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Correct my hypothesis about tones in Chinese


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AloeFerret

Once I am done studying the (endless) language of Arabic, I plan to learn Chinese, specifically Mandarin. As a linguist I go into depth with languages and get technical with them. I have a hypothesis about how the tones in Chinese work, but I am not sure if it is correct or not, so let me know if I am right or not.

 

My hypothesis is that tones in Chinese don't necessarily care about their actual pitch values, but tones in Chinese are pronounced relative to other tones. So when we talk about a "high, flat tone", we mean a tone that is higher-and-flatter than the tone that came before it. Likewise, a "falling and rising tone" falls to wherever it was last and then rises up again. Thus a high flat tone could actually sound rather low, assuming the tone before it ended quite low. Does this sound about right?

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NanJingDongLu

This is correct. Otherwise text to speech would sound natural in Chinese and everyone would be speaking like robots. Also, if your voice was too deep you wouldn't be able to hit the high notes to say the first tone.

 

Also, bear in mind that only 1 tone is a tone with a consistent pitch, the other 3 have a changing pitch. While their relative pitch is important, it's arguably more important to get the direction of tonal shift correct.

 

You'll notice the chart below isn't on a musical stave. If their actual pitch value mattered it would be.

 

The Four Mandarin Chinese Tones - ChineseFor.Us Chinese Tones Lesson

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Moshen
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My hypothesis is that tones in Chinese don't necessarily care about their actual pitch values, but tones in Chinese are pronounced relative to other tones.

 

Isn't it that way in all tonal languages?  Otherwise, how could people with bass voices and soprano voices communicate?

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realmayo
6 hours ago, AloeFerret said:

... tones in Chinese are pronounced relative to other tones. So when we talk about a "high, flat tone", we mean a tone that is higher-and-flatter than the tone that came before it. Likewise, a "falling and rising tone" falls to wherever it was last and then rises up again. Thus a high flat tone could actually sound rather low, assuming the tone before it ended quite low. Does this sound about right?

 

I think you're no more than half right. For instance, if you had a "high flat tone" followed by a "falling and rising tone", then the latter would not 'fall to wherever it was last': it would be lower than the high flat tone that came before it. Or, consider four rising tones in a row: your interesting hypothesis would leave us at a super-high pitch on the last of the four!

 

Yes, tones are expressed differently - at different pitches - depending on the tones of their neigbours in any string of speech. But as NanJingDongLu says, they are recognised as a given tone chiefly because of the direction of tonal shift, rather than absolute pitch. A rising tone sounds like a rising tone no matter the absolute pitch. And I think there will always be a turn by a speaker back to the absolute pitches that they typically produce. But it would be interesting to see where a typical speaker pitches their first tones, for example, how much variation there is and how frequently.

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Takeshi

This is true, but somehow, people can still generally identify level tones spoken in complete isolation in Cantonese. (For the record, Cantonese has 3 level tones; their only difference is in relative pitch height, no contour/movement/direction)

 

I guess people can tell if someone's voice sounds like a female/male etcetc, and can make judgements based on what they expect their pitch range to be, and then place the tone they hear in isolation into that pitch range. Or maybe it is possible to use acoustic cues to tell if someone is speaking from the top or bottom of their pitch range.

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歐博思
On 5/8/2021 at 5:08 AM, Moshen said:

Otherwise, how could people with bass voices and soprano voices communicate?

Grunts and squeaks

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MandarinXiao

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

My hypothesis is that tones in Chinese don't necessarily care about their actual pitch values, but tones in Chinese are pronounced relative to other tones. So when we talk about a "high, flat tone", we mean a tone that is higher-and-flatter than the tone that came before it. Likewise, a "falling and rising tone" falls to wherever it was last and then rises up again. Thus a high flat tone could actually sound rather low, assuming the tone before it ended quite low. Does this sound about right?

 

In general, women have higher voice key than men, so as children than adults. So when we discuss about the Chinese tones, you need find your own high key (5) and your own low key (1). And within your own key range, you play 55, 35, 214, 51. Just like what @Moshen mentioned. An advice for your ref., after you getting more practice with Chinese tones, you can start building the pronunciation with the word or image directly. For some learners, it works better than keep practicing the tones. You may try and see if this method suits u more. 

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Giuseppe Romanazzi
On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

Once I am done studying the (endless) language of Arabic

How long are you planning to live?😁

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

I have a hypothesis about how the tones in Chinese work

WARNING: I feel that the phrase "how the tones in Chinese work" refers to basic rules about Chinese tones. If that is the case, please be aware that your hypothesis has only little to do with basic rules. It's rather related to advanced techniques on how to play with the range of one's voice for modulation.

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

My hypothesis is that tones in Chinese don't necessarily care about their actual pitch values

Correct. I'd even delete "necessarily".

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

but tones in Chinese are pronounced relative to other tones.

Wrong. All tones are pronounced relative to your voice range, from level 1 to level 5 as indicated in the diagram posted by @NanJingDongLu.

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

So when we talk about a "high, flat tone", we mean a tone that is higher-and-flatter than the tone that came before it.

Wrong. The high flat tone (1st tone) is at level 5 of the range of voice (that can be your natural range of voice or the one you have skillfully chosen to add variety to your speech). It's not higher than the tone that came before it, but higher than levels 4, 3, 2, and 1.

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

Likewise, a "falling and rising tone" falls to wherever it was last and then rises up again.

Wrong. The "falling and rising tone" starts at level 2, falls to level 1, and then rises to level 4.

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

Thus a high flat tone could actually sound rather low

Correct. You choose how high (or how low) level 5 is. In normal speech, level 5 depends on your natural voice (male, female, accent, native language, etc.), but you can also choose to add greater variety to your vocal expressions improving the range of your voice while retaining the same relative values for the five levels. Thus you can make all levels higher or lower. Or you can make the range (distance between level 5 and level 1) wider or narrower.

  • Excitement and enthusiasm may be expressed making levels higher.
  • Sorrow and anxiety may call for lower levels.
  • A wider range of your voice, accompanied by a comparable increase in volume and slower pace, may be used for sense stress or to indicate size or distance.
On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

assuming the tone before it ended quite low.

Wrong. What's important is that the other levels should be lower that level 5.

 

On 5/7/2021 at 4:36 PM, AloeFerret said:

Does this sound about right?

No problem, what really matters is the sound of your Mandarin Chinese!

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Demonic_Duck

Level 1 to 5 are relative to the pitch contour of the sentence as a whole. That's affected by the overall pitch of your voice, but it's not the only factor. Intonation and word stress are also important.

 

Consider the sentence "你在干什么?" The same speaker will pronounce the tones in it very differently when it means "what u up to bbs 😙" compared to when it means "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?! 😠😠😠".

 

Levels 1 to 5 aren't constants in relation to the speaker's voice, they're highly context dependant.

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