What’s in a we?

Unlike the precisely defined Dutch “wij,” and the English “we,” Chinese offers two translations for this concept: wo men and zan men. Wo men is we as “we” know it, a pronoun used to indicate a group wherein the speaker is included. Zan men, on the other hand, offers an expanded meaning. We not only refers to the speaker and someone else, it includes the speaker and the person they’re talking to.

Sounds confusing?

Say you want to go and get food with your friends, and you are asking your mom for permission. “Mom,” you say, “My friends and I want to go get Chinese food for dinner. We will be home before 9.” That is the wo men that we are familiar with. But say you are inviting your mom to go out for dinner with you. “Mom,” you say, “I miss spending time with you. We should go out for dinner this weekend.” In Chinese, this would be translated using zan men, as the person you’re speaking to, your mother, is included in the we you’re referring to. Basically, wo men can mean me and someone else while zan men is reserved to express me and you.

Why does this matter anyways?

Just as last year, the theme of the 2021 Chinese Bridge Speech Competition is “One World, One Family.” We believe that this idea matches the meaning of zan men perfectly. When we say we are a global family, we are including you in it. This is the idea that contestants will speak about when they make their presentations, and an idea that we at CIM have in our mind as we plan this event.

Learning a new language offers a means of bridging different cultures from around the world, creating a global sense of zan men that we are excited to be part of.  The Chinese Bridge Competition will show us what it means to emerge from the pandemic as truly one world, one family.

Would you like to learn more about the characters 咱们 and their meaning? Click here ZANMEN to read an additional piece that we have dedicated to these beautiful characters!



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