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Do not ever ignore tones!


Hofmann
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No, not all of you. It seems that the most common pronunciation ailment is bad tones, or a total disregard for them.

There are three components that make up a Chinese syllable

  • Initial
  • Final
  • Tone

Perhaps, because you're used to speaking a language where tone usually doesn't differentiate meaning, you tend to ignore them when speaking Chinese. However, the real deal is that if you change any of the above three components of a Chinese syllable, especially in a way that results in an existant Chinese syllable, you're saying something else.

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"The most interesting result is that identifying the tone of a syllable is at least as important as identifying the vowels in the syllable."

The Functional Load of Tone in Mandarin is as High as that of Vowels (pdf)

While not knowing whether or not their analysis is valid, I've chosen to explain it this way a few times. If you supply a few examples, it's pretty convincing.

Edited by querido
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Well don't look at me.

The examples I thought of involved using the wrong vowels in English, noting how dumb that sounds, and then equating that with using wrong tones in Mandarin. O.K., that isn't what that paper says, but since we're on the subject, does anyone think this is a pretty good equivalence, for helping convince someone that the tone is important?

Your test might not be exactly what was meant either; here's a restatement of the same thesis from wikipedia:

Another example is the functional load of tone in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) which is as high as that of vowels. This means that the loss of information when all tones sound alike in Putonghua is approximately equal to that when all vowels sound alike in the language.

So, do you buy that one?

Edit: My memory of exactly what the paper said was wrong. Sorry.

Edited by querido
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well, the question is how they exactly defined "vowel", because there are much more finals than there are vowels (glides, monophthongs, diphthongs, final nasals etc.) And tones there's only four, so if you take them away, the ambiguity that arises will be less than if you take away all finals as roddy did. But I don't think that was what the article meant anyways...

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but since we're on the subject, does anyone think this is a pretty good equivalence, for helping convince someone that the tone is important?

The best "convincer" is just trying to communicate in Chinese for an hour or a day. Quite difficult to do unless you've got your tones fairly standard and true. I'm frequently reminded of their importance by those puzzled looks on the faces of people with whom I'm speaking.

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Like many languages, the trick if you're not confident in getting tones/vowels/pronunciation correct is to speak a bit quicker and try to make complete sentences. People can then guess what it is you're trying to say.

If you sound out each word slowly, or just think you can get by by saying one or two key words instead of the entire sentence, then it's important to be as accurate as possible.

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I remember an experiment by my former professor of Chinese linguistics, who recorded a native speaker of Mandarin reading a newspaper article about nuclear arms and then messed with the recording to make sure there were no tones left. He then asked some other native speakers to listen to the recording. Their comments were, apparently, that "it sounded as if the speaker was seriously ill". Other than that, they understood this article about a rather arcane subject perfectly. I don't know whether this was ever turned into a paper, and from a quick Google search it doesn't look like it, but I'll offer it as anecdotal evidence all the same.

Of course, no tones isn't the same as wrong tones.

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Ehh...I started this thread because I've been talking to too many people. Yes...wtf is nv4 ren2? wtf is mei4 you3? This is not f***ing English. I3 don't4 speak3 En1glish3 with3 Chin4ese3 tones4, do4 I? O din't scraw ap thu viwils, da A? (Yes, I know the paper said vowels in Chinese)

Ranting. Ignore.

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Ahem...well...I'll try to make this thread more productive by suggesting that one think of tones as equally important as consonants or vowels (even though they might not be). There are some romanization systems that use consonants to mark tones. For example, "x" at then end for a rising tone, "s" for falling tone, "h" for a ...rising tone. So let's say in some romanization system the character 欼 was romanized as "chrix" where the "x" marked a rising tone. The "x" isn't as easy to ignore as, for example, a diacritic (chrí) or a number (chri2).

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No offense, but you could have made this thread productive in the first place by telling us what you were actually thinking rather than just appearing to randomly post a bit of basic knowledge (do you really think the bulk of Chinese learners on here don't know tones are important?) apropos of nothing. As for the ranting - better posted elsewhere on the Internet as far as I'm concerned.

I have thought (or maybe I've appropriated someone else's thought) that for native English speakers at least, putting tonal information into the 'normal' flow of romanization rather than sitting on the top like an optional hat would be beneficial. It would bring it home that this is an integral part of the pronunciation, rather than an extra.

For reference, Gougou's English tones are quite good as foreign friends go.

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