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How My Chickens Help Me Learn Opposites in Chinese

I have front yard and back yard chickens.

我一邊跟牠❶們玩一邊得做苦工。

(我)(一邊)❷(跟)(牠們)(玩)(一邊)(得)(做)(苦工)。

(wo3) (yi1 bian4) (gen1) (ta1 men.) (wan2) (yi1 bian4) (dei3) (zuo4) (ku3 gong1)

(I) (one side) (with) (them) (to play with/to find pleasure in) (one side) (must) (to work/to do) (hard labor)

They are both fun and lots of work.

 

They are not pets the same way my dog is,

不過我帶食物給牠們的時候牠們會過來,讓我覺得很高興。

(不過)(我)(帶)(食物)(給)(牠們)[(的)(時候)](牠們)(會)(過來),(讓)(我)(覺得)(很)(高興)。

(bu2 guo4) (wo3) (dai4) (shi2 wu4) (gei3) (ta1 men.) [(de.) (shi2 hou4)] (ta1 men.) (hui4) (guo4 lai.)❸, (rang4) (wo3) (jue2 de.) (hen3) (gao1 xing4).

(however) (I) (take) (food) (to give) (them) [(makes previous words a descriptive phrase belonging to….) (time period) = when] (they) (will) (come here), (to make, to allow, to let) (me) (to feel) (very) (happy).

however when they come when I bring them food, it makes me happy.

 

When the fox or hawk eat them,

我 哭,因為我覺得悲傷。

(我)(哭),(因為)(我)(覺得)(悲傷)。

(wo3) (ku1), (yin1 wei4) (wo3) (jue2 de.) (bei1 shang1).

(I) (cry), (because) (I) (to feel) (sad).

I cry because I feel sad.

 

I have to admit they are bird brains, though.

牠們要食物的時候,可能看起來大膽。

(牠們)(要)(食物)(的時候),(可能)(看起來)(大膽)。

(ta1 men.) (yao4) (shi2 wu4) (de. shi2 hou4), (ke3 neng2) (kan4 qi3 lai2) (da4 dan3).

(they) (to want) (food) (when), (possibly) (to appear, look like) (bold)

They can seem bold when they want food.

 

But when I try to pet them,

牠們 常常變得很害怕。

(牠們)(常常)(變得)(很)(害怕)。

(ta1 me.) (chang2 chang2) (bian4 de.) (hen3) (hai4 pa4).

(they) (usually/often) (become) (very) (frightened).

They usually become very frightened!

 

My daughter convinced me to touch them the first time.

她對了,牠們有柔軟的羽毛。

(她)[(對)(了)],(牠們)(有)[(柔軟)(的)](羽毛)。

(ta1) [(dui4) (le.)], (ta1 men.) (you3) [(rou2 ruan3) (de.)] (yu3 mao2)

(she) [(correct) (emphasize completed action)], (they) (have) [(soft) (indicates adjective)] (feather)❹.

She was correct. They have soft feathers.

 

I do have to be careful of their claws.

它們是堅硬而且尖銳的。

(它們)(是)(堅硬)(而且)(尖銳)(的)。

(ta1 men.) (shi4) (jian1 ying4) (er2 qie3) (jian1 rui4) (de.)

(they) (to be) (hard) (what is more) (sharp) (indicates these words are adjectives).

They are hard and sharp.

 

I have several breeds of chickens, which even full grown are various sizes.

然而,我現在有的五隻小雞最可愛。

(然而),[(我)(現在)(有)(的)][(五)(隻)](小雞)(最)(可愛)。

(ran2 er2), [(wo3) (xian4 zai4) (you3) (de.)] [(wu3) (zhi1)] (xiao3 ji1) (zui4) (ke4 ai4).

(Nevertheless, however), [(I) (now) (have) (makes this a descriptive phrase describing the chicks)] [(five) (measure word for chickens)] (small/baby chickens) (most) (cute).

Still, the five small chicks I have right now are the cutest.

 

The rooster was butchered a few days ago,

因為不但牠是很大, 而且 也很兇。

(因為)(不但)(牠)(是)(很)(大),(而且)(也)(很)(兇)。

(yin1 wei4) (bu4 dan4) (ta1) (shi4) (hen3) (da4), (er2 qie3) (ye3) (hen3) (xiong1)

(because) (not only) (he) (to be/is) (very) (big), (moreover) (also) (very) (mean spirited).

because not only was he big, but also very mean.

 

I know it is partly instinct, but I raised him from a chick.

我想牠衝擊我是很笨的!

(我)(想)(牠)(衝擊)(我)(是)(很)(笨)(的)!

(wo3) (xiang3) (ta1) (chong1 ji2) (wo3) (shi4) (hen3) (ben4) (de.)

(I) (to think) (him) (to attack) (me) (is) (very) (stupid)!

I think for him to attack me is stupid!

 

Yet, they are escape artists.

牠們對那是挺聰明的。

(牠們)(對)(那)(是)(挺)❺(聰明)(的)。

(ta1 men.) (dui4) (na4) (shi4) (ting3) (cong1 ming2) (de.)

(they) (facing/toward) (this) (to be/are) (rather) (clever) (indicates previous word is an adjective).

They are rather clever about that.

 

They are affected a lot by the weather.

在最熱的夏天,最冷的冬天,牠們生比較少蛋。

(在)(最)(熱)(的)(夏天),(最)(冷)(的)(冬天),(牠們)(生)(比較)(少)(蛋)。

(zai4) (zui4) (re4) (de.) (xia4 tian1), (zui4) (leng3) (de.) (dong1 tian1), (ta1 men.) (sheng1) (bi3 jiao4) (shao3) (dan4).

(at/in) (most) (hot) (indicates hot is an adjective to following word) (summer), (most) (cold) (adjective indicator) (winter), (they) (to bear/to produce) (comparatively) (few) (egg).

In the hottest summer or the coldest winter (times?), they lay relatively few eggs.

 

The cold might not be the main problem for laying eggs, though.

牠們要有足夠的白天。

(牠們)(要有)(足夠)(的)(白天)。

(ta1 men.) (yao4 you3) (zu2 gou4) (de.) (bai2 tian1)

(they) (need to have) (enough) (indicates prior word is an adjective) (daylight or sunlight)

They require enough daylight.

 

They walk around in the rain and snow,

可是如果在夜晚牠們會睡覺。

(可是)(如果)(在)(夜晚)(牠們)(會)(睡覺)。

(ke3 shi4) (ru2 guo3) (zai4) (ye4 wan3) (ta1 men.) (hui4) (shui4 jiao4)

(but) (if) (at/in) (dark night) (they) (will) (to sleep).

but if it is nighttime they will sleep.

 

I will add that when they molt,

牠們有一點難看。

(牠們)(有)(一點)(難看)❻。

(ta1 men.) (you3) (yi1 dian3) (nan2 kan4).

(they) (to have) (a little) (hard to look at/ugly/unsightly).

they are a little ugly.

 

But what matters is that

不管怎麼樣我都 愛牠們。

[(不管)(怎麼樣)(我)(都)]❼(愛)(牠們)。

[(bu4 guan3) (zen3 me. yang4) (wo3) (dou1)] (ai4) (ta1 men.)

[(regardless of) (how like this) (I) (all)] (to love) (them).

I love them through thick and thin.

 

Notes on helpful things I learned or was reminded of while writing these sentences:

❶ The most common Chinese pronouns,他 (he and gender inclusive in mixed groups),她 (she), 牠 (animal), and 它 (objects) are gender and type specific in writing, but not in speech (being all pronounced “ta1”), which explains why native Chinese speakers tend to get the English he, she, and it, mixed up. On the other hand, their character/written versions are more specific in differentiating between people, animals, and inanimate objects!

❷ 一邊。。。一邊 (yi1 bian4… yi1 bian4) is that Chinese structure for “while this…., this” that I find so fun!

❸ It is not uncommon for the second character in a word to “lose” it’s tone and become more neutral in speech. 來 (lai2) usually is spoken with the second tone.

❹ There is no plural of the nouns themselves in Chinese. The numerical value comes from the words describing the noun, so in this case since we are talking about a “whole” chicken, “all” of its feathers are implied.

❺ This character indicates that they can be “smart” about one thing, although not about many other things.

❻ 醜 (chou3) is another word that can be used instead of 難看 (nan2 kan4)

❼ This distinctly Chinese phrase, 不管怎麼樣。。。都 (bu4 guan3 zen2 me. yang4 … dou1),  means “no matter at any condition…. all will.”