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: