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Proper linguistic term for the 'base' (untoned) pronunciation?


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No word comes to mind as I lie in bed half asleep, but I have read and referred to the makeup of the word that is not tone as its “segmental composition” as tone is a “suprasegmental feature,” or an “autosegmental feature,” and I might also call a set of segments a “string.”


That being said, “I am able to pronounce the segmental strings of most words accurately, but not their tone” does not really roll off the tongue.

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An amazing linguist (and university professor of mine) calls them in Spanish "sílabas átonas" (atonic syllables). 

Quote in Spanish and rough translation:


El tono forma una unidad con la sílaba, es decir, es parte consustancial de ella, aunque existen sílabas átonas que pierden su tono en una combinación determinada con otras sílabas. Taken from Juan José Ciruela Alférez, chapter 2 of the book China, pasado y presente de una gran civilización.

The tone forms one unit with the syllable, a consubstantial part of it, although there are atonic syllables that lose their tone in specific combinations with other syllables.

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One concept used in linguistics that comes to my mind right now is the concept of markedness.  


When someone who is trying to learn Chinese does not use the right tone of a syllable, this act makes the syllable marked, which might require a high degree of listening effort from a native speaker of Chinese participating in this conversation. 



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I have seen the terms "segmental" (for consonants/vowels) and "suprasegmental" (for tone).


There's an interesting study here that compares the relative mutability of tones in Mandarin to the relative mutability of vowel sounds in European languages that uses these terms.

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