What You Should Know About the Beijing Dialect

What You Should Know About the Beijing Dialect

Every language has its dialect, and Chinese is no exception. China is a vast country with a diverse population. As a result, many different languages are spoken in China, each with its own dialects. From Mandarin to Shanghainese to Cantonese, there are many other dialects within China.

Although the Beijing dialect shares many similarities with Mandarin Chinese, it is still distinct in several ways. The Chinese language consists of various dialects, and Beijing Mandarin is one of the most influential dialects spoken in China. Thus, learning about the Beijing dialect provides insight into the rich diversity of dialects and official languages.

So, read on to discover more about the unique features of the Beijing dialect!

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Where did the Beijing dialect come from?

Beijing, the capital of China, boasts magnificent scenery that illuminates the city. It is home to several distinguished UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

However, the city's charm is not limited to its breathtaking landscapes. Visitors are also drawn to the city by its unique culture, cuisine, and distinct Beijing dialect, which piques the curiosity of outsiders and entices them to visit.

The Beijing dialect, also known as Beijing Mandarin or Pekingese, is the prestige dialect of Mandarin spoken in Beijing. The history of this dialect spoken can be traced back to the Yuan dynasty when the capital of China was established in Beijing. Since then, Beijing has been China's political and cultural center, and the Beijing dialect has been considered the country's lingua franca.

The dialect is different from other Chinese dialects. It has its own set of colloquial expressions that are not found elsewhere in China. The phonological features of the Beijing dialect are used as a guide for the pronunciation of Standard Chinese, making the phonological basis of the Beijing dialect essential to understanding the Chinese language.

The Beijing dialect has unique features that set it apart from other dialects. Colloquial expressions, slang, and local words are common in the dialect, making it distinct from other Chinese languages. Furthermore, the dialect's long history in Beijing has been influenced by the city's rich culture and traditions, making it an integral part of Beijing's identity.

Curious about the dialects spoken all over China? Check out this video:

Listen To These 25 Different Chinese Dialects

Different vocabulary in the Beijing dialect 

A unique feature of the Beijing dialect is its vocabulary. While the Beijing dialect shares many similarities with standard Mandarin, it also has unique words and phrases.

For example, instead of saying "nǐ hǎo" (你好) for hello, people in Beijing might say "nǐ zēnme yàng" (你怎么样) instead. Other words that are specific to the Beijing dialect include "biéér" (别儿) for "don't" and "máfan" (麻烦) for "troublesome."

Here's a list of some interesting vocabulary that differs from the standard Chinese language:

  • "Xiāngzi" (香子) which means "cigarette"

  • "Lǎobǎixìng" (老百姓) which means "ordinary people"

  • "Gānjiā" (干家) which means "boss"

  • "Fànér" (饭儿) which means "meal"

  • "Hāshì" (哈事) means "to chat"

  • "Tǔròu" (土肉) which means "pork"

  • "bùrìdào" (不日道) which sounds like bù zhī dào (不知道), meaning "I don't know"

Adding ér or 儿: "érhuà" 儿化

One of the most distinctive features of the Beijing dialect is its pronunciation and tone. Compared to standard Mandarin, the Beijing dialect has a more distinct tonal quality, emphasizing rising and falling tones.

salt bae meme sprinkling 儿

Beijing dialect meme by Reddit

The iconic characteristic of Beijing Mandarin is "érhuà" 儿化; also called er-ization or rhotacization. It's a process that adds "r" or the "ér" 儿 sound at the end of some words. This sound can give the dialect a distinctive sing-song quality and is used in everyday phrases and such slang words.

Érhuà 儿化 has been used for grammatical purposes, but most of the time as a diminutive suffix (an ending that is added to a word to express smallness) for nouns in the Beijing dialect. Here are a couple of examples with the Hanyu and pinyin.

  • Mǐlì 米粒 (rice) → Mǐlì er 米粒儿

  • Huābàn 花瓣 (petal) → Huābàn er 花瓣儿

Adding "ér" 儿 in Chinese, Chinese Zero to Hero

Aside from being used as a diminutive, "érhuà" 儿化 is also used to differentiate certain words used in the local Beijing dialect, for example, báimiàn 白面 (flour) and báimiànr 白面儿 (heroin," literally "small white powder").

In the Beijing dialect, "érhuà" 儿化 doesn't always appear at the end of a word. Even though it must appear at the end of the syllable, it can be added to the middle of many words, and no rule specifies when it should be put in the middle. For instance, bǎnrzhuān 板儿砖(brick) should not be bǎnzhuānr 板砖儿.

funny comic, how to speak like a beijinger-min

Beijing dialect, Fix It With Shading

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7 common Beijing words and Beijing phrases to use

The famous saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," holds true for any place you visit, including Beijing. If you plan to study, work, or vacation in Beijing, learning the local words and phrases will let you communicate effectively with the locals.

Here are some common Beijing dialect phrases that will help you fit in with the local Beijing people.

1. Bèi ér 倍儿—very

Beijingers are known for leaning into their "ér" 儿 sound; this is a great example. Instead of using only bèi 倍 to mean "very," Beijingers would rather add the "ér" 儿 to the end of the word.

While others would rather pronounce bèi ér 倍儿 separately to sound clearer, Beijingers blend the sounds together, making the word sound like 'bay' with an 'argh' tacked onto the end. Here are some examples of how Beijingers use bèi ér 倍儿:

  • Bèi ér shuǎng 倍儿爽 – very happy

  • Bèi ér xīn 倍儿新 – brand new

2. Lū chuàn ér 撸串儿—to eat

Beijingers prefer to use the word 撸串儿 instead of chī 吃 for a reason. It's because Beijingers wholeheartedly enjoy lū chuàn 串儿, the delicious barbecued meat skewers that are originally from Xinjiang.

The word 撸 means "strip out," and when it comes to lū chuàn 串儿, it creates the phrase 'to strip the meat off skewers,' which is exactly how they should be consumed.

3. Xiōng shì chǎo jīdàn 胸是炒鸡蛋—tomatoes with scrambled eggs

Here comes an expression of a famous Beijing dish. This phrase is translated as 'chest is scrambled eggs,' but it truly means 'tomatoes with scrambled eggs. You may wonder how "chest" is related to "tomatoes"? Are they homonyms?

Well, not really! Beijingers are well-known for their fast speech – so quickly that some phrases are omitted while others are mashed together. 

Xīhóngshì 西红柿, meaning tomato, is pronounced as xiōng shì 胸是 by local Beijingers, which explains why the dish is no longer called "Xīhóngshì chǎo jī dàn" but "Xiōng shì chǎo jīdàn."

4. Jī zéi 鸡贼—chicken thief

This word refers to a frugal, stingy, or plain cheap person. According to some sources, the word was coined in a book in which one of the characters, a landowner who owned a farm, woke up his workers before sunrise with the sound of a cockerel to squeeze out a few additional hours of labor.

Others claim that the word gained popularity due to a viral story on the internet in which a young guy broke up with his girlfriend after ordering a costly drink instead of a sparkling water bottle. 

Though it's not a fair reflection on one's character, jī zéi 鸡贼 can be used as an unintentional insult between close friends. 

5. Fà xiǎo ér 发小儿—childhood friends

Fà xiǎo ér 发小儿 was a phrase used in ancient China to characterize rowdy children who would smash vases and play in the mud. This phrase now has a completely new connotation. Fà xiǎo ér 发小儿 describes an old buddy with whom you grew up. It's a status designated for your closest friends with whom you share a natural intimacy that dates back to childhood. 

There's a famous Chinese saying 友谊既能分享快乐,又能分担伤痛 (with clothes, the newer, the better; with friends, the older, the better) that explains why this term is imbued with such a sense of warm, fuzzy feelings.

6. Lǎo pào ér 老炮儿—old loafer

This Beijing dialect phrase describes seniors who spend their days strolling their dogs and playing mah-jong in the park. It can also refer to respectable older men who have served their time in the working world and maintained their upright and loyal character. 

Lǎo pào ér was also the name of a Chinese blockbuster directed by Guan Hu and released in 2015, known in English as Mr. Six.

7. Yǎnlì jiàn ér 眼力见儿—to act appropriately in social situations

This term refers to a specific sort of social nous, an awareness of social situations and how one should act. In Chinese culture, particularly in business, it's important to understand one's place in the social hierarchy. 

For example, if your company holds a gala dinner, all the staff should wait for the boss to arrive before starting the meal. When he shows up, those who are seated at the table should stand up and greet him. 

To say that someone is good at observing situations and acting accordingly with discretion, you would say yǒu yǎn lì jiàn ér 有眼力见儿.

Frequently asked questions

What language do they speak in Beijing?

People in Beijing speak Mandarin with a Beijing accent or dialect. However, it is still considered Chinese Mandarin.

What is “érhuà" 儿化?

Érhuà is a speech pattern found in Northern China, especially in the Beijing dialect. Simply, it is adding the pronunciation of "er" or 儿 at the end of certain words. Not all words will have 儿 at the end, but it’s very common to hear “er” in Beijing.

It's time to learn some Chinese!

A thorough understanding of the Beijing dialect is an essential first step for those interested in exploring the rich tapestry of Chinese dialects and languages. By delving into its unique features and significance, language learners can gain a greater appreciation for the nuances of the Chinese language and the many ways in which it shapes Chinese culture.

If you want to learn Chinese but don't know where to begin, consider visiting Pandanese. With our user-friendly interface and comprehensive approach to language learning, Pandanese can help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to master the Beijing dialect and beyond.

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