Archive for Intonation

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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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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Emergency in B flat

In his 2/15/2019 announcement about declaring a state of emergency on the southern border, President Trump used a striking sequence of fifteen singsong phrases:

So the uh the order is signed. And uh I'll f- I'll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office. And we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, uh even though it shouldn't be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we'll get another bad ruling, and then we'll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we'll get a fair shake and we'll win in the Supreme Court. Just like the ban, they sued us in the 9th Circuit and we lost, and then we lost in the appellate division, and then we went to the Supreme Court and we won.

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Baby talk, part 2

Two days ago, I was sitting in a Panera around lunch time.  Next to me was a mother with two young daughters.  One of them looked to be about four years old, and the other about one and a half year old.

The girls were both well behaved, and I enjoyed their company for more than an hour.  Without intentionally eavesdropping, I could not but overhear what they were talking about.  After half an hour, I started to become amused by the younger daughter's speech, because it consisted entirely of the following three words:

1. no! — falling intonation

2. what? — rising intonation

3. why!? — half-falling then half-rising, sounding somewhat plaintive and querulous

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What do Chinese truckers want to overthrow?

Last week there were large scale truckers strikes in many parts of China.  China watchers around the world were stunned, especially since some of the strikers were shouting out what sounded like "overthrow the Communist Party!", as at 3:48 in this video.

Here's the audio portion of the leader of one of the strikes shouting what sounds like "dǎdǎo gòngchǎndǎng 打倒共产党" ("overthrow the Communist Party") into a microphone, followed by a throng of truckers responding in unison.

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The wonder of Cantonese particles

Rosalyn Shih has an entertaining and informative piece called "Let's Go Laaaaaaaa:  And learn Cantonese particles" in LARB China Channel (5/1/18)

Some highlights:

…In Singapore, particles have migrated to English, prompting the Quora thread “Why do Singaporeans say lah at the end of every sentence?”

It seems that the more southern the Chinese-speaker, the more particles he or she might use. Citing various studies from 1924 to 1994, Language Log notes the estimates of Cantonese particles are anywhere from 30 to 206….

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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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Sorry, my Chinese is not so good

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

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When intonation overrides tone, part 2

Richard Warmington has a deep interest in the relationship between tone and intonation, especially in Mandarin.  He has made a number of penetrating observations and asked a series of probing questions on this phenomenon.  Since this is also a subject that has come up numerous times on Language Log (see below for a several previous posts), I will list here a few of Richard's remarks about tones and intonation, with an eye toward encouraging further discussion.

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Really?!

My son, Tom, who is closely attuned to current speech mannerisms, explained to me the nuances of a particular way of saying "really" that conveys both incredulousness and disapprobation.  It's not the same as the rhetorical "really?" with rising intonation, but ends with a slightly falling intonation, or is nearly flat.  It means something like "you're not really going to do that, are you?" or, "you are dummmmb, and I do not approve."

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Russian-accented Mandarin

This Mandarin news program was broadcast on July 13, 2016 by Èluósī bīnhǎi xīnwén 俄罗斯滨海新闻 ("Russian Coastal News").

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"Ni hao" for foreigners

A video titled "The Chinese tourists accused of bad behaviour in Thailand | Channel 4 News" was posted to YouTube on 2/22/15, but it has been recirculated in this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow about Chinese travel abroad during the recent National Day holiday:  "With Its Tourists Behaving Badly, China Embarks on Some Soul-Searching" (NYT, 10/10/16).

I do not wish to analyze the behavior of Chinese tourists at home and overseas.  What struck me powerfully about this video is the peculiar pronunciation of what is arguably the most widely known Mandarin expression in the world, viz., Nǐ hǎo 你好 ("hello; hi!").  You can hear it at 0:23 and 0:37 of this 4:04 video.

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