Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Word 国内 (Domestic or Internal)

Speaking to Chinese people, one would often hear a particular word 国内 (guó nèi), which means domestic, domestically or internal and internally.  However, all the people I have spoken to in my entire life, when they used this term, either they were physically inside China, or outside its boundary, they inevitably meant inside china, and that could be very disjointing.

Consider this online newspaper article on a special kind noodle prices in China and in the US.  The newspaper was published in the US and its website was banned in China.  The title of the article was: 在美国吃一碗过桥米线要多少钱? (How much does it cost to eat a bowl of "Bridge" Vermicelli in the United States?) The author of the article described that his/her friend and he/she drove to Cupertino for vermicelli and went on described the prices of various vermicelli in that restaurant. The author mentioned that "餐桌下面压着的价钱板。一碗过桥米线要7.89美元。国内三元人民币一碗。" My literal translation:  "On the table there were a price board. Bridge Vermicelli costs $7.89. Domestically three yuan a bowl."

Please don't be confused.  The price of that Vermicelli costs $7.89 in the US and 3 Yuan in China.  When the author used the word 国内, he/she was referring to price in China.  To him/her, 国内always means inside China.  When reading that word in the article, or hear that word in America in many other occasions, I had to do some mental calculation to determine that the speaker of the word didn't mean to say inside America.

This incorrect use of the Chinese word was a relic from the closed-off era of Mao, when practically no Chinese would ever be able to set foot outside Chinese border, so the speakers of the word 国内 (Domestic or Internal) had always been inside China, and no need to pay attention to the shifting meaning once the speaker changed his/her physical location. 

It is simply too disorienting a person who's very sensitive to language and meaning of words.

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