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Ken Mallott found a Chinese use of a Japanese word in a way that surprised him.  He explains that he's an Orioles fan, and in 2012 they signed Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (陳殷), who apparently has quite the following back in Taiwan. His fans have taken to posting Chinese messages in traditional script on Facebook before 殷仔's starts, encouraging their fellow supporters to get up early to watch him pitch.

Before discussing the word in question, here is a note on the pronunciation of Wei-Yin Chen's nickname, 殷仔, from Michael Cannings:

In Taiwanese it would be In-á. As you know, the 仔 suffix is strongly associated with Taiwanese. But on the news they call him Yīnzǎi, i.e., the Mandarin pronunciation. The former Yankees pitcher Wang Jian-min was called Jiànzǎi 建 (again with Mandarin pronunciation) by the media in Taiwan, and Chen Wei-yin, as a foreign-based player, has followed the same pattern since his stint in Japan. I don't know whether they use the Taiwanese forms on the Taiwanese-language news programs.

Ken noted the use of gānbadiē 甘吧爹 as a Chinese transcription of the Japanese word ganbatte がんばって / 頑張って ("go for it; do your best") by Chen's fans.  The characters of the Chinese transcription 甘吧爹 literally mean:

gān 甘 ("sweet")

ba 吧 (final particle indicating a suggestion, request, approval, etc.; used for transcription of foreign sounds [e.g., "bar"] and for onomatopoeia)

diē 爹 ("dad")    [Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!]

Obviously these definitions have nothing whatsoever to do with the meaning of ganbatte, the Chinese syllables serving only to transcribe the sounds of the Japanese word.  It is clear that ganbatte –> gānbadiē 甘吧爹 ("do your best; go for it") has entered Chinese through the oral realm.  This is quite different from the names of Japanese persons and places, where Sapporo 札幌 is pronounced as Zháhuǎng and Kawabata Yasunari 川端康成 is pronounced as Chuānduān Kāngchéng, following the Chinese pronunciation rather than attempting to transcribe the Japanese pronunciation.  It would seem strange indeed to pronounce the kanji used to write the vernacular term ganbatte, namely 頑張, as wánzhāng.

Here's a brief introduction (from Wired in Japan) to the word ganbatte with sample sentences showing how to use it in various conjugations (derived from the infinitive form ganbaru がんばる /  頑張る ("to do one's best").

Instead of gānbadiē 甘吧爹 ("do your best; go for it"), Chen's supporters could cheer him on with the Chinese expression jiāyóu 加油 ("make an extra effort; go!"), but then the nyuansu ニュアンス ("nuance") would be different.  We must bear in mind that, prior to joining the Orioles, Chen spent four years in the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan and that — because Taiwan was a colony of Japan for half a century (1895-1945) — the influence of Japanese culture there is even greater than it is elsewhere.


  1. Alyssa said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 10:13 pm

    I'm not sure I understand – why are Chen's fans cheering him on with a Japanese phrase? Is his having played in Japan for four years enough to make fans consider him Japanese in some way? Or is this something that started back when he was playing there and now it's just an in-joke?

  2. mcur said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 12:41 am

    I've always thought of 頑張る and 加油 as being basically equivalent. I'd be interested to hear more about the difference in nuance between them.

  3. unekdoud said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 1:05 am

    I believe Ganbatte is widespread enough in Taiwan, or perhaps in China, for it to be used on its own. I guess it's readily understood by anyone who follows Japanese culture or perhaps anime/manga, so its usage is more widespread.

  4. Charles said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 1:18 am

    Just a minor quibble: I do believe that, “derived from the infinitive form,” should probably read “derived from the imperfective form” or perhaps simply, “derived from the verb.” It certainly is the usual dictionary form, but it isn't infinitive.

  5. Daniel said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 5:08 am

    "because Taiwan was a colony of Japan for half a century (1845-1945)" – I believe this should be 1895 rather than 1845.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 7:19 am


    Thanks very much for your minor quibble. I hesitated when I wrote "infinitive" that it wasn't right, but couldn't remember what the correct term for the dictionary form of the verb is. I do recall, however, that the last time (about 45 years ago when I was first learning Japanese) I asked this question (viz., what to call the dictionary form of the Japanese verb other than "dictionary form"), the answers I received were so bewildering that I tried hard not to think about this problem for the next half century.

    I'm very grateful to several scholars for replying to my question about the dictionary form of the verb this time around.

    From Nathan Hopson:


    It goes by a few names.

    In Japanese classrooms, we tend to call it either the "dictionary form" or "(nonpast) plain form," the latter of which is meant to distinguish it from the 〜ます form(s). It's also sometimes referred to as the "(nonpast) nonpolite" form for the same reason, though I've never heard anyone call it that to students, perhaps because of a fear of being misunderstood as "impolite."

    Grammarians have another term for it, which is 終止形 ("terminal" or "predicative" — I think — form), but Japanese learners almost never come across this usage. Different terms are used for 国語 (Japanese for Japanese) and for 日本語 (Japanese for the rest of us), so 終止形 only appears in research papers and in 国語 textbooks — until you get to classical Japanese for the rest of us.

    One reason that we call it the plain form in modern Japanese language classrooms is that the 連体形 (attributive/adjectival) and 終止形 are identical since the C20 language reforms (except for the copula):

    It's much easier to teach one form with an exception (だ→な for the 連体形) than to get into the vagaries of attribute vs. terminal.


    From Bob Ramsey:


    I usually follow Jorden¹s usages and just call it the direct-style
    non-past (or imperfective).


    I'm confident that these are authoritative and correct explanations, but I'm still left wondering why Japanese grammarians are compelled — when talking about something so seemingly simple (at least one would think that it might be simple) as the dictionary form of the verb — to invent difficult-to-comprehend terms like "non-past" and "non-polite". Do they mean to say that all forms other than the -ru form are past and polite?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 7:25 am

    From a Japanese language teacher:


    In the field of Japanese as a second language, we use 'Dictionary Form' or 'Plain, Present/Future (or Non-Past) Affirmative Form' besides 'Infinitive'. In the traditional Japanese grammar, 終止形(しゅうしけい/shuushikei) is used. The ending is either -u or -ru, by the way.


    It seems from this reply that "infinitive" is one of the many possible ways to refer to the — dare I call it this? — basic form of the Japanese verb.

  8. Plane said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 9:31 am

    One problem with calling it infinitive is that the dictionary form of the verb is, in fact, finite. Another problem is that eminent linguists such as Samuel Martin refer to an actual non-finite form, がんばり, as the infinitive.

    As noted by earlier commenters, many grammars of Japanese distinguish 終止形 shūshikei "conclusive form" from 連体形 rentaikei "adnominal form". This is helpful if you're studying the historical language, because the two forms were once distinguished much more widely than they are today.

    In Modern Japanese we find a wide-scale syncretism between the two forms in almost every case, and many modern grammars—particularly those targeted at second language learners—collapse them into one category and use a single term for both. I've seen both 辞書形 jishokei "dictionary form" and 普通形 futsūkei "plain form" used. In English, it's also referred to as the "citation form", as well as the "nonpast form" or "imperfective form".

    Among historical linguists we find various translations. For 終止形 shūshikei, Frellesvig and Vovin use "conclusive", while Martin uses "predicative". For 連体形 rentaikei, Frellesvig uses "adnominal", while Vovin and Martin use "attributive".

    If you study Japanese long enough, I think you'll find at least four names for every form a word can take.

  9. Kai Carver said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 11:07 am

    Of course, these kinds of Japanese expressions are also popular in Taiwan because of Japanese drama TV shows.

    And now, with the popularity of Korean drama, I am told people in Taiwan like to say something like "faiting!" (I'm not sure how or if they write it).

    They also use the Japanese version, "faito!".

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

    From a retired professor of advanced Japanese language and literature courses:


    When you say "What do you call," are you asking for a definition in English or Japanese?

    Verbs ending in -ru are many, and they are of different kinds — I don't know too well, but just a few that I can think of:

    aru (there is or describing the state )
    kono heya ni wa mado ga aru (There is a window in this room) – 実質動詞 substantial verb????
    kare ha kyoju de aru (he is a professor) – 補助動詞 auxiliary verb???? or supplementary verb?????

    iru (to be; exists, or describing the state)
    inu ga iru (a dog is there, or (that family has a dog) 実質動詞
    inu ga nete iru (the dog is sleeping) 補助動詞

    Then, a verb can be intransitive (jidoo-shi: 自動詞)or transitive (ta-dooshi: 他動詞)

    We do not worry about Verbs that do not change the form such as:
    noboru (to climb 登る), or deru (to depart, or to go out 出る)― jidoo-shi: 自動詞)

    oru (to be, to exist 居る)is a jidoo-shi: 自動詞.
    but the homonyms: oru (to break 折る)and oru (to weave 織る)are transitive, ta-dooshi: 他動詞.
    kotowaru (to deline, turn down 断る) (jidoo-shi: 自動詞),
    kiru (to wear, 着る) I think this is jidoo-shi: 自動詞) I'm not sure
    but the homonyms: kiru(to cut, 切る), kiru(to slice [with a sword] 斬る)、 kiru (to fell a tree 伐る)these are all ta-dooshi: 他動詞

    There are verbs that change functions by a slight change of one syllabale, such as:

    tomaru (止まる、to stop) and tomaru (泊まる, to stay overnight at an inn, someone's house, etc.) are intransitive [jidoo-shi: 自動詞])
    tomeru (止める、to stop) and tomaru (泊める, let someone stay ) are transitive [ta-dooshi: 他動詞] 

    I don't know whether this answers your question – because I didn't understand your question.


  11. Victor Mair said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

    From the same person as the last commenter:


    infinitive form ganbaru がんばる / 頑張る ("to do one's best").

    is a typical intransitive verb: jidǭshi 自動詞.

    頑張れーcommand form 命令形 used generally but more by men than women (though women also use this form)

    頑張ってーis also a command form 命令形, but gentler, used more by women than men. Men usually use 頑張れ Ganbare!!!


  12. leoboiko said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

    when talking about something so seemingly simple (at least one would think that it might be simple) as the dictionary form of the verb — to invent difficult-to-comprehend terms like "non-past" and "non-polite". Do they mean to say that all forms other than the -ru form are past and polite?

    The problem with "dictionary form" (or its more linguistic cousin, "citation form") is that it really doesn't tell you anything about what the form is for, only that it's the one selected for dictionary listings. Any form can be a citation form, really (Hebrew uses the 3rd person masculine gal, for example).

    "Infinitive" seems a particularly bad choice because, as others have noted, the form isn't infinitive! The only reason to call it the "infinitive" seems to be a confusion between non-finiteness and citation forms, because the infinitive happens to be the citation form in many European languages. It does not follow that all citation forms everywhere should be called "infinitive"!

    The term "non-past" was likely proposed to emphasise that, differently from languages described in traditional Latin-style grammars, Japanese doesn't have a "present" form distinct from "future" form. There's just past, and everything else; the verb can be marked for past, or not be marked for past. If you call it the "present" form, it would seem like one could use it only for present, but in fact it's also used for the future.

    That said, a closer look will show that the "past" form isn't actually about the past at all (as in a time reference from the moment of enunciation), it's about completed actions. Usually completed actions are in the past, so language-teaching textbooks can get by when calling this the "past form". However, it can also appear in non-past contexts (ashita atta toki ni…). So "perfective" and "imperfective" are more accurate and less prone to create confusion in the future – as long as you teach the students what does the word "perfective " mean (which I didn't find particularly difficult, really).

    "Non-polite" is just the way they found of describing expressions that are, well, not polite. What other word could you use? "Impolite" is stronger than "non-polite", and "normal" or "plain" explains nothing (because it's "normal" or "plain" in relation to what? tense, aspect, mood, transitiveness suffixes?) "Direct" seems like a good choice, but I personally never had any problems with the term "non-polite" (or non-past, for that matter). (Perhaps it's from my background in computer science: it's simple, it just means the bit for "politeness" is turned off…). I also find the traditional grammars (with 終止形 and 連体形 and 四段 verbs) to be a lot less confusing than the so-called "Japanese education" grammars (with their "辞書形" and "ます形" and "Group I verbs" and so on), but that may be a matter of taste.

    If you want a really thorny issue, try deciding whether the "na-adjectives" should be considered inflected words including the "na" and all, or uninflected noun-like words accompanied by the copula (with a special 連体形 form "na"). Are they na-adjectives, adjectival nouns, nominal adjectives, keiyōdōshi, junmeishi, or what? I find it amazing how this one question continues to create endless debates, from traditional grammarians (Hashimoto vs. everyone else) to modern linguists (cf. generativist Baker, Lexical categories vs. cognitivist Uehara, Syntactic categories in Japanese, for interesting arguments reaching opposite conclusions).

  13. Matt said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 8:20 pm

    Do they mean to say that all forms other than the -ru form are past and polite?

    I think "non-past" is a pretty standard way of describing a verb form that can be used for both the present and the future (as opposed to a system like e.g. Latin where you have "amo" "I love" vs "amabo" "I will love"). I've seen "non-past" used to refer to PIE forms too, although I don't know if that's still considered state of the art.

  14. Patrick said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    As a cultural side note, if you will: I'm from Switzerland, and when I started reading this post, "He explains that he's an Orioles fan, and in 2012 they signed Taiwanese pitcher …" confused me quite a bit, as I had no idea what "Orioles" might be, and when then a "Taiwanese pitcher" appeared, I started thinking of pottery (Orioles – some kind of earthenware brand, maybe?)… but then a name followed, so I indeed started to suspect it having doing to do with sports, confirmed by continuing reading which revealed to me that, apparently, it's about baseball.

  15. Simon P said,

    June 15, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

    Side-note about the pronunciation of 殷仔: I believe the "zai3" reading is actually an import into Mandarin from Cantonese, where the suffix is as common as it is in Taiwanese. In native Mandarin words, the character is read "zi3", but it's read as "zai3" in words borrowed from Cantonese, such as 牛仔褲 "niu2 zai3 ku4", jeans (from 牛仔, cowboy, and 褲, pants).

    Since 仔 is used as an affectionate suffix in Hong Kong, I suspect the mainlanders have gotten the habit of reading it as "zai3" from talking about HK celebrities. If not for this influence, they'd have probably read 殷仔 as "yin1 zi3", or maybe even "yin1 a1" or something similar, borrowing the reading from Taiwanese instead.

  16. W. Sun said,

    June 16, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    I wonder where the expression jiāyóu 加油 came from as a phrase for encouragement. Literally it means add oil or add fuel; eg. add oil to the fire so it burns fiercer or add fuel to the engine. There are several explanations in the interweb that sound shaky at best, none in the dictionaries I have available.

  17. Ron said,

    June 16, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

    Thanks for bringing back (intermittently) fond memories of trying to learn Japanese while working 80+ hrs/week at a big law firm. I was young and indestructible, I love learning new languages and I'm not bad at it, but I'm afraid it didn't end well. Japanese brought me low. Well, Japanese and partnership taxation. No surviving those two.

    I do remember the verbs being referred to as "dictionary form." That didn't mean much to me at the time but now seems a better alternative than giving them some technical name that non-linguists would never understand. I loved the politeness/affinity matrix, which clearly was designed by someone who thought Japanese was otherwise just too easy. And it was pretty cool when our teacher (a woman) played a recording of a speech by Donald Keene and told us afterward that it was obvious (from word choice?) that Prof. Keene had learned his Japanese from a woman.

    Oh, and "kiru" vs. "kiru" – I remember that one. There were a few others, too, which I can't remember just now. I think I recall reading once here on LL that Japanese actually has a pitch accent system that native and fluent speakers use but which isn't usually taught to beginning students (I certainly never learned it). Might have helped. Then again, probably not.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    June 16, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

    From Jim Unger:

    It's called the dictionary form, the citation form, the plain-style imperfect affirmative, etc. In Japanese school grammar, it's the shu^shi-rentaikei. The term infinitive used by Bloch, Martin, and others refers to what the Japanese call the ren'yo^kei.

  19. Adrian said,

    June 17, 2014 @ 6:10 am

    This discussion about verb form in Japanese dictionaries reminds me how difficult it is to look up some of the most common irregular verbs in Hungarian dictionaries.

  20. Rubrick said,

    June 17, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

    My eternal thanks to this post for providing me with the embarassing insight that the root of "infinitive" is "finite". It had honestly never dawned on me. And I've been thinking about words for many decades.

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