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suMMit

When you dont know the tones

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Tomsima
On 10/10/2019 at 6:22 PM, Mijin said:

I've noticed that to native Chinese speakers the tone is probably more important than the phoneme. 

Great observation, and true from my experience at least.

 

When I first started learning Chinese I often used to try to pun based on the phoneme element of a word. I would think 老板 and 老伴 was hilarious because they were so similar sounding to me. Yet I would have no idea how 脑公 was meant to sound so similar to 老公. It took many years to realise that puns are usually based first on an identical tone pattern, then a close phoneme resemblance (rather than the other way round).

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Mijin

I was thinking further on this, and it makes a kind of sense that the tone is more important. 

 

Because, think of all the differences in how native Chinese people pronounce Mandarin phonemes. There are people who  pronounce "zhao" and "zao" the same. Or "ling" and "ning". Or "shi / shu" vs "si / su". Or "pin" and "ping". 

"W" is pronounced either as in English or as in German. And my current Chinese teacher pronounces "cu" as "chu". 😒

 

But tones? Not so much variation there. Maybe in one region the last tone of a multi-syllable word has become neutral, and in another region it keeps the character's tone. But you don't get much more difference than that. 

Native speakers are used to giving leeway on the phoneme but not the tone.

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Mijin

Also, I am not sure I agree with the advice about pronouncing some words with the wrong tone to train your tone sense.

 

Bear in mind there are valid, common words using those phonemes like "shang1hai4" and "bei4jing3". So it's not about getting used to there being only one right way, it's just being more aware of tone, and being strict with yourself if you get it wrong.

 

And generally it's worth gaining more confidence in what the sounds actually are, because then you can hear them more clearly and are less likely to slip up. 
After studying Chinese for a year or two I realized that I had cemented in the wrong idea of how to pronounce the 2nd, 3rd and 4th tones (1st tone was always OK).

I had taken simple, introductory advice like "2nd tone is like a questioning sound" and was still imagining second tone syllables as sounding like they have a question mark after them, when in fact that's a different sound from rising sound.

I think the site "Hacking Chinese" has some good advice on tone pronunciation, I'll see if I can dig it up.

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imron
1 hour ago, Mijin said:

Also, I am not sure I agree with the advice about pronouncing some words with the wrong tone to train your tone sense.

It's not pronouncing the words with the wrong tones, it's recognising that wrong tones are not that word.  Think of it as not only training yourself to know the correct pronunciation, but also training yourself to distinguish that similar but incorrect pronunciation is not that word.

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889

"Also, I am not sure I agree with the advice about pronouncing some words with the wrong tone to train your tone sense."

 

The point isn't that you do it over and over in training exercises. The point is it's like a test: you know you're starting to get somewhere when bei1jing1 or zhong3guo1 sound really off but xi1an1 and guang3zhou1 sound fine.

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Mijin

Well it seems I have not got anywhere with my Chinese 😀

 

Or rather, it depends what you mean by "off".

 

Hearing "shang1hai1" doesn't trigger any wrongness feeling in me, it just sounds like a word or place name I haven't heard before, which still is something that happens many times a day for me. 

From context, if I knew someone was referring to 上海 *then* it rings alarm bells. But the exercise described in this thread wouldn't trigger any wrongness feeling.

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889

You're supposed to be thinking 上海 during this, not shang1hai1 as just some pair of abstract syllables!

 

So if you say 明天我去上海 with 上海 read out as shang1hai1 or shang3hai1 and don't hear it sounds awful, then Houston, we have a problem.

 

(This approach is for folks in China or who've otherwise had a long chance to constantly hear words like 中国 北京 上海 西安 properly spoken in their environment. Without that background it's not going to be much use.)

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Mijin
30 minutes ago, 889 said:

You're supposed to be thinking 上海 during this, not shang1hai1 as some pair of abstract syllables!

 

But it's an exercise that is focusing on sounds and not context. If you ask me to read out some combinations of initials, finals and tones I've never heard before, and ask me if they sound off, then the answer is no, they don't. Learning apparently arbitrary groupings of sounds is something I need to do every day (although of course the more characters I learn, the less often new words sound arbitrary). 

 

If there were an exercise that emphasized context, and includes a word with the wrong tones....yeah that word will sound off and maybe that would be a useful exercise.

 

Anyway it seems like we might be at the point where we can only agree to disagree. If the OP tries it out this idea and finds it useful, then great. I would not try to dissuade anyone from doing something they are finding useful.

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anonymoose
12 hours ago, Tomsima said:

When I first started learning Chinese I often used to try to pun based on the phoneme element of a word. I would think 老板 and 老伴 was hilarious because they were so similar sounding to me. Yet I would have no idea how 脑公 was meant to sound so similar to 老公. It took many years to realise that puns are usually based first on an identical tone pattern, then a close phoneme resemblance (rather than the other way round).

 

This is rather a case of making fun of some Chinese accents which do not distinguish n and l. Another example is 镁铝 referring to 美女.

 

Making fun of regional accents is nothing new. 好次 is often used to substitute 好吃, and in this case, the tone is not the same.

 

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889

"Even if you've been in China only a few months, your ears should hurt if you try to say 中国 北京 上海 西安 all the same."

 

If that's not context for you, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call Houston again.

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Tomsima
9 hours ago, anonymoose said:

the tone is not the same.

A fair point to make. Perhaps I should have noted that in all these types of regional puns, they actually mimic the difference in tone when it's noticeably different from the standard tone, eg 长姿势、好开森 but 有木有

 

The point I was trying to make was more how people pun in everyday conversation, just happened to think of 脑公 which is more internetty and regional based

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Mijin
17 hours ago, 889 said:

If that's not context for you, I'm afraid I'm going to have to call Houston again.

 

As I said upthread, I have a good ear for tones, and I rarely forget which tones are used in a word. (I'm not saying my Chinese is perfect, but tones are one of the stronger areas)

So what exactly is the "problem" that you keep alluding to?

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abcdefg
On 10/11/2019 at 1:22 AM, Mijin said:

I've noticed that to native Chinese speakers the tone is probably more important than the phoneme. 

e.g. In a restaurant, a foreign girl raised her hand and said "mai3dan4", very clearly pronouncing the second syllable incorrectly as a falling tone, but to me of course it was obvious what she meant. And the fuwuyuan replied I think (sadly I don't remember the exact word) "leng3dan4?!"

 

I've noticed that too. 

 

Once had a teacher who was from Inner Mongolia 内蒙古. Told me that when he and his pals were kids playing outside in the snow, they sometimes made a game of talking back and forth without opening their mouths at all. The whole conversation was mostly tones and rhythm. Said it worked pretty well.  

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