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flautert

Pronunciation of two-syllable words

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flautert

Hi all,

I am learning HSK5 vocabulary by using Memrise, where there are word lists with the meaning, pin yin and an audio recording of each word.

Very often when I learn new words I get confused with the pronunciation of two-syllable words, because the second syllable is pronounced neutrally even if it is not listed as a possibility. I have seen  this happen in many courses there.
For example: yesterday I learned the word zhi4du4 制度,that means system. When I heard the sound recording the zhi was pretty strong, while the du was weak and quick, suggesting a neutral tone. I checked on Pleco and in both female and male voices the du is pretty strong, and it is not hinted that the du could be said in neutral tone.
I searched the pronunciation in Pleco and there is no zhi4du5 (I had thought that they might be using the recording for another, similar word).
My question is: can this be intentional? Is it ok to have the second syllable as neutral in some cases, though it is not “official”? I think those Memrise courses are maintained by users, so there might be errors, but the sounds seem to be recorded professionally. What do you guys think?
Thanks!

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Publius

According to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Chinese_phonology#Tones:

In Modern Standard Mandarin as applied in A Dictionary of Current Chinese, the second syllable of words with a 'toneless final syllable variant' (重·次輕詞語) can be read with either a neutral tone or with the normal tone.[42][43][44]

Haven't checked but 制度 might be one of those words.

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Tomsima

my piece on this, obviously people like @Publius
can say how accurate this is: the problem in particular with the 44 combination is that sometimes it's a light tone, sometimes it's a full 44, but sometimes it's a normal 4th tone, then followed by a weaker, slightly lower 4th tone that might easily be confused with a light tone. This might be why you're having trouble with 制度; I would say it falls into the second kind, a sort of grey zone that doesn't much coverage in grammar books

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mungouk

Those audio courses on memrise do also have some mistakes in them. 

 

For example 星星 (star) in the HSK 4上 course has the audio as xing1 xing5 (which is what Pleco and the HSK 4 上 textbook say) but shows the pinyin as xing1 xing1.

 

Not to mention the sudden surprise SHOUTING AUDIO which nearly blow your eardrums in if you're wearing headphones...

 

 

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flautert

I am well aware of the problems :wall

 

What stood out for me in this cause is that theoretically there is no word pronounced as zhi4du5, so I wondered where that recording came from...

 

The shouting is scary sometimes, indeed :wink:

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flautert
Quote

 the problem in particular with the 44 combination is that sometimes it's a light tone, sometimes it's a full 44, but sometimes it's a normal 4th tone, then followed by a weaker, slightly lower 4th tone that might easily be confused with a light tone. 

 

Tomsima,

can this happen with 11 and 22 combinations as well? In short, in a word with two equal tones, can the first syllable get more power and be like the "tonic" syllable?

 

Thanks

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陳德聰

Might be helpful to note that very few syllables are underlyingly neutral tones. Even words where in the dictionary it lists a neutral tone for words like 學生 (Mainland Chinese), a huge amount of people will still read it as xuéshēng, not just Taiwanese people. You will not find a word xuéshēng in those dictionaries but it doesn’t mean such a pronunciation doesn’t exist.

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889

To my ear, this usage falls along a spectrum, just like erhua: some Chinese hardly do it at all, some do with some words, and some do it quite a lot. In both instances as a foreign speaker, you need to be able to hear the variations, yet try yourself not to fall into the extremes.

 

I'll add that while it's pretty easy to avoid too much erhua, it's much easier to find yourself starting to constantly light-tone second syllables without even being aware of it.

 

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flautert

Can I conclude that for many two-character words only the first tone really matters? Can I not worry too much about the tone of less important character?

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陳德聰

Even if that were true, you’d still need to know the tone because they probably show up as the first character in another two-character word.

 

So the short answer is basically no, you can’t conclude that.

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flautert

Nothing is easy 😉

 

Thanks!

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889

Besides, they are light-tones, not no-tones.

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