather complex in Korean, Victor (I had almost a chapter on them in my book). But briefly, the Korean rendering of 先生 is, as I'm sure you know and a couple of people have said, 선생. BUT, when addressing a teacher, you have to add the native Korean suffix 님. In contrast, my own teacher in Korea refers to me (just as he does the rest of his students who have a PhD) as Ramsey 선생, definitely without the Korean honorific suffix. In contrast, I call him JUST 선생님 without his name—which is most important: I cannot use his name with it! I would never say to him, *이 선생님. (Just writing it now makes me feel uncomfortable, as it most certainly would him. It would be a big breach of etiquette.) That usage stands in contrast with that of Japanese, where use of the teacher's surname is all right.

    And another thing: Another old student of his, who is a couple of years older than me and who helped me in a lot of ways, also calls me Ramsey 선생. However, in a letter, for example, I must address him as 이 XX 선생님 WITH the honorific suffix.

  19. David Morris said,

    August 25, 2013 @ 10:45 pm

    I have noticed that Chinese ESL students mix up he/him/his and she/her/hers more than students from any other country. In Chinese, how much distinction is made between males and females in terms of address/terms of reference/ pronouns? Are Chinese speakers used to making this distinction in their speech? (I'm sure that they can recognise a man or woman when they see one.)

  20. Jean-Michel said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 12:02 am

    The standard Mandarin third-person pronoun is , which is equivalent to English "he," "she," and "it." It's distinguished in writing as 他 (masculine/neuter), 她 (feminine), and 它 (inanimate/animal)–and/or 牠 (animal) and 祂 (god) in some areas–but they're all pronounced . I'm not familiar with non-Mandarin languages, but as I understand it, 佢 (keoi5) is the colloquial Cantonese third-person pronoun, and is similarly equivalent to "he," "she," and "it." Do any Chinese languages make common use of gendered pronouns?

  21. julie lee said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 12:12 am

    As the title of Professor Mair's post is "Mr. and Ms. in Chinese", I was also hoping to see more information on "Ms." and hopefully, on "Miss" and "Mrs." in Chinese as well.
    The old, pre-Mao era, terms were "Xiaojie 小姐“ (Miss),, "Taitai太太" (Mrs.), "Furen 夫人" (Mrs.) , and "Nushi 女士“ (Ms.)。 Are they still used in China?

  22. Victor Mair said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 5:44 am

    Jean-Michel and julie lee have both made valuable additions to this thread.

    The graphic distinction of the genders of third person pronouns is a recent innovation, done in emulation of European languages, and is undetectable in speech.

  23. David Morris said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 6:15 am

    So one Chinese pronoun tā might transfer to Chinese ESL students using one English pronoun only, but they don't – they mostly use 'he' and 'she' correctly, but often enough to be noticeable switch them.

  24. David Morris said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 6:16 am

    PS another thing I've noticed about Chinese ESL students is a tendency to mix subject, object and possessive pronouns, and also to use 'he's house'.

  25. Daniel said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    There was also an unsuccessful attempt in the early twentieth century to introduce gendered pronouns to spoken Mandarin by resurrecting the archaic/dialect (and originally genderless) 3rd-person pronoun 伊 and arbitrarily adopting it as the equivalent of the feminine third-person pronouns of European languages. A number of Chinese intellectuals argued that the introduction of a distinct pronoun for women would be a step in the direction of gender equality—a striking contrast to today's prevailing assumptions about the relationship between pronouns and gender relations! This book review of a recent Chinese monograph covers the topic in a way that should be accessible to non-Chinese speakers.

    @David Morris: Surely there is nothing unusual about language learners understanding the existence of a linguistic distinction in L2 that does not exist in their own L1, but being unable to produce it consistently? Your students are probably fully aware of the difference between "he" and "she" in English, but because they don't have a deeply ingrained habit of using gendered pronouns they sometimes make mistakes. At a more subtle level, L1 Spanish speakers often have a similar problem with distinguishing the English possessive pronouns "his/her" (identical in Spanish), despite the fact that they can correctly distinguish between "he/she" (distinct in Spanish). And of course, L1 English speakers often make mistakes with noun genders in Spanish and other languages, but they will seldom try to get away with assigning all nouns the same gender.

  26. hanmeng said,

    August 26, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

    @ Kellen
    I know a late-fifties woman in Taiwan who would prefer to be addressed as 小姐, but when shopping is now generally addressed as 大姐 (dàjiě; "elder sister"), or sometimes 老闆娘 (lǎo​bǎnniáng, which is usually used to address the proprietress of a small business; she considers it even less polite).

  27. Wentao said,

    August 27, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

    @julie lee
    All these terms are in use. 太太 has a Hong Kong/Taiwan feeling, and can sometimes be used after the husband's surname, following the Western practice.

    I have once seen an article in the predominant Beijing newspaper 新京报 referring to an old woman as 张婆婆, which surprised me because (a) it is rather colloquial and (b) personally I find 婆婆 sound distinctively southern. Then I found this is an exception: in most cases the standard is 女士 regardless of age.

  28. Chris said,

    August 27, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

    When I attended graduate school at National Taiwan University in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in official department correspondence or documents, female professors were referred to as "xiānshēng 先生," exactly the same as male professors. Unfamiliar with this practice, I asked the dept secretary about it and was informed this was the norm and was a bit of "proper" Chinese that I should learn. When addressing a female professor or referring to her in conversation, however, students would simply call her "[surname] Lǎoshī," not "[surname] Xiānshēng." Again, this was exactly the same way we would speak to a male professor. "Xiānshēng 先生" was used as a term of respect among colleagues addressing each other as peers or by professors referring to their own teacher of a previous generation.

  29. Janet Williams said,

    August 29, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    1) As a child in Malaysia, we referred to our female church minister as '生‘: 彭生 (It must be a short-form for 彭先生, Teacher Peng).

    2) Rare: female writers who are honoured are referred to as 先生. This is a title that 冰心, Bing Xin has earned.

    3) 先生娘: My mother (speaking Hokkien) refers to her late mother-in-law as a 先生娘 (pronunciation close to: hsien xi nui). 先生娘 is known as a female local 'doctor', who can treat certain ailments.

  30. Dave Cragin said,

    August 30, 2013 @ 9:41 pm

    In my many trips to China, the only time I’ve heard a woman called xiansheng 先生 was a Professor in her early 80s at Peking U. She attended my lectures and the staff made a point of explaining the title was due to her highly respected position (however, she was a delightful unassuming person who even apologized for having to miss one of my lectures).

    @Julie Lee (I always like your posts)
    Xiaojie is a word in transition. Although I’ve heard it many times on the mainland, I’ve similarly been told not to use it because it also means prostitute. My native Chinese friends use it because they have an innate sense of when it’s appropriate.

    Taitai, furen and Nushi are also still commonly used. Laopo 老公(husband) and laopo 老婆(wife ) are also used on the mainland, but a friend from Beijing said she thought this was more of a Southern thing from Cantonese (which maybe you can comment on?). I know some Mandarin speaking Shanghainese that use it.

    In a bakery in Shanghai, a friend from Beijing called the worker xiaoguniang (小姑娘). I asked her about it and she said “it’s just for fun.” Other friends told me they’d never say this.

    On the common mistake by Chinese related to he/she when speaking English: In the book, Dreaming in Mandarin, the author offers a thought on this: because the spoken “ta” is gender neutral, Chinese learn to speak without thinking about gender differences for this word. It’s only when they learn to write the gender-specific characters that a distinction is made and by this time, thought processes on verbal communication are well-ingrained. – an insightful perspecitve.

  31. Janet Williams said,

    August 31, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    He/she/it: In Hokkien, it's pronounced as 'yi'.

    In 陳映真's famous story,  山路 (a pdf), the female character is consistently referred to as 伊 (yī) — she/her.

  32. julie lee said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 9:45 am

    @David Cragin
    Thank you so much. (I didn't check this post for a few days because I thought it had ended.) I'm glad to hear the pre-Mao era addresses for women are still being used.
    As for 小姑娘 xiao guning "little maid(en)", that would be complimentary. I remembered a courtly old gentleman acquaintance of mine who had escaped from Croatia during the Cold War calling me "beautiful young lady" when I was far from young. So gracious of him.

  33. Gpa said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    11. "scribe; clerk" (late Qing-early Republican period).

    Where'd u get that from? 先生, as a scribe, clerk as been used since the Song/Sung dynasty or if not, then even before the Song/Sung dynasty, not the late Qing, early Republic period. It's Republic, not Republican because there were no such thing as Republican in Chinese history, as American politics do. Look up 公孫先生, who was a clerk under famous 包公 from Song/Sung dynasty. For the meaning of teacher, it's from Confucius times and used until now. Borrowed into Japanese where it's pronounced sensei[I'm suspecting that this pronunciation is borrowed via Wu dialects, etc...], an approximate pronunciation, at best..

  34. Gpa said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 11:46 am

    The standard Mandarin third-person pronoun is tā, which is equivalent to English "he," "she," and "it." It's distinguished in writing as 他 (masculine/neuter), 她 (feminine), and 它 (inanimate/animal)–and/or 牠 (animal) and 祂 (god) in some areas–but they're all pronounced tā. I'm not familiar with non-Mandarin languages, but as I understand it, 佢 (keoi5) is the colloquial Cantonese third-person pronoun, and is similarly equivalent to "he," "she," and "it." Do any Chinese dialects* make common use of gendered pronouns?

    Don't know about "he;him", but from Wu, "she/her" would be 伊.

    *dialects, not languages. If they were separate languages, then there would be separate countries and separate writing systems. Since they are all spoken in Mainland China, as one country, and the written language is based mostly on Mandarin, then there's no reason to call them "languages".

  35. Gpa said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    He/she/it: In Hokkien, it's pronounced as 'yi'.

    I guess Hokkien borrowed from Wu?

    Like I said I don't know about "he/him"/ "it", but she is definitely 伊, 'yi'.

    There was a time when 伊 was proposed to be used for "she/her", but that didn't go through, so now 她 is used in Mandarin instead.

  36. Gpa said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    Laogong 老公(husband) and laopo 老婆(wife ) are also used on the mainland, but a friend from Beijing said she thought this was more of a Southern thing from Cantonese.

    老公 & 老婆 are used more in Cantonese, but the origin of it isn't even from Cantonese. I read somewhere where it's from some place in China during the Tang(?) dynasty, a husband had wtitten a couplet in verse for his wife, his wife has to return the couplet in verse. He used the words 老婆. His wife being cute, wrote back using 老公. I forgot where it was, but the origin is not from Cantonese. Most likely derived from the shortening of 老公公 & 老婆婆 or some similar derivation. Mainlanders mainly now borrow terms used in Cantonese from Hong Kong.

  37. Gpa said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    a husband had wtitten a couplet in verse for his wife
    Sorry "wtitten" should be "written" instead.

  38. Gpa said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    In my many trips to China, the only time I’ve heard a woman called xiansheng 先生 was a Professor in her early 80s at Peking U. She attended my lectures and the staff made a point of explaining the title was due to her highly respected position (however, she was a delightful unassuming person who even apologized for having to miss one of my lectures).

    In ancient times, she would be called a 女先生, due to 先生 as a term is reserved for men.

  39. julie lee said,

    September 1, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    @Janet Williams, @ Gpa

    I have encountered 伊 (yī) in classical Chinese meaning he/she. I've also encountered 佢 (keoi5 in Cantonese, qu in Mandarin) in classical Chinese meaning he/she, though the character was written with the 言(yan) radical . I thought they were variants of 其(qi) "he/she" in classical Chinese. Maybe 佢 (keoi5) and 伊 (yī) were regional or dialectal variations of 其(qi).

    Re 先生(xiansheng): As far as i know, all the school-teachers, male or female, in Taiwan and pre-Mao China were called 先生(xiansheng), although this word also means "Mr." Thus this word also means "Teacher" (man or woman), as in "Teacher Wang (Wang Xiansheng)", "Teacher Li" , "Teacher Zhang"…. Teachers are also addressed as 老師 (laoshi), as in "Wang Laoshi (Teacher Wang)", etc.

  40. Gpa said,

    September 7, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    xiansheng 先生 was a Professor

    Professor is 教授 in Chinese. I don't know why people in China is still a bit backward, especially when it comes to specified terms. People still write and use 计算机 even though it's correct at a translation standpoint, it's incorrect when used in everyday language. It's now called 电脑 only for those from China who's been all over the world. If they are still in China, then there's a chance that 计算机 is still used.

  41. Peter Nelson said,

    September 10, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    @Gpa In India, Hindi and Marathi (both written in the Devanagari script) are considered different languages. In Belgium, French and Flemish (both written in the Roman alphabet) are considered different languages. In the UK, English and Welsh (both written in the Roman alphabet) are considered different languages. …

    I could go on. Some people refer to the 方言 as "dialects" and some as "languages". It depends on how you define the difference between the two. In any event, it's silly to say that

    there's no reason to call them "languages".

    If you define different languages based on mutual intelligibility, then 方言 are different languages. If you define languages based on their mapping to ethnic groups and countries, then they're dialects. It's hardly uncontroversial.

  42. Beverly Hong said,

    September 13, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    I've written on this subject with an ethno-linguistic explanation in "How to address women in polite circles" in Pacific Linguistics, edited by Steven Wurm. The Australian National University.

    Other papers on Chinese terms of address such as Ah-Yi, Shu-shu, Bo-bo, etc. can be found on my "Chinese Language Use", Contemporary China Papers, the Australian National University.

  43. D.Bui said,

    September 14, 2013 @ 3:45 am

    先生 is read tiên sinh in Vietnamese, but this word is not used at all. I might've been in use in the distant past, I don't know, but now it's certainly no longer.

    Today you can only hear it in those dubbed 'historical' soap operas from China.

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