Archive for Tones

Mair's hypothesis on tonal repetition

In his major July 1 speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CCP, one of Xi Jinping's many pronouncements featuring "blood" was this:

yù xuè fèn zhàn

浴血奋战/ 浴血奮戰

lit., "bathe blood energetic / rousing / fierce battle / fight"

i.e., "fight hard in bloody battles; a bloody fight"

It is hard to pronounce four 4th tones in a row.  Indeed, in normal speech, it is virtually impossible to do so.  When four 4th tones occur in succession, some sort of natural sandhi will arise to obviate that condition.  Most people I know who pronounce this quadrisyllabic expression will convert the third syllable to a light first tone.

Aside from the consonants, vowels, and tones, when one begins the study of Mandarin, one of the first things one learns about the pronunciation of the language is that you cannot have two 3rd tones in succession:  the first one has to become a 2nd tone, e.g., Nǐ hǎo –> Ní hǎo 你好 ("How are you?").

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When intonation overrides tone, part 6

Subtitle:  Virtuous / disgusting behavior / character

There's a common Mandarin put down that is much favored by Peking shopgirls:

Qiáo nǐ nà dé xìng ("Just look at that virtuous / disgusting behavior of yours!")

Readers will notice that I did not provide characters, since in truth there is a real problem knowing which character to choose for the last syllable.  There's no question whatsoever that it is pronounced in an emphatic fourth tone, which would make one think that it should be written as 性 ("nature; character").  The problem is that underlying the unmistakable fourth tone is an actual second tone, which should in fact be written as 行 ("conduct; behavior").

What's going on here?

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Recognizing half of a character and half of a word

I have a student whose given name is Zǐhàn 子菡.  The first character means "child; son; offspring; seed; small thing", plus lots of other things, for which see here.  The second character is much more problematic, since it doesn't mean anything by itself, but only in combination, as in the disyllabic word hàndàn 菡萏 (literary term for "lotus flower, especially one that has not blossomed")

Reconstructions

(Zhengzhang): /*ɡuːmʔ  l'oːmʔ/

(source)

As is my habit with my many students from other countries, I asked 子菡 if — following what is indicated in dictionaries — I were pronouncing her name correctly:  Zǐhàn.  She acknowledged that Zǐhàn is indeed the canonical pronunciation as given in lexicographical sources, but that people — including she herself — actually pronounce her name as Zǐhán.  Oh, woe is me!  That sort of blew my mind away.  It's not enough to be scrupulously observant of canonical prescription for pronunciation, I must needs learn another, noncanonical, pronunciation for the 菡 of 子菡's given name.

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 3

[Guest post by San Duanmu.  Please note that San's remarks were written before Sara de Rose's post ("part 2") on the same subject earlier this evening.]

In response to Victor’s request, I am offering some comments on qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy), two commonly used terms in traditional Chinese phonology. I shall follow the outlines suggested by Victor as well.

  1. When and how did the terms arise?

According to Tang (2016: 32), the terms were used linguistically in a ten-volume book 《聲類》 (Sound Categories) by 李登 (LI Deng) during 三國時期 (Three Kingdoms period, 220-280). The book was later lost, but references to it can be found in other books that survived.

According to YU Min 俞敏, in Li Ji《禮記》 (the Book of Rites), compiled by followers of Confucius (孔子 551-479 BC), the terms were also used to discuss music, as in “长者浊也……短者清也” (long ones give a muddy sound… short ones give a clear sound). If long and short refer to the shape of an instrument, then ‘muddy’ ought to mean a lower tone and ‘clear’ a higher tone. The exact relation between the terms used in music and those in sound classification is open to interpretation.

  1. How do the terms function within traditional Chinese phonology?

In traditional Chinese phonology, qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy) are used to classify consonants. In addition, each is further divided into two sub-categories. Therefore, there are four categories of consonants, shown in the table below, with samples in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 2

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose]

I am currently writing a paper outlining the similarities between the Mesopotamian and ancient Chinese tonal systems, which will be published in Sino-Platonic Papers.

I have a question for those of you knowledgeable in ancient Chinese music. It concerns the terms "clear" (qīng 清) and "muddy (zhuó 濁), which were discussed a few days ago on Language Log:  "'Clear' and 'turbid' in Chinese phonology" (11/29/20). Before I pose my question, here’s a quick synopsis of what is known about the Mesopotamian tonal system:

Cuneiform tablets translated since the early 1960s show that, for over a millennium, from at least 1800 BC onward, the Mesopotamians used seven diatonic modes – scales that are closely related to the Western, seven-note major scale.

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Jipangu = Japan Country?

This was supposedly Marco Polo's word for Japan.  It has recently come back in vogue for films, games, etc.  It would seem that "Jipangu" (also spelled "Zipangu") is cognate with Jap. Nihonkoku / Nipponkoku, Ch. Rìběnguó 日本國, Kor. Ilbon-guk, Viet. Nhật Bản Quốc , but in none of the Chinese topolects I'm aware of does it sound quite like that.  Certainly it would not work for the southern or other topolects that have an entering tone final -k (or some -t) for the last of the three syllables.  Ditto for Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Even the Sinitic topolects without an entering tone final don't have the right vowel shape / quality at the end to match the -u of Jipangu.

Maybe Marco Polo got it from Persian, the lingua franca of international diplomacy in his time.  Could it be that the phonotactics of Persian could not tolerate / represent any of the Sinitic topolectal forms of 國 directly but transformed one of them into something that sounded to Marco Polo like -gu?

Did Marco Polo get "Jipangu" from the Mongols?  If so, from whom did the Mongols get it?

Wiktionary entry for 日本國.

Wiktionary entry for .

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When intonation overrides tone, part 5

There are three ways to say "Monday" in Mandarin:

zhōu yī 週一
lǐbài yī 禮拜一 (you can also say this in the shortened form bài yī 拜一)
xīngqí yī / xīngqīyī 星期一

As usual with my classes at Penn, most of my students are from mainland China.  I asked one of them to pronounce those three ways of saying "Monday".  A student from Shangdong who speaks beautiful Mandarin read them this way:

zhōu yī 週一
lǐbài yī 禮拜一
xīngqīyì 星期一

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When intonation overrides tone, part 4

Some folks think that intonation never overrides tones, but I'm convinced on the basis of empirical evidence that it does.

For example:

Nǐ xiǎng gàn hā 你想干哈 –> Nǐ xiǎng gàn há 你想干哈 ("what do you want to do?") — especially in the Northeast.

Here are some other examples — all of them provided by native speakers of MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin):

A.
 
1. 不( bù ["no"]):Sometimes, I would say  不 ( bú) even though there is no falling tone character after  不 to invoke tone sandhi, such as "我不  ( bú)". This happens when somebody asks me to do something I don't like, I will say 不 ( bú) to express my rejection. 
 
2.中间 (zhōngjiān ["in; among; between; amidst"]): Sometimes, I would say 中间 (zhōngjiàn)to emphasize the place.  I think most people will commonly pronounce this phrase as  中间 (zhōngjiàn), but it is "wrong". 
 
3. 都 (dōu ["all"]):   I will pronounce this character as dóu when I want to emphasize the meaning "all." For example, 我都  (dóu) 写完了 I finish them all, 他都 (dóu) 吃完了,he ate them all. But here, I am thinking about whether I am influenced by 东北 Northeastern / dongbei topolect because I think dongbei people will commonly use the pronunciation dóu .

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Graduation speech by a West African student at National Taiwan University

Stunning speech (7:49) by Achille, a graduating student from Burkina Faso at the NTU commencement on June 6:

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A Chinese citizen's thoughts on Matt Pottinger's speech in Mandarin

The CCP government has done its utmost to prevent Chinese citizens from viewing Matt Pottinger's remarkable May Fourth speech (see "Selected Readings" below) or even from reading about it or expressing their ideas concerning it.  Yet some of them have taken the risk of using illegal VPNs to jump the Great Firewall (GFW) and have managed to see Pottinger's presentation with their own eyes.  Among those who have watched the video of Pottinger's speech, some have dared to express their reactions to it.  Here is one:

I watched Matt Pottinger's message. His Chinese is excellent except for his stressing on more than necessary words that makes him sound a bit unnatural like machine-generated. Had he been acquainted with the subtleness of spoken Chinese, he would definitely qualify for an A+.

Not surprisingly, his message can't be watched within the GFW. What's on the news are the slams and abuses on the message from the official media. Some curious people might wonder what the original message is and climb over the walls to explore. There are quite a few comments on the official news demanding access to the original message of Pottinger so that people may "join the government to criticize".

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"Was he reading Hanzi, or Hanyu Pinyin?"

A commenter to this post, "Matthew Pottinger's speech in Mandarin" (5/9/20) posed the questions in the title. These are interesting questions that raise important issues.

Since I don't know Matthew Pottinger, I am unable to say for sure what he was reading, whether it was Hanzi, Hanyu Pinyin, or something else.  The reason I say "something else" is because his teacher, Perry Link, was a strong advocate of Gwoyeu Romatzyh spelling, aka GR or the National Language Romanization system, so it may have been that.

For those who are not familiar with it, GR is a kind of tonal romanization in which the tones of words are spelled with letters.  It is difficult to learn (though much less difficult than characters, of course!), but it is very effective in imprinting the tones of words in the heads of learners.  Indeed, many of the best foreign speakers of Mandarin learned the language via GR, and they include Perry Link and Tom Bartlett.

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Matthew Pottinger's speech in Mandarin

Something extraordinary happened on May 4, 2020.  Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger delivered an extremely impressive speech in virtually flawless Mandarin.  Here it is:

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Chinese: what do you hear?

[This is a guest post by Jonathan Smith]

Here's an audio passage from a film I've been watching:

If you know Chinese, test yourself to see how much of it you understand.

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