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I work in a group where I am the only person that does not speak Chinese, thus I hear Chinese conversations all day every day.

I've noticed that there's a word which is used extremely frequently, in almost every sentence, sometimes 2 - 3 times per sentence.

It sounds like "nicka" or "nigah"... two syllables, "ni", "nig", or "nic" is the first and then "ah" or "uh" is the 2nd.

I heard one person explain it once offhand to another English speaker in the office as meaning "something", "that", or "that thing right there", but I'm not sure how good of an explanation that was. I was wondering if you could tell me what the word is and how you'd describe its usage?

Without having any real idea of what it means, it almost seems to me like it's being used like the word "uh" in English (like "I want to you pull that data and uh, then make a PowerPoint showing the summary and uh..."). I've taken some very basic Chinese on Coursera.org and via Pimsluer tapes, but neither explained this to my knowledge.

Update: I tried speaking this word into the speech-to-translation part of the Google Translate iPhone app and one time it came out as "That one" and one time it came out as "Your".

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    Why don't you ask where you work? – Colin McLarty Dec 11 '16 at 16:55
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    @ColinMcLarty Well, the explanation I mentioned was given by my best friend at work, but I thought it would be useful to get an explanation from another source as well. The people where I work speak very well in both languages, but I don't like to overburden them with translation question as they seem to feel unsure and under pressure when asked. In addition, then person who asked my friend about it before told him that it sounds like a racial slur in English, so I didn't really want to bring it up again because I'm not sure how that made him feel. – Hack-R Dec 11 '16 at 16:57
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    Possible duplicate of Pronunciation of 那个 – Drunken Master Dec 11 '16 at 18:49
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    @DrunkenMaster That question starts off knowing the word and asking its pronunciation. Mine is the exact opposite -- I knew the pronunciation but not the word or its definition. Other readers who hear Chinese conversations may be in the same situation as me and would have no way to know that post has information on the word. – Hack-R Dec 11 '16 at 18:50
  • For real. That word is thrown around here a lot. I also work in a Chinese environment. I had wondered the same. That's why I searched and found this information. – Curious Nov 14 '17 at 21:13
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The word your hear is probably 那個 (in traditional characters) / 那个 (in simplified characters). It is pronounced nàge or nèige (in the Pinyin transcription), and it's basic meaning is ‘that’ or ‘that one’.

Chinese Grammar Wiki has a nice explanation of how nèige is used as a filler word (follow the link to see examples):

In conversation, you may find yourself at a loss for words, unable to find the correct phrase you are looking for, or simply needing time to gather your thoughts. When you experience this feeling, in English, you may say "umm" or another filler word. In Chinese, the word for this is 那个 (nèige). (The word 那个 can be pronounced both "nàge" and "nèige," but for this usage, "nèige" is normally used.)

  • Yes, that's it! That's was one of the answers that Google Translate voice to text gave me as well, so I'm sure this is correct. Thank you so much. This is extremely helpful! So, it can be used as "umm" even in a context where the literal translation ("that one") wouldn't make sense, correct? – Hack-R Dec 11 '16 at 17:20
  • Yup, that's correct. By the way, it's pronounced differently than the English N-word: the first syllable of 那個 is more like ‘nei’ in ‘neighbour’. – 米好 '-' Dec 11 '16 at 17:30
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    That depends on who is saying it. I hear 'nigga' a lot too. – Gangosa Dec 11 '16 at 23:48
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    @Hack-R It can be used as "umm" in any spoken context regardless if "that one" is a concrete reference. The underlying semantic is "speaking of that". – NS.X. Dec 12 '16 at 9:47
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My mother is Chinese and I heard this word “ nigah” all the time . She told me it means “um, ummmm”.

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