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Shelley

Tones over Characters

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hoshinoumi

@889 "tones" are different from "inflections" linguistically speaking. There's a reason they're called tones, as well as calling Chinese a "tonal language" and not an "inflective language".

Edit: now that I'm looking for some research to back this up, I realise too that the word I guess you were looking for is "intonation" rather than

 

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889

Just to be clear, I'm not talking in formal linguistic terms; indeed I doubt I know a single formal linguistic term.

 

I'm talking plain English, and in plain English tones simply gives intending students of Chinese that worthless excuse we've all no doubt heard again and again: "But I can't sing a note. I'll never be able to speak Chinese!"

 

(And if you seriously doubt that in plain English inflection is used with just the meaning I ascribed to it, see, e.g., http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28708526 .)

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hoshinoumi
16 hours ago, 889 said:

that worthless excuse we've all no doubt heard again and again: "But I can't sing a note. I'll never be able to speak Chinese!"

Lucky me I didn't hear anyone around me saying this when I was just started, since I can't sing :lol:

I don't think changing linguistic terminology and using it in "plain English" will solve the problem at all.

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陳德聰

Looks like just another “irregardless” moment. But actually more cause of confusion than the desired clarity.

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Gharial

I'm not sure if this has been mentioned (have only skimmed the thread), but writing tone marks(, and) over the correct vowel (where there is more than one vowel letter LOL) helps confirm what the main vowel is (assuming of course that it hasn't been removed according to the conventions of Pinyin, the main removals being -iou > -iu and -uei > ui). Which will probably help with cementing the "surasegmental" of the tone contour into the learning of the (segmental) syllable as a whole, as you wouldn't want to be wrangling too long, certainly actual pronunciation-wise, over medial or ending vowels in preference to what should be 'the principal carrier of the syllable' (i.e. the main vowel itself).

 

A simple rule I devised, that covers every eventuality in the correct placement of the tone mark over, and thus in identifying, the main vowel: "The tone mark goes over the first vowel present, unless it is an i or u, in which case the mark simply moves one letter to the right i.e. to the very next vowel along. (Note that this next vowel can then be an i or u)."

 

This scan from Ramsey might be also useful, as might the strictly alphabetical syllable chart that I once made:

 

 

59df868c8c9a7_Ramseyfinals.thumb.JPG.36442205f34652f278f44069449bf507.JPG

 

 

post-35117-0-61413300-1403409116_thumb.jpg

 

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Gharial

Oops sorry, just realized the thread is "specifically" about tones over characters rather than their use "solely" with the here "absent" printed Pinyin. (I guess the tone :) of exasperation in Shelley's OP confused me).

 

I'd've thought it obvious that tones over characters are a helpful reminder of what we all seem to agree is the most neglected part of pronunciation~"reading" (further speaking) learning or practice - the tones. Supplying the segmental might for many be unnecessary or a distraction, it's just the tone that they may need reminding of.

 

Of course, that suggests that the way most of us have learnt or indeed still learn or are taught Chinese sucks, but that is sort of another discussion beyong the immediate Shelley wail of "Whyyyyyy (put them marks there)???!!!" :D. Putting that another way, perhaps this strategy is an implicit recognition of the difficulties non-natives/those from "toneless" languages will probably always have with quite learning tones effortlessly.

 

Prof. Victor Mair over on Language Log swears by tone marks over characters so if you don't like it go read and argue with him LOL.

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Shelley

I had to go and reread my OP, I hadn't realised it sounded exasperated:P Confused, distracted maybe.

 

There have been many replies to indicate that it is useful for some people. As this discussion progressed I realised my "problem" wasn't the actual marks but the fact the by lesson 15, Book 2, tones and pronunciation were still being treated as separate things.

 

i have always said and believe that the tone and the pronunciation of the character are one and the same and felt by this point we would have left behind the idea of them being separate.

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roddy
50 minutes ago, Gharial said:

Prof. Victor Mair over on Language Log swears by tone marks over characters so if you don't like it go read and argue with him LOL.

Let's have a link then...

  • Good question! 1

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889

"I have always said and believe that the tone and the pronunciation of the character are one and the same and felt by this point we would have left behind the idea of them being separate."

 

Sounds like Gwoyeu Romatzyh, mentioned by Roddy earlier in this thread and discussed elsewhere here as well, may be just your ticket. Have you looked at it?

 

Are there any programs for converting Chinese text to Gwoyeu Romatzyh?

 

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Shelley

I remember that being mentioned, but I don't see the need, for me anyway, the character contains all the information to indicate the tone required.

 

  When I learnt  好,  first I learnt hǎo, the sound hao with the third tone and its meaning, then I just knew it was pronounced like that, then I learnt the character 好 which now has attached to it the meaning and the sound (tone and Base pronunciation*) so basically substitute the pinyin for the character.

 

* See roddy's post here https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55087-proper-linguistic-term-for-the-base-untoned-pronunciation/

 

 

 

 

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Gharial

Don't worry Shelley, it's now me who sounds exasperated - with myself. :P 'Cos I've discovered that Prof Mair actually likes not only tones but also Pinyin too with his characters: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=189 . But I guess if Rabid "Roddy" McMadMod were to hold a gun to the good Prof's head and force him to somehow choose between (toneless) Pinyin or just tones (without Pinyin), the latter as in the NPCR vol 2 that you were bewailing :) , the Prof would go for at least the tones?:D:clap

 

Hmm, if GR is (was) that great then why did that study mentioned on the Wikipedia page for GR conclude that "The results clearly indicated that GR did not lead to significantly greater accuracy in tonal production. Indeed, the use of GR reflected slightly lower rates of tonal production accuracy for native speakers of both American English and Japanese"? (McGinnis 1997, quoting a University of Oregon study conducted from 1991-1993, see notes 6 and 51 here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwoyeu_Romatzyh ).

 

I alluded to this study before on another thread over a year ago ( https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52445-speaking-chinese-without-seeing-the-characters/?do=findComment&comment=403687 ) but didn't get an answer to the above question about GR's very potential naffness/overratedness/difficulties. :help:twisted:

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Shelley

I think it is horses for courses, whether there is a right or wrong way I don't know.

 

I am not against tone marks, I just wanted to leave them behind at the stage I am at. So I will, I cover up the marks as I read the text so its not distracting.

 

Apparently the Yale romanization was considered the most likely to elicit the correct pronunciation from an untrained speaker. It was developed as a "third" way to allow WWII speakers to communicate. From the quick look I have had, it does look very intuitive, it does use tone marks, but that's okay for a romanization.

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roddy

Mair's talking about a very different situation - students who speak Chinese and know the pronunciations well, but are now introducing characters, rather than students who read Chinese but know the pronunciations somewhat less than well. 

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Gharial
1 hour ago, roddy said:

Mair's talking about a very different situation - students who speak Chinese and know the pronunciations well, but are now introducing characters, rather than students who read Chinese but know the pronunciations somewhat less than well.

 

It's been a while since I read that LL article, but there are probably not that many students (geuninely foreign ones, I mean) lucky enough to already speak Chinese well enough for their "eventual" transitioning to characters to be primarily a matter of learning the orthography, and even fewer among all the truly struggling rest who could in any meaningful sense be described as at all able to "read" Chinese if they aren't sufficiently familiar with pronunciations (esp tones), vocab etc. Of course it doesn't help that we all dabble with and are often pushed into looking at hanzi a bit too prematurely in our studies, but hey ho, it has its mystique and charms eh (despite its obvious drawbacks)! :P

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Shelley
2 hours ago, Gharial said:

often pushed into looking at hanzi a bit too prematurely in our studies,

I am not sure there can ever be a "too premature", I am a believer in characters almost right from the start, 2 or 3 lessons of pinyin only then start with characters. IMHO if you leave it too long its almost like starting again.

There came a time some while ago when reading a text in pinyin that I thought this would be much easier in characters, this is because there is more information and I can scan characters quicker than pinyin. I think pinyin is good for IMEs , learning words and dictionary organisation. Other than that I like to use characters.

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Gharial

Sure, the orthography has to be tackled sooner or later, and reading ("~"?) in some shape or form is a good way to help build or consolidate vocabulary, but the written form is often used as a crutch to limp past lacks of essentials, and if you can't decode reasonably basic speech printed out in Pinyin (or let's say English written in IPA rather than as "standardly" spelled/spelt) then how will seeing the characters speed things up that much in at least the immediate short term? I'd've thought it would slow things down or at least become a distraction.

 

Actually reading genuinely written texts on the other hand would it must be said be made somewhat harder if they were presented only in Pinyin, but that's a different kettle of fish to apprehending spoken "text", isn't it?

 

Unfortunately most courses and indeed teachers don't keep the distinction clear enough, as it's easier and/or cheaper to dump a "succession" of texts onto students than to actually contextualize and keep contextualizing things sufficiently in terms of reasonably authentic (succinct and functional enough) speech.

 

There's the same sort of problem in ELT and indeed probably all language teaching, but at least English has an alphabet and provides substantially more phonetic information to complement its comparatively limited "visual" aspects.

 

Perhaps foreign language learning would be more successful if it took a decades- rather than mere months- or at most only years-long viewpoint, but that's not to say that adults can't bring skills and knowledge honed by experience to bear in an effort to "speed things up" somewhat (see e.g. https://mitpress.mit.edu/becoming-fluent ).

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