You say “gege,” I say “gugu”; you’re Chinese, I’m Akkadian, and we’re both talking about virgins

Mandarin I Berkeley Extension – Class 6 – Oct. 11, 2011

425 Market Street
San Francisco, CA
Professor: Virginia Mau

“Ge ge” (guh-guh) means “elder brother” 哥哥 ge1ge, but less commonly, it also means “princess” 格格 ge2ge2. Think of this double “G” sound as signifying for “a person of distinction”rather than be confused how it could stand for both female and male. The other similarity is that the wealth of these individuals stays within the family.

“Gege (Chinese: 格格; Pinyin: Gégé) was the Manchu style of an imperial-born princess of an
emperor. Daughters of the first ranked princes also used the same title.” – Wikipedia

 = frame, rule

The Sumerians called the home of their priestesses “gagu,” which is very close to “gege.”

The most significant case under this heading is that of the women called nadîtu, who are best known in the middle decades of the second millennium. This Akkadian name, meaning ‘left fallow’ – like an uncultivated field, a transparent metaphor – applied to the daughters of great families who, perhaps to avoid the splitting up of inheritances – for their possessions returned to their family after their death – were pledged to a god. Especially devout, as we gather from the phrases, tone and content of their letters, they lived together in a sort of convent called gagû, adjoining the temple or in its grounds, under the leadership of a ‘mother’, surrounded and assisted by both male and female staff.

For more info, see:

Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia
By Jean Bottéro, André Finet, Bertrand Lafont, Georges Roux, Antonia Nevill, ©2001

 = to do; to make; to produce

Interesting to note that
 = to suck

In Mandarin, there is only one zuo1, but 21 total zuos with different tones

他们在做什么? = What are they doing?
Ta1men2   zai4 zuo4 shen2 me?

可樂/可乐 = Cola
ke3 le4 ke3 le4

我在喝 = I am drinking.
Wo3 zai4 he1

Chinese zodiac: Shēngxiào 生肖
According to Wikipedia, the Chinese zodiac is not associated with the constellations. It does share similarities to the Western zodiac, however, including 12 divisions (the Chinese is years rather than months) with a majority of the names being derived from animals.

The times of day for each animal, followed by the Chinese character that is its“Earthly branch.” Ms. Mau says the animal character is on one’s birth certificate in China. “Birth times should match that of one’s spouse,” according to cultural beliefs. The I Ching uses these horoscope signs.


According to Wikipedia: “The I Ching (Wade-Giles) or “Yì Jīng” (pinyin), also known as the Classic of  Changes, Book of Changes and Zhouyi, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. The book contains a divination system comparable to Western geomancy or the West African Ifá system; in Western cultures and modern East Asia, it is still widely used for this purpose.Traditionally, the I Ching and its hexagrams were thought to pre-date the recorded history, and based on traditional Chinese accounts, its origins trace back to the 3rd to the 2nd millennium BC. Modern scholarship suggests that the earliest layer of the text may date from the end of the 2nd millennium BC, but place doubts on much of the mythological aspects in the traditional accounts. Some consider theI Ching’s extant compilation dates back to 1,000 BC. The oldest manuscript that’s been found, albeit incomplete, are texts written on bamboo slips, and dates to the Warring States Period… [475 BC to the reunification of China under the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC].”

釘/钉 = nail

The character on the left is the radical for “metal” or “gold,” the character on the right has the sound of “ding1” and looks like a nail. The sound “ding1” is represented by different characters which have meanings related to “nail”: for example, “to sting,” “to boil,” “to cobble, to patch,” “stare, gaze” (one’s eyes are nailed to the view), “jingling, tinkling,” and “alone.” A solitary nail.

 = knife, old coin, measure; also has this form:刂

 = to create, to make to invent; to begin

 = power, capability, influence

 = to do; to manage; to handle; to go about; to run; to set up; to deal with

 = male (see knife/power below, field/target above)

= penis (Cantonese)

From Wikipedia: “Guanyin is the bodhisattva [an enlightened (bodhi) existence (sattva) or an enlightenment-being or, given the variant Sanskrit spelling satva rather than sattva, “heroic-minded one (satva) for enlightenment (bodhi)”] associated with compassion as venerated by East Asian Buddhists, usually as a female. The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin which means “Observing the Sounds (orCries) of the World”.  She is also sometimes referred to as Guanyin Pusa (simplified Chinese: 观音菩萨; traditionalChinese: 觀音菩薩; pinyin: Guānyīn Púsà; Wade–Giles: Kuan-yin Pu-sah; literally “Bodhisattva Guanyin”).

“It is generally accepted (in the Chinese community) that Guanyin originated as the Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara, which is her male form. Commonly known in English as the Mercy Goddess or Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin is also revered by Chinese Taoists (sometimes called Daoists) as an Immortal.However, in Taoist mythology, Guanyin has other origination stories which are not directly related to Avalokiteśvara.”

丫= slave girl

環/环 = bracelet; ring (not for finger); to surround; to loop; loop

丫环 = slave girl
ya1 huan2

“My grandmother was not the first wife.” Paraphrased: When my grandfather stood at the corner of the street(?), he got married to my grandmother, they had one daughter. They lived together; he had two wives in the same big house. When they both had girls everyone was happy. But then the second wife [my grandmother] had a boy. Then three boys. My dad was the youngest. Grandfather gave second wife the house. First wife is now gone. Now they did not admit there was a first wife. Grandfather supportedfirst wife (allegedly). My mom was the CEO of a dept. store. They did a background check of my mom.
Many things my dad didn’t know about his family came up. They changed his name. He would not have been allowed to go to school (because of name?). My grandmother became a widow at 31. My dad was18 months old. She had a second grade education and a city to run.

寡妇 = widow
gua3 fu4

 = widowed; alone, friendless

婦/妇 = woman

Compare these characters below, note that the only part that changes is the bottom:

 = widow

 = saliva; spittle; flowing downstream

 = mark

 = black ox, yak
li2 or mao2

One’s widow, one’s essence, one’s mark and one’s ox: all the things that one who is male leaves behind.

 = widow
 = frost; crystallized; candied

A widow is a woman who is frozen.

遗孀 = widow
yi2 shuang1

遺/遗 = to lose; to leave behind

 = which, where, how
nǎ něi na né

 = that, that one, those
nà nèi nā nǎ né něi nuó nuò (all pronunciations)

天子 = son of heaven: the emperor; since Mao couldn’t call himself a “child of heaven,” he called the Chinese people  zhong1 “the center.”

 = English, brave

 = Germany; virtue; goodness; morality; ethics; kindness; favor; character; kind

 = France, law; method; way

 = language; culture; writing; formal; literary; gentle

語/语 = dialect; language; speech
Wen3 is more inclusive; yu3 is only speech

 = day; sun; date; day of the month; Japan (abbrev.)

 = roots or stems of plants; origin; source; this; the current; root; foundation; basis; (a measure word)

日本 = Japanese
ri2 ben3
Only the Japanese call their country “ri2 ben3 guo3”. The Chinese say ri2ben3 without guo2 because “not a country” (read: insult).

 = country

日文 = Japanese written language
ri2 wen3

日语 = Japanese spoken language
ri2 yu3

語/语 = spoken language/speech

华人 = ethnic Chinese person or people
hua2 ren2

華/华 = (abbreviation for) China; (surname) Hua; magnificent; splendid; flowery

汉人 = Han Chinese person or people
han4 ren2

漢/汉 = Chinese; name of a dynasty

Ms. Mau says these are older terms for Chinese, and the modern term (since 1949) is zhong1 .
Never say “zhong yu” or “hua wen,” only: zhong1 wen3 or han4 yu3.

汉文 Han4 wen3 is ancient China literature: Seal Script.
Han fu is “big man” in Cantonese. Not sure I found the right Han fu:

韓/韩 = South Korea; Korean; Japan-annexed Korea; (surname)

 = fragrance, scent, aroma

話/话 = dialect; language; spoken words; speech; talk; words; conversation; what someone said

說/说 = to speak; to say

語/语 = spoken language/speech (repeated here to show the similarities of these three)

講/讲 = to talk; speech; to speak; to tell; to explain

我说英文 = I speak English
wo3 shuo1 ying1 wen2

you can also say

我讲英文 = I speak English
wo3 jiang3 ying1 wen2

讲 = 说 (so you can use jiang3 or shuo1)

In Chinese, American English and British English is the same word. If you tell people that you are from the U.S. or England, they assume you speak English 英文. However, we don’t say 美文.英语 and 英文 both means “English.”

希臘/希腊 = Greek
xi1 la4

 = rare; infrequent

 = December; preserved (meat)

奧地利/奥地利 = Austria
ào4 dì4 lì4

冰島/冰岛 = Iceland
bīng1 dǎo3

伊朗 = Iran
yī1 lǎng3

 = he; she; (surname); Iraq (abbrev.); Iran (abbrev.)

 = clear, brightlang3

我从伊朗来 = I come from Iran.
wo3 cong2 yi1 lang3 lai2.
I from Iran come.

墨西哥 = Mexico
Mò4 xī1 gē1

敘利亞/叙利亚 = Syria
xù4 lì4 yà4

俄國/俄国 = Russia
e2 guo2

蘇聯/苏联 = Soviet Union
sū1 lián2

朝鮮/朝鲜 = Korea; North Korea; geographic term for Korea
cháo2 xiǎn3

This character became:
韓/韩 = South Korea; Korean; Japan-annexed Korea; (surname)

我从美国来 = I come from America
wo3 cong2 yi1 lang2 lai2.
I from America come

從/从 = from; obey; observe; follow

來/来 = to come

我是美国人 = I am an American
wo2 shi4 mei3 guo2 ren2

Do not use the hand gesture that means “come here” (hand palm up, first finger pulling in toward palm
repeatedly.) This is only for dogs.

舊金山/旧钅山 = San Francisco
jiù4 jīn1 shān1
old gold mountain/ former metal mountain

“San Fan Shi” instead of “Jiu Jin Shan” and “Aobama” vs. “Oubama” in Mandarin:
Los Angeles, California.: “Aobama” is the official Chinese translation for the last name of the current
US President “Obama”. However, the White House suggested that the name should be translated as“Oubama”, because it sounds closer to “Obama” in Mandarin.

“Traditionally, when translating foreign proper names phonetically, official Chinese translators follow a table in which certain Chinese characters are used instead of others. The purpose is to allow Chinese people to immediately recognize that it is a non-Chinese speaking foreigner.” Says Samuel Chong, aChinese translator at Abacus Chinese Translation Services. “Therefore, sometimes, the chosen character does not necessarily reflect the closest sound.”

In the Chinese version, the character “ao” – which means “mysterious” or “secret” – is also used in the expression for the Olympic Games, “Aolinpike”. While the US version, the character “ou”, means “Europe”, and is used in the word “Europe”.

“I guess it would take some time for Chinese people to accept the US version, if the Chinese government decides to adopt it. It took about a year or so for the Chinese government to adopt the name “Shou’er” for the name of the capital of South Korea, “Seoul”, instead of the traditionally used “Hancheng””Chong adds.

Traditionally, when translating foreign names, there has been regional differences within China. For example, the people in Canton (Guangdong) province used to call San Francisco “San Fan Shi”, instead of “Jiu Jin Shan”, or “Old Gold Mountain”, in which most of the rest of the China uses. “That is because most people in Canton (Guangdong) province speak Cantonese, instead of Mandarin. It sounds much nicer to say “San Fan Shi” in Cantonese compared to “Jiu Jin Shan”.” Chong says.

wo3 zhu4 zai4 jiù4 jīn1 shān1
I live in San Francisco.
wo3 chu3 zai4 jiù4 jīn1 shān1
I live in San Francisco.

處/处 = to reside; to live; to dwell; to be in; to stay; get along with; to be in a position of; deal with

加利福尼亞/加利福尼亚 = California
Jiā1 lì4 fú2 ní2 yà4

 = (United States) state; province; sub-prefecture

Ni3 cong2 na er lai2?
Where are you from? (literally “You from where come?”)

裏/里 = inside; internal; interior

Ni3 cong2 na er lai2?
Where are you from? (literally “You from where inside?”)

昨天是星期天吗?= Tomorrow is Sunday?
zuo3 tian1 shi4 qing1 qi tian1 ma?

會/会  = be able to; be likely to; to assemble; to meet; to gather; group; association

熱/热 = heat; to heat up; fervent; hot (of weather); warm up

 = cold

bing1 shui3 = ice water

 = black/dark

咖啡 = coffee
ka1 fei1

黑 咖啡 = black coffee
hei1 ka1 fei1

jin1 tian1 bu4 leng3 = Today is not cold.

wo3 hen3 ke3 = I’m very thirsty.

gou3 = dog

re4 gou3 = hot dog

leng3 gou3 = cold dog = popsicle

Chinese characters and definitions from:

Jennifer Ball

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