January 19th, 2012

Another word I’ve heard a lot since my daughter’s birth – well, no, since she learnt to throw, sounds to me like ròu and it’s very clear from context that it means ‘throw’ (hence me hearing it a lot since she learnt to throw). I mention it now because I heard it the other day from a woman working in a photo studio in the 718 art and media park. Now, I have no idea where she was from, but she was speaking very standard Putonghua and there was no comment on my mother in law’s accent, which normally happens when people from Yanqing and Huailai meet, so I’m going to assume she’s from Neither Yanqing Nor Huailai, which narrows the range of possible hometowns down drastically.

I just checked three dictionaries* and none give either any alternative pronunciation for 扔 (rēng) or any character pronounced rou in any tone with a meaning even remotely close to ‘throw’. Nor does nciku’s entry for ‘throw’ throw up anything similar to what I’m hearing. Now, experience with Yanqinghua means I can think of plenty of words that have no written form**, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a word used by a non-Yanqinghua speaker before, certainly not such a word in Putonghua. So this leaves me wondering – is this one of the words common across northern and northeastern Chinese dialects? If so, why doesn’t it have a character? I ask about the lack of a character because in my experience those words common across northern and northeastern dialects can usually be written.

I’m also wondering if this word specifically refers to a throwing action by a baby because I never heard such a word until my daughter discovered she can throw things (and now I hear it a lot because she loves to throw things around). Update: Just before lunch my mother in law used ròu in reference to her throwing out rubbish, so perhaps it’s not limited to babies.

Has anyone else come across this ròu meaning ‘throw’? Is it specifically about babies or young kids throwing things? Sinophone parents, I’m looking at you lot specifically…

*A Chinese-English Dictionary (Revised Edition), Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1997.


《新华字典汉英双解 Xinhua Dictionary with English Translation》商务印书馆国际有限公司,2000.

**At the risk of starting a fight: Sure, I can write ròu in pinyin, and doubtless in the myriad other phonetic and phonemic schemes devised for Chinese, as well as IPA, but I say “no written form” because real world written Chinese exists in Chinese characters. The existence of words with no character (and there’s no shortage of them once you get into non-standard dialects) may be an argument for full time Romanisation of everyday written Chinese, but that’s not what I want to explore here.

  • Ji Village News

    Very interesting, so it’s not just southern Shandong people who say “rou” to mean the action of throwing. I think this might be one of the words common across northern and northeastern Chinese dialects. I don’t think this is a case of missing characters, I would hazard a guess that 扔 is its character form. In my southern Shandong, northern China dialect, 扔 is always pronounced as “rou”, although “reng” is probably gaining ground, if it hasn’t won the battle already. No, this pronouncation is not just for actions of babies.

    I didn’t get around to comment on 色. It was never pronounced as “se” in my dialect either, more like “shei”.

    I bought a copy of 《汉语方言概要》 a couple of years ago but never got to read it properly. I just skimmed through it and tried my luck to see if I can have a chance encounter with either 扔 or 色, if they are in the book at all. No such luck. This book is ok, but I want to acquire other ones as well.

  • wangbo

    Interesting. It turns out, on further questioning, that the woman in the photo studio was from Taiyuan. This is a bit of a surprise, because that’s a Jin area, and Jin is quite different from the rest of the northern and northeastern dialects (入声, for example). I asked my wife and she said “It’s just 扔”. I pointed out the dictionary doesn’t give any alternative pronunciations, as it usually does, she said, “方言呗”, which I still find odd, because usually the dictionary marks such alternatives with a dial. or 方, and if it’s as widespread as Taiyuan, Huailai/Yanqing (Ye Olde Chahar) and southern Shandong, I’d've expected it to be included.

    That’s a good point, I should check in my 《汉语方言学》. A little light holiday reading!