Archive for Tones

Kirsten Gillibrand's Mandarin

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Sememic spelling

During the last century and a half or so, there have been thousands of schemes for the reform of the Sinitic writing system.  Most of these schemes were devised by Chinese, though a relatively small number of them were created by foreigners.  They run the gamut from kana-like syllabaries to radical simplification of the strokes, to endless varieties of Romanization.  Among the more linguistically sophisticated (but also difficult to learn) are tonal spelling schemes, such as Gwoyeu Romatzyh (National Romanization), which spell out the Mandarin tones with letters.  There have even been efforts to produce Romanizations that could be read out by speakers from different areas according to the pronunciation of their own topolects, e.g., the Romanisation Interdialectique of Henri Lamasse (c. 1869-1952) and Ernest Jasmin (fl. 1920-1950) and Y. R. Chao's (1892-1982) diaphonemic orthography called General Chinese.

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The inevitability (or not) of diacritical marks

Recent talk at the University of Pennsylvania:

"Printers’ Devices, or, How French Got Its Accents"
Katie Chenoweth, Princeton University
Monday, 22 October 2018 – 5:15 PM
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania
Sponsored by: Penn Libraries

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Tones for real

For several years, John McWhorter has been studying Mandarin very seriously.  He and I have, from time to time, corresponded about the best, most effective, most efficient way to do that.  After years of assiduous learning, it seems that he has recently experienced a kind of satori about one of the most challenging aspects of acquiring fluency in spoken Mandarin:  the tones.

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Pitch in Korean dialects

From Krista Ryu:

Recently on the internet, there was an interesting photo posted that pointed out the unique feature of Southeastern dialect of Korean:  tones (some scholars call it pitch, as it is different from the tones of languages such as Mandarin).

The internet post had the following photo and a question: "is it true that Seoulites (people from Seoul / users of standard Korean) cannot pronounce these distinctly?"


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Teacher is always honest

When I began studying Mandarin over half a century ago, I very quickly developed a pet phrase  (kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅):  lǎoshí shuō 老實說 / 老实说 ("to tell the truth; honestly"), After I married one of the best Mandarin teachers on earth (Chang Li-ching) several years later, she corrected me when I said my favorite phrase.  She told me that I made it sound like lǎoshī shuō 老師說 / 老师说 ("teacher says").

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Stress, emphasis, pause, and meaning in Mandarin

In "Mandarin Janus sentences" (11/4/17), there arose the question of whether duōshǎo 多少 ("how many") and duō shǎo 多少 ("how few") are spoken differently.  I'm very glad that, in the comments, Chris Button recognizes that Sinitic languages can have stress.  (The same is doubtless true of other tonal languages).

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Mnozil Brass speak Mandarin

Listen to these Austrian fellows introduce themselves in Mandarin (from around :50 to around 2:00):

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Tonal variation and reading pronunciation

From Zeyao Wu:

I am intrigued by how the pronunciation of my nickname changed when I moved to Guangzhou [VHM: in the far south, formerly Canton] from Dongbei [VHM: the Northeast, formerly Manchuria].

In Dongbei, all my relatives and my friends called me Yáoyao 瑶瑶, with the second tone of the second syllable becoming neutral. [VHM: the base tone of yáo 瑶 ("precious jade") is second tone]

When I moved to Guangzhou, my friends call me Yǎoyáo 瑶瑶. It seems that this sort of pronunciation is not standard. I think Cantonese speak in this way because they pronounce Mandarin with the tones of Cantonese.

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The naturalness of emerging digraphia

From David Moser:

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The cult(ure) of slothful losers

Article by Zeng Yuli in Sixth Tone (6/27/17):

"Turn Off, Drop Out: Why Young Chinese Are Abandoning Ambition

As the economy slows and social expectations rise, youngsters are rejecting traditional notions of success and embracing a culture known as ‘sang.’"

Before reading this article, I was only vaguely familiar with "sang" culture.  So that those who do not know Chinese pronounce the word more or less correctly instead of making it sound like the past tense of "sing", read it as "sawng" or "sahng".

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Chinglish with tones

4th tone – 3rd tone, it would appear:

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Sorry, my Chinese is not so good

Music video by a trio of English musicians singing about learning Chinese:

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