Lexicon Valley

Chinese Has No Grammar, Right? Wrong!

Mandarin might not have gender or case endings, but there’s more to grammar than conjugations.

Illustration depicting a female with a microphone

Listen longer

Slate Plus members get ad-free versions of all Slate podcasts, plus extra segments, bonus episodes, and more. Try it free today.

Join Slate Plus

Episode Notes

What we often refer to as “Chinese” is really a family of about six or seven distinct languages—plus a few dozen dialects—spoken by more than 1 billion people. And it’s commonly held that these so-called Sinitic tongues, while replete with complicated sounds and tones, are light on actual grammar. Not so, says John McWhorter. It’s just not the sort of grammar with which speakers of English are familiar.

Podcast production by Mike Vuolo.


About the Show

If you’ve ever had curious thoughts and questions about the ways we speak, read, and write, Lexicon Valley is the show for you. Hosted by linguist John McWhorter.

All episodes