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I was watching a show and one guy said "藏语呢我是略知一二". Now I'm having a little bit of trouble understanding the grammar pattern for this sentence, especially with the use of the "是". I'm not entirely sure why the "是" is place where it is, as I would assume the subject would be the idiom "略知一二", which I've only ever watched or read them to be used as an adjective- so wouldn't that mean you would have to use an adverb like "很"?
So my question is: What is the grammar pattern in this sentence? Thanks everyone

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It is a [topic + comment] sentence

Topic: '藏语呢' -- 'about the Tibetan language'

Comment: '我是略知一二(的)' -- 'I am slightly familiar with'

我是略知一二(的) is a relative phrase that gives a description/ comment on the topic/ object 藏语

SVO: '我對藏语略知一二' -- ''I am slightly familiar with the Tibetan language'

More example:

SVO: 我是不会再去这间餐厅的

T/P: 这间餐厅 我是不会再去的

in "我 是 (XXX) 的", (XXX) describes "我"

SVO: 我不会再去这间餐厅了

T/P: 这间餐厅 我不会再去了

"了" is a final particle

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  • oh i see, but with the second part isn't the 是 that's usually omitted and not the 的? – Leo Oct 10 at 9:33
  • I put 的 in ( ) because it is not in the original quote. In practice, it should be there – Tang Ho Oct 10 at 18:16
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This sentence is quite colloquial. For written, it would be '藏语,我略知一二'.

'是' confuses you here. I found it hard to translate as well. I think you'd understand this as 'As for the Tibetan language, I do know a bit'.

So '是' here, you can treat it as 'do'. But unlike 'do' here usually means emphasis. '是' here, and '略知一二', together with '呢', they all mean less of certainty. A humility way to say something.

Humility or modest, can be a distinguishing feature in Chinese. As the Chinese saying goes '话不要说得太满'.

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It's common in Chinese to indicate the topic (or a change in topic) by beginning with "[topic]呢", which indicates something like "As for [topic], ..." or "What about [topic]? ...". I feel it's more common in spoken Chinese than written Chinese, and I've seen it used in particular during presentations.

I tend to think of it as the speaker asking themself a question that they go on to answer (although when transcribed, the question mark is usually omitted). In fact, an audience member could ask the same phrase as an actual question "[topic]呢?".

Some examples on YouTube:

当时呢 前三本对我没留下什么印象
但是这第四本我就
到现在我都记得特别清楚
当时看到它那种感觉
因为它这画风啊完全不一样
后来呢 我就看他们那个介绍啊
就是前三本都是这个宫廷画师去画的……
【一席】張辰亮:海錯圖筆記, around 1m30s

He begins by changing the topic with 当时呢 to indicate that the topic is now "at that time", and later changes the topic to "afterwards" with 后来呢.

我觉得中国作家
很多在年轻的时候
他就把自己架起来
社会也把他架起来了
就是非常的
很快就在一个
不落地的生活中
所以在美国呢就是任何人
作家也好什么也好
我自己的感觉就是……
【一席】嚴歌苓:職業寫作, around 7m33ws

So she's changed the topic: it was originally about authors in China 中国, and now we're talking about in the USA 在美国呢.

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藏语呢, when I read to 呢 I understand that 藏语 will be used to describe something or people will describe more about 藏语.

Keep reading 我是略知一二, I observe that 我 and 略知一二 are on the left of 是 and right of 是 receptively and 是 is used to denote 略知一二 is true. 略知一二 means "know a little about". Because 我 is on the left of 是 so I interpret 我是略知一二 as "I do know a little about (something)."

And I interpret 藏语呢我是略知一二 as "I do know a little about 藏语". I think people describe more about 藏语 after 呢 with 我是略知一二.

很 is used to denote extent is extreme. It will be used if you want to denote extent of something is extreme. For example, 我很懂(I know it very well). 很 is used to denote extent is extreme so 我很懂 not just means "I know it", it means "I know it very well". I don't need 很 in this situation since the extent is not extreme in your example, 略知一二 means "know a little about (something)."

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"藏语呢我是略知一二" As other posters have explained, this is a topic-comment structure and 呢 indicates what goes before it is the topic, also used as a filler, as if you are trying to take more time for what follows. And this is exactly why "是" is used in the second part. This sentence sounds unfinished. The speaker/writer is trying to explain that yes, s/he knows a little about the Tibetan language, but ....

A couple of examples:

藏语呢我是略知一二,但藏文我卻一點都看不懂。

Yes, I know a little about the Tibetan spoken language, but the written language I can't read at all.

藏语呢我是略知一二,但蒙古語我就挺流利。

Yes, I know a little about the Tibetan language, but I speak Mongolian quite fluently.

In contrast, 藏语我略知一二 sounds more like a stand-alone topic-comment sentence.

I wish you had given us the context of this sentence, but my guess is that there is something following.

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I think this dictionary definition of 是 is relevant to your example:

(联系两种事物, 表示陈述的对象属于“是”后面所说的情况):

It was winter outdoors, but spring indoors.

院子里是冬天, 屋子里是春天。

我是略知一二 is saying 我 is in the state of 略知一二 about 藏语.

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