Monthly Archives: March 2012

May I kiss you? May I ask a question?

I’m tired of tone jokes.

I call them “tone jokes” for lack of a better term. You know what I’m talking about. Whenever a mainstream media outlet wants to demonstrate how difficult Chinese is, they find a syllable with the same sounds but different tones, and the tonal difference gives the syllables vastly different meanings.

The use of this trope betrays any real knowledge of Chinese at all. Depending on the word, it is very unlikely that in context a native speaker would take 问 wen4, to ask, with 吻 wen3, to kiss. Not only can I not imagine a context in which someone would take 请问 qing3 wen4 to mean May I kiss you?, I can’t even imagine why you’d have to ask in the first place.

Kissing is just one of those things where if you have to ask, it’s probably a bad idea.