But, yea, its really, really bad, and most of the actors seem to know it. The intonation always feels slightly off, which is predictable since thats the hardest part for Westerners to adapt to.
When I show clips of Firefly to Mandarin speakers, the general sentiment is amusement instead of offense. Its like Oh, look, these white actors are trying to speak fluent Chinese and failing! Its so cuuute! Kinda like the same reaction you might have to, oh, say a sitcom that featured a horse that could talk. But with a weird accent.
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Deliberate racism is pretty rare among us geeks. Unintentional racism, though, happens from time to time – our social skills tend to be poor. I havent heard of any Chinese people being offended by the use/misuse of Chinese in Firefly. Have there been any complaints?
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But you really cant expect that much from an American TV show. At the very least, Whedon tried an interesting idea, and his Mandarin is reasonably accurate when he speaks it.
Correct pronunciation is more likely to come with use than with book-learnin. Id expect this goes especially for a complex language like Chinese. Inara has had cause to speak lots of Chinese, while Simon and River havent. Very believable for those characters and their history.
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It would have been nice if theyd received Mandarin lessons and shot part of the series in Taiwan, where theyd be interacting with Mandarin-speakers daily and hearing it regularly. Or, at the very least, it wouldve helped if theyd learned the Chinese phonetic alphabet. Itd have reduced the feeling that they were doing linguistic yellow-face.
pronouncing it slowly, deliberately and accurately, or
@Richard: Umm… that phrase describes the superficial execution of the Chinese spoken on the show. I.e. its enough to present the appearance of being Chinese to non-Chinese speakers, but theyre actually butchering the words with their wildly inaccurate pronunciation. This is something the cast more or less admit to in interviews, since their objective isnt to present accurate Chinese, just to add an exotic Chinese flavor.
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This would be a perfect example; Jayne says W de m which (literally) means mother of god. Although the wording is broadly correct, his pronunciation would be far more consistent with what the hell? which means that its a total mismatch.
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Its similar to when you hear non-English speakers singing English songs. Because you dont know what youre saying, even if you have the phonetic spelling written down as a reference, youre likely to screw it up when you try to deliver it naturally. You have the choice of, either:
of fluency, but utterly butchering the actual words
You can find an extensive list of Chinese phrases used in Firefly, their meanings and the competence of their pronunciationshere
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I downvoted because of linguistic yellowface. Your views on the portrayal of other cultures in sci fi doesnt add to the usefulness of the answer.
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Can anyone with knowledge of Chinese speak to the accuracy? Are the actors basically cussing in Mandarin or is it a case of them making sounds that are simply a close facsimile?
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Even so, to throw around accusations of racism is pretty unimpressive imho
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Also, several of the phrases are more compound sentences rather than something that would actually make sense in contemporary Chinese.
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Indeed it does, though I doubt it was intentional. They are supposed to be from an entirely bilingual culture, are they not?
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That actually makes sense foj the characters to have different levels of proficiency in Chinese.
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In the Firefly-verse, Western and Eastern cultures are mixed and many peopleinject Chinese into their speaking habits, usually to swear (a la frakking and frelling).
Although also the two most closed / least worldly. Perhaps the Core doesnt speak Chinese as often or as well? It seems the tongue of the common man in the show, since it is usually reserved for swearing or exclamation.
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Its mostly terrible. Mimicking phrases in a language you cant speak is incredibly difficultespecially if its a language with a completely different set of phonemes and tonal qualities than what youre used to.
For the most part, the actors seem to go with the second option, which is understandable given the context. Most of the phrases arent meant to be understood by anyone. They just add color to the dialog.
Your mileage may vary. For the most part the words themselves are used correctly but the pronunciation by certain characters (especially Malcolm Reynolds and Jayne) can beverychoppy. By comparison, whenever Mandarin is used by Inara its usually quite well executed.
@JamesSheridan – Actually from the website listed, Simons pronunciation is terrible, as is Rivers. Theyre both supposedly geniuses.
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mumble through the line quickly to give a phonetic facsimile that has the
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