Inter-lingual Homophony: Neige as a Demonstrative/Filler in Mandarin Chinese


  • Aiqing Wang Lancaster University


Colloquialism, cross-language homophones, intra-lingual homophones, literary inquisitions, nage/neige


The demonstrative/filler neige in Mandarin Chinese is potentially contentious outside that language,
as it bears resemblance in terms of pronunciation with a racial slur in English. Nonetheless, neige
does not possess any racist connotation in Mandarin Chinese, and its analysis needs to take into
consideration historical and contextual information. The form neige is a colloquialism of its formal
equivalent nage, which has functioned as a demonstrative determiner/pronoun or a discourse
marker in verbal communication since ancient periods. The derivation of nei from na is realised
via suppression of the demonstrative with the numeral yi ‘one’, and this phenomenon occurred
even before Mandarin was invented as a national lingua franca. Differently from languages such
as English in which the number of homophones is limited, Chinese contains an enormous amount
of syllables with myriads of homophones, owing to the fact that Chinese is a tone language that
depends on tone implications to differentiate meanings and syllables/words are hence predominantly
mono- or bi-morphemic. As a consequence, homophones pertaining to Chinese abound
both language-internally and cross-linguistically. Among the repercussions of homophony are the
literary inquisitions during the Qing era that sabotaged freedom of creation. Therefore, the interpretation
and comprehension of neige need to be objective and impartial.



2021-09-27 — Updated on 2021-09-27

How to Cite

Wang, A. (2021). Inter-lingual Homophony: Neige as a Demonstrative/Filler in Mandarin Chinese. Studia Orientalia Electronica, 9(1), 138–153.