Saturday, February 7, 2009

Xia - What a Shrimp!

Shrimp and prawns are all over any Chinese menu, so this is definitely one of the important basics.

How to remember it: The bug radical is on the left, but the most unique part of this character is the double loop at the top right. It's like two flags, or perhaps like two sections of a shrimp's body.

For the shrimp-loving Chinese-food afficianado, Xia 蝦 also highlights one more element of Chinese spoken language. Many of you, I'm sure have heard of Har Gow 蝦餃, which is one of the most famous kinds of dumplings served at dim sum houses. And some of you may notice that the first charater is "xia" but the words say "har." That's because Chinese is made up of more than one langauge.

Mandarin is the language of northern China and is what most people mean when they say "Chinese language". Mandarin itself has multiple dialects, but the dialect of Beijing, Putonghua, is considered the standard. (Except in Taiwan they call it Gouyo to separate themselves from Bejing.) All of the Pinyin spellings and pronunciations I give here are standard Mandarin.

The other major language is Cantonese, which is harder to learn because it has even more tones. Cantonese is the language of Hong Kong...and of Dim Sum.

The good news is, both languages use the same characters. Even Japanese uses a lot of the same characters. It's very convenient for those who wish to read a menu.

The Pinyin spelling is xiā, or xia1 (first tone).

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