4

Sometimes I hear people from Southern China address other people using 生, e.g. 唐生 for 张国荣's lover 唐鹤德. I looked it up in the dictionaries and searched online but didn't found any explanation on the usages. Here are my questions:

  1. What does it mean? Is it short for/related to 先生 or 小生?
  2. What gender/age/profession do you use it for? Is it exclusively used for young male?
  3. Is it regional? (Personally I have never heard of it in Northern China.)
  4. Is it formal or colloquial?
  • 2
    I have only seen it in Cantonese as a contraction of 先生. I once tried writing this sort of thing in Chinese (so implicitly Mandarin) and my tester reader had no idea what "唐生" was until I explained it to her. So at the very least it's not formal (since you'd expect writing to be more so than speech). – user5714 Jul 14 '15 at 17:45
  • It is definitely colloquial, even Cantonese speakers would not write it down shortened like that. – Mobius Pizza Jul 14 '15 at 22:45
8

In Cantonese, 先生 can be shortened to 生 when attached to a family name. It is used for adult male, all ages and is used orally, not written.

  • 1
    Keep in mind that 先生 is sometime used to address your teacher / tutor, without specifying gender. – Alex Jul 14 '15 at 20:07
  • Or Suzhou/Shanghai Singsong (xiansheng) girls in the old days… – user4452 Jul 14 '15 at 20:29
  • Thanks for the answer. Can you elaborate on the the formality when it is spoken? E.g. can it be used to introduce people in a business context? can it be used by a TV reporter to address the name of an interviewee? Etc. – NS.X. Jul 16 '15 at 21:15
  • 2
    @NS.X. I would classify it as semi-formal to formal. You can use either X 先生 or X生 to address acquaintances in the contexts you provide. In a very formal situation, for example, when you are introducing two strangers, "This is Mr. X; this is Mr. Y", or if you are an emcee announcing the arrival of somebody... etc., then use 先生. When in doubt, I would use 先生. – monalisa Jul 17 '15 at 23:47
  • quite interesting, as with so many things dialectical it seems to have been retained from older semi-classical contexts : the <surname>生 usage also occurs in old drama – Master Sparkles Jul 26 '15 at 12:36
7
  1. 生 Short for 先生 in Cantonese
  2. 先生 is gender neutral in Chinese, however most people use it as the Chinese version of "Mr."
    Profession that is associated with 先生 is teachers (still used very often in the 80s and 90s. But thanks to the Communists such elegant term is abolished and people have started to call teachers as 老師 even in Cantonese). So if your Chinese teacher was a lady, you could still call her X生. As a side note, anyone who is well respected in any profession can be called 先生. Again, this is rarely the case in Cantonese speaking regions in the last 10 to 20 years.
  3. 生 is only used in Cantonese, though 先生 is not. However, 先生 is often replaced, erroneously, by 老師 in China. Often times, you hear someone being called 老師 even though he does not teach.
  4. Calling someone x生 is often used formally.

When I was taught Chinese in the 90s, students were told to address someone in 先生 if we couldn't figure out the gender by the name. Some people might get offended by this nowadays. A sign of deterioration of Chinese skills.

Updated 7/22/2015 To address a follow up question: The other answer says it's not used when it is written However, x生 is used formally in conversations. For example, employees address their CEO as x生. Some insist that x生 can be written. Widely accepted in e-mail and text messages when addressing your client, actually, if the other person is in Hong Kong or a Cantonese speaking person as well. How many of these rules for letter writing in grammar school 30 years still apply today in e-mails?

  • Is it used formally? The other answer and comments suggested otherwise... – NS.X. Jul 15 '15 at 4:44
  • 1
    The other answer says it's not used when it is written However, x生 is used formally in conversations. For example, employees address their CEO as x生. Some insist that x生 can be written. Widely accepted in e-mail and text messages when addressing your client, actually, if the other person is in Hong Kong or a Cantonese speaking person as well. How many of these rules for letter writing in grammar school 30 years still apply today in e-mails? – Nelson Ho Jul 16 '15 at 22:22
  • @NelsonHo Traditional people have given me the same information. My Chinese is very poor, and so is my knowledge of Chinese culture, but I always feel deeply pained when people tell me I should not use the Chinese I learned from those who escaped the cultural revolution, because they think it's Japanese. Such expressions include: 先生 in the usage you gave, 姑娘, 茶湯。Ironically many Japanese know these are Chinese compounds. – Ludi Jul 19 '15 at 15:53
  • 2
    @Ludi Thank you. It amazes me how elegant way to address a single lady like 小姐 has become the equivalent of calling someone a whore in China. Fighting for Hong Kong's autonomy is also a way a preserve and pass on the Orthodox Chinese Culture. – Nelson Ho Jul 22 '15 at 20:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.