1.1 Introduction

Welcome to Unit 1 of the Orientation Module. Here we will learn about questions and answers about names in Chinese. The best way to learn Chinese is to listen. So with that, let’s start off the lesson by listening to some audio. This will help you understand new words and structures. It is presented in short conversational exchanges, first with English translations and later with pauses which allow you to translate. Try to give a complete English translation for each Chinese expression. Remember, your goal is to learn the meanings of all the words and structures as they are used in the sentences. No reading or writing involved in this part, just listen. Your goal is to understand all the Chinese sentences in the audio. In the following conversational exchange, an American in Taiwan by the name of Daniel King is asked who he is and responds with his adopted Chinese name Wáng Dànián. Wáng is a translation of King. Dànián is a phonetic approximation of Daniel. For the length of the exchanges, you will hear the English once and the Chinese twice. Listen:
Nǐ shi shéi?你是谁 Who are you?
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián我是王大年 I am Daniel King.
The question Nǐ shi shéi? is actually too direct for most situations, although it is all right from teacher to student or from student to student. Now let’s listen to a new exchange. This time Mr. King is finding out the woman’s name.
Nǐ shi shéi?你是谁 Who are you?
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng我是胡美玲 I am Hu Meiling.
Now let’s listen to their whole conversation.
Nǐ shi shéi?你是谁 Who are you?
Wǒ shi Wáng Dànián我是王大年 I am Daniel King.
Nǐ shi shéi?你是谁 Who are you?
Wǒ shi Hú Měilíng我是胡美玲 I am Hu Meiling.
Up to this point, Mr. King and Mrs. Hu have been discussing each other and themselves using  you and  I. Now listen to them discuss a third person, Mr. Ma Mingli.
Tā shi shéi?他是谁 Who is he?
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.他是马明理 He is Ma Mingli.
Unlike verbs in European languages, Chinese verbs do not distinguish first, second, and third persons. A single form serves for all three persons.
shi Wáng Dànián. I am Daniel King.
shi Hú Měilíng. You are Hu Meiling.
shi Mǎ Mínglǐ He is Ma Mingli.
The verb shi means to be in the sense of to be someone or something as in I am Daniel King. It expresses identity. The verb shi is in the Neutral tone (with no accent mark) except when emphasized. Now let’s listen to Mr. King introduce his companions.
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ.他是马明理 He is Ma Mingli.
Tā shi Hú Měilíng.她是胡美玲 She is Hu Meiling.
The pronoun is equivalent to both he and she although you may have noticed a different character is used in each case. Unlike English, Chinese uses the same word order in questions as in statements.
shi shéi? Who is he?
shi Mǎ Mínglǐ? He is Ma Mingli.
It’s actually improper to ask the question, who are you or  Nǐ shi shéi? Instead, you should ask for the surname. Let’s listen to Mr. Hu ask Mr. King for his surname.
Nǐ xìng shénme?你姓什么? What is your surname?
Wǒ xìng Wáng.我姓王. My surname is King.
Notice that the question word shénme, what, takes the same position as the question word shéi, who.
shi shéi?
You are who?
xìng shénme?
You are surnamed what?
Shénme is the official spelling. However, the word is pronounced as if it were spelled shémma, or even shéma (often with a single rise in pitch extending over both syllables). Before another word which begins with a consonant sound, it is usually pronounced as if it were spelled shéma. Let’s compare questions with who and what.
xìng姓 to be surnamed
Xìng is a verb, to be surnamed. It is in the same position in the sentence as shi, to be.
shi Wáng Dànián.
I am Daniel King.
Here is another example:
Tā xìng shénme?他姓什么? What is his surname?
Tā xìng Mǎ.他姓马? His surname is Ma.
Let’s compare Who are you and What is your surname. Can you tell the difference? Listen to the following audio and figure out if it is the full name or the just the surname being asked for. Then listen to the answer to know if you were right. Did you get it? Great! If not, feel free to go over the sentences again. Now let’s take a look at the traditional titles: Mr., Mrs. and Ms. which are still used in the Republic of China and also the title Comrade which has replaced them in the People’s Republic. Here is the word of for Mr.:
Xiānsheng先生 Mr.
Let’s listen for Mr. in this exchange:
Tā shi shéi?他是谁? Who is he?
Tā shi Mǎ Xiānsheng.他是马先生. He is Mr. Ma.
When you answer a question containing a question word like shéi, who, simply replace the question word with the information it asks for. Notice that the title follows the name. Let’s listen to the whole conversation: In that example, the title followed the surname alone. It may also follow the full name. Let’s listen to an example of a full name being used:
Tā shi shéi?他是谁? Who is he?
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ Xiānsheng.他是马Mínglǐ先生. He is Mr. Ma Mínglǐ.
After the verb shi you may have the full name alone, the surname plus title, or the full name plus title.
shi Mínglǐ
shi Xiānsheng
shi Mínglǐ Xiānsheng
Xiānsheng, literally “first-born,” has more of a connotation of respectfulness than Mr. Xiānsheng is usually applied only to people other than oneself. Do not use the title Xiānsheng (or any other respectful title, such as Jiàoshòu, Professor) when giving your own name. If you want to say I am Mr. Jones, you may say Wǒ xìng Jones. When a name and title are said together, logically enough it is the name which gets the heavy stress: WANG Xiānsheng. You will often hear the title pronounced with no full tones: WANG Xiānsheng. When we address someone in Chinese, we usually use the surname and title. Let’s listen to Mrs. Hu address Mr.King as she asks her question:
Wáng Xiānsheng, tā shi shéi?王先生,他是谁? Mr. King, who is he?
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ Xiānsheng.他是马明理先生. He is Mr. Ma Mingli.
The title Xiānsheng is also used by itself to mean sir. Let’s listen:
Tā shi Mǎ Xiānsheng.他是马先生.He is Mr. Ma.
Xiānsheng, tā shi shéi?先生,他是谁 Sir, who is he?
As in English, the title Mrs. is used with the husband’s surname or full name. Here’s the word for Mrs.:
Tàitai太太 Mrs.
Let’s listen for Mrs. in this exchange:
Xiānsheng, tā shi shéi?先生,她是谁 Sir, who is she?
Tā shi Mǎ Tàitai.他是马太太 She is Mrs. Ma.
Here’s another example:
Wáng Xiānsheng, ta shi shéi?王先生,她是谁 Mr. King, who is she?
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ Tàitai.她是马明理太太 She is Mrs. Ma Mingli.
Let’s listen to the last two exchanges live:
Xiānsheng, tā shi shéi?先生,她是谁 Sir, who is she?
Tā shi Mǎ Tàitài.她是马太太 She is Mrs. Ma.
Wáng Xiānsheng, tā shi shéi?王先生,她是谁 Mr. King, who is she?
Tā shi Mǎ Mínglǐ Tàitai.她是马明理太太 She is Mrs. Ma Mingli.
When you address someone directly, use either the name plus the title or the title alone. Xiānsheng must be translated as sir when it is used alone, since Mr. would not capture its respectful tone. (Tàitai, however, is less respectful when used alone. You should address Mrs. Ma as Mǎ Tàitài.) Here’s the word for Ms.:
Xiǎojiě小姐 Ms.
Let’s listen for Xiǎojiě Ms. in this exchange:
Wáng Xiānsheng, tā shi shéi?王先生,她是谁 Mr. King, who is she?
Tā shi Mǎ Xiǎojiě.她是马小姐 She is Miss Ma.
Now let’s listen to Mr. King run through the whole cast of characters live: Let’s see if you have Xiānsheng Mr.TàitàiMrs. and XiǎojǐeMs. straight in your mind. In each of the following sentences, decide whether it is Mr. Ma, Mrs. Ma or Ms. Ma  who is being referred to.
The following section on the use of “Comrade” on the Mainland is very outdated. We’ve included it for completeness but students should understand that the term “Comrade” is now no longer used as a general title.
Got it memorized? Great! In the mainland, things are much simpler. Everyone has the title comrade.Here’s the word for comrade:
Tóngzhì同志 Comrade
So that you won’t have to tackle any new names, let’s use our same cast on the mainland. Let’s listen to Mr. King ask Comrade Hu about Comrade Ma Mingli:
Tā shi shéi?他是谁 Who is he?
Tā shi Ma Mínglǐ Tóngzhì.他是马同志 He is Comrade Ma Mingli.
When Mr. King refers to Comrade Ma’s wife, He uses her own name Fāng Bǎolán.
Tóngzhì, ta shi shéi?同志,她是谁 Comrade, who is she?
Tā shi Fāng Bǎolán.她是方宝兰 She is Fāng Bǎolán.
Comrade Ma’s wife, Fāng Bǎolán, is also a Comrade. Let’s listen:
Tóngzhì, ta shi shéi?同志,她是谁 Comrade, who is she?
Tā shi Fāng Bǎolán Tóngzhì.她是Fāng Bǎolán同志 She is Comrade Fang Baolan.
On the Mainland, a wife doesn’t take the husband’s name. Everybody regardless of sex and marital status uses the title Comrade. Let’s listen to Mr. King ask about Comrade Ma and his wife live: In the People’s Republic, the title “Comrade,” Tóngzhì, is used in place of the titles XiānshengTàitai, and Xiǎojiě. Mǎ Mínglǐ would be Mǎ Tóngzhì or Mǎ Mínglǐ Tóngzhì. The title “Comrade” is applied to all, regardless of sex or marital status. A married woman does not take her husband’s name in any sense. Mǎ Mínglǐ’s wife would be Fāng Tóngzhì or Fāng Bǎolán Tóngzhì Children may be given either the mother’s or the father’s surname at birth. In some families one child has the father’s surname, and another child has the mother’s surname. Ma Mingli’s and Fang Baolan’s grown daughter could be Mǎ Tóngzhì or Mǎ Mínglǐ Tóngzhì. Their grown son could be Fāng Tóngzhì or Fāng Zìqíang Tóngzhì Now let’s review what we have covered in this lesson. In the following conversation, Ms. Hu is meeting someone new at a party. Let’s listen to the conversation live: Now let’s hear the same conversation with pauses after each line. Use the pause to translate each line yourself. After the pause, the English word will be given. Let’s listen: If you feel like you need more work on the sentences just covered, you can go for a review. Each line is followed by a pause during which you may translate a line into English. Afterwards, the English will be given. Let’s review:

Pronunciation Practice