Being a mama means being there, even if you aren’t there. This morning I received this QQ* message from Emily, my son’s girl friend:
“mama,James, didn’t you call today, he felt a little worried. I told him, something the mama. If you have time, give him the phone number tomorrow.”
I am sure she typed it in cogent Chinese. It is the middle of the night in China right now so I have to cool my heels for several hours before I can get clarification.
This is not my first somewhat obscure message, I no longer panic that I cannot call right away. Instead I amuse myself during the waiting time by guessing what the message might mean.
The first message that comes through was unintentional on her part. When I tried to QQ and call James last night I didn’t get through. This message tells me clearly that James is fine (one time when I couldn’t get through he had been mugged and had his phone stolen).
The essence is that James was worried that I didn’t call yesterday. However, since he could have QQ’d me himself, Emily may be more worried than he is.
“I told him, something the mama” is a bit puzzling. Was she worried that something is wrong or comforting him that I was busy doing something?
When I tried to learn some Chinese I noticed that they put an emphasis on different aspects of language than we do in English: for example, they do not pluralize nouns or use verb tenses. So a sentence can have both ambiguity about what the subject is (is it a generalization about dogs, or a statement about a particular dog or group of dogs) and when in time the action occurred (is the dog running now, did it run in the past, or will it run in the future?). However, the Chinese seem to have more precision when they talk about emotions than we do. For example, they have about 20 words for happy, discerning between a general state of contentment, delight in the moment, and a feeling of being fortunate.
The words Emily typed in Chinese that came out as “something the mama” and “he was a little worried”, could have had much more precise meanings than what came though in translation. For example, the Chinese word she used that got translated as “something” could have been a word with either calming or alarming overtones. In English we would perhaps have used more words: “something came up”, like an invitation to have coffee with an old friend, or “something happened”, like the car broke down.
I wonder how much our language affects our thinking. Do we who speak English care more about whether it is a generalization about dogs or the behavior of a specific one because our language teaches us to do so?
I am pretty sure that “give him the phone number tomorrow” means give him a call.
A few more hours to kill.
*QQ is a Chinese Facebook-like communications program. It is by far the largest one used in the world. It is used by almost all Chinese people with cell phones and by people who want to communicate with them easily. I can send a QQ IM and will usually get a response in a few seconds.