Archive for Tones

The perils of pronunciation

Distinguishing between "four" and "ten" in rapid, slurred Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is not always easy:  sì 四 vs. shí 十.  Try saying sìshísì 四十四 ("forty-four") quickly and it starts to feel like the beginning of a tongue twister.  Now, when speakers from the various topolects, even within the so-called Mandarin group, come together and tones, vowels, and consonants start flying off in all directions, things can become still hairier and sometimes even costly.

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Pure Pinyin

A father speaks

[This is a guest post by Alex Wang, following up his remarks in "Learning to read and write Chinese" (7/11/16).]

The more I learn Chinese to teach my younger son Chinese reading and writing the more I realize for lack of better word how “ridiculous” it is for a “significant / modern” country to use such a reading and writing system. Perhaps I may be wrong because I’m not informed.

To provide some background, I grew up speaking only Chinese in the house.  I went to Saturday school for a few years to learn a little bit of reading and writing but mostly forgot all of it by the time I came to Shenzhen 9 years ago. I did not learn pinyin; I was taught Bopomofo which I have forgotten entirely.   I say this so that you understand my relative fluency in the spoken language.  On reading characters, I can now recognize perhaps several hundred.

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Tones and the alphabet

The question of whether tones are added to alphabet words used in Sinitic languages arose in the discussion that followed this post:

"Papi Jiang: PRC internet sensation" (4/25/16)

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Tones and the brain

People are always trying to exoticize things Chinese.  Now comes this article with the sensationalistic and patently suspect headline:

"If you speak Mandarin, your brain is different" (2/24/15)

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Voice recognition vs. Shandong accent

The following video is very popular in China now:

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More on tonal variation in Sinitic

In a number of posts, we have discussed departure from stipulated tonal configurations in speech, e.g.:

"Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin "

"When intonation overrides tone"

"Where did Chinese tones come from and where are they going?"

In this post, we will focus on the wide variation of tone in names for some family relationships.

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Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin

A few months ago on the Penn campus I heard a Chinese guy and a girl having a conversation in Mandarin, and I was surprised when he twice said, "Wo3 ming2bai4 le."  The rest of his speech was standard, but then he came out with this strange transformation of "Wo3 ming2bai le".  Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised, because I've heard the exact same thing before.  Nonetheless, it still sounded odd to me, since from first-year Mandarin on I've had it drilled into me that this sentence should be pronounced "Wo3 ming2bai le" and that any other pronunciation of ming2bai was wrong.  This was reinforced by the canonical pronunciation ming2bai given in dictionaries and other authoritative sources.

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Good good study; day day up

Somebody gave a friend of Rose Hill this coin purse as a gift:

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Where did Chinese tones come from and where are they going?

Recently we've had several discussions about how tones in Sinitic languages aren't as uncomplicated or inflexible as one might imagine or as is often claimed:

"When intonation overrides tone"

"Mandarin by the numbers"

In these posts and in the comments to them, we have seen how stress and musical tune / melody often override or distort the canonical tones for given morphosyllables in sung or spoken context.  This is a completely different matter than tone sandhi, where tones are modified according to their position within a sequence of syllables (I believe that most instances of tone sandhi occur for simple physiological reasons, e.g., in normal speech it is virtually impossible to pronounce two full third tones in a row because they both dip so low in an individual's register that one needs a means for readying oneself for the onset of the utterance of the second third tone and does this by changing the first third tone utterance to a rising second tone).

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When intonation overrides tone

Practically everybody has heard of the fabled Grass Mud Horse (cǎonímǎ 草泥马), which is a pun for "f*ck your mother" (cào nǐ mā 肏你妈). China Digital Times, which pioneered research on "sensitive words", including "Grass Mud Horse", has just introduced a new feature, which should prove to be a useful resource for China scholars and journalists: "Two Years of Sensitive Words: Grass-Mud Horse List".

You will observe that not one of the tones of cǎonímǎ 草泥马 ("Grass Mud Horse") matches the corresponding tone in the original cào nǐ mā 肏你妈 ("f*ck your mother"), yet no one has the slightest difficulty in comprehending that the former is meant as a pun for the latter.

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