Five ways to say “father” in Mandarin and three meanings of “Ma” – Week 23

(Disclaimer: Since I am learning Mandarin by myself and exclusively by watching authentic videos, do not try to learn from me. I am trying to decipher the language by listening to conversations in these videos. Whether or not this is an effective way to learn, it is certainly rife with uncertainty.)

I was amazed the other day when I realized I’ve deciphered five different terms for “father” of “dad” in Mandarin, just by watching the videos. This is either a sign of significant progress or a reflection of the importance of father figures in Chinese culture. Then again, it could be mere coincidence. Regardless, with so many gaping holes in my fledgling vocabulary, it is funny that I have picked up so many ways to say the same thing.

The more formal term for father seems to be fuchin (1). But momo and Qiao Hu taught me that dad is most often rendered by children as ba or baba (2). However, the fish Nemo calls his father lo ba (3). Yet the Disney character Mulan on occasion calls her father dee-é dee-é (4). Finally, if I’m not mistaken, in the movie Shower, a couple of times the sons call their father fa (5).


Conversely, I initially learned in momo that the term “ma” means mom in Mandarin. However, I subsequently learned that ma can also mean horse. Finally, in House of Flying Daggers, ma apparently is used to mean blind. There are probably variations in tonality, but my ear is not fine tuned enough to pick up these differences yet.

In other news, since I am on vacation and got a nasty little cold these days, I’ve been watching more Mandarin than ever. For better or worse, I’ve been spending hours on movies, both original Chinese movies and dubbed Disney movies, repeats and newbies.

Finally, here is a picture of my daughter and me watching mandarin today:


12 thoughts on “Five ways to say “father” in Mandarin and three meanings of “Ma” – Week 23

  1. Greta Browne says:

    I love the way you and Camila are serious about watching mandarin. I wonder how long you kept it up.

    Today I watched ‘Mulan’ in Mandarin (with English subtitles). I think it makes a lot of sense to hear the characters speaking their native Chinese (even if it’s not entirely authentic) instead of English, and I would recommend it. I’m hoping to watch ‘Shower’ soon.

    • Author says:

      We watched it as long as our appetites allowed! Indeed, although movies are generally best in their original language, a possible exception would be when an animated movie is very well dubbed in the language of the country where the story is actually set–Mulan in Mandarin being the case in point.

      It seems to me the dubbing is very good, although we’d need a native speaker to be the judge. I was interested to find out that Jackie Chan does the part of the Captain Li Shang, including the singing. He is a successful singer and originally trained in the Peking Opera School. He dubbed the movie not only in mainland Mandarin, but also Taiwanese Mandarin and Cantonese.

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