We’ve talked a little bit before about concepts that are distinct in English but are the same in Chinese. Some of the examples I’ve given (I think) were:
In one of my English classes last week, I ran into two that never got sorted out. Perhaps some of you can shed some light.
Jump / Dive
The student wanted to talk about the Olympic sport of diving. That seems to be:
- tiàoshuǐ 跳水 = to dive / diving (the sport)
The confusion came when I said, “Doesn’t that “tiào” just mean “jump?” Yes it does. So how would you say “jump into the water?”
The class was split. Some of them said something like:
- “tiào jìn shuǐ” 跳进水 = to jump into the water
But others insisted that tiàoshuǐ 跳水 could have both meanings. In the end, the dispute (between the students) came down to the height of the platform the person is diving from. Since I thought that HAD to be irrelevant to my original question, I was reduced to drawing pictures (for which I’ll substitute shamelessly-stolen Google Images here) and saying:
1. If your head touches the water before your feet, that’s diving.
2. If your feet touch the water before your head, that’s jumping into the water.
So how do you say number 1 in Chinese, and how do you say number 2 in Chinese? There still wasn’t agreement. Anyone like to add your opinion?
The Olympic Torch
I was infinitely confused when my students told me that the Olympic torch was in Guangzhou on Wednesday and from there went the top of Mt. Everest on Thursday. The reason this confused me was other students were insisting it was in Huizhou Thursday (many hundreds of miles from the top of Everest). I asked, as anyone would in such a situation, “So you mean there are two torches?”
I was shouted down with a resounding, unison, “NOOOOOO!”
Rather than trying to figure out why they seemed offended at the idea of two torches, I decided to focus on how the torch seemed to be violating the nature of the universe and existing in two places at once. I got nowhere until, again, I drew a picture.
They immediately seemed relieved and eagerly cleared up the misunderstanding.
1. shènghuǒ 圣火 = sacred flame / Olympic flame (which there is only one of)
2. huǒjù 火炬 = torch (which there are two or more of)
And I should have left it there. But I had to ask, “So when I originally asked ‘Are there two torches?’ what word, in Chinese did you think I meant?”
Some tried to deny it, but they all had to admit they thought I was saying huǒjù 火炬.
“So WHY did you say there was only one, but now you’re saying there are multiple huǒjù-s ?!?!?!”
They couldn’t answer that and kept muttering things like, “It’s a cultural difference” and “It’s a language difference” and I simply gave up and went on with the class.
If anyone would like to attempt to explain either of these two confusing convergent concepts to me, but especially what in the world happened in the torch discussion, I’m all–um–eyes.