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Correct number of syllables


Jan Finster
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Can someone please explain the concept of the "correct" number of syllables in Chinese to me (with examples).

 

I noticed sometimes my teacher said, "you need to add or drop a character, otherwise it does not sound harmonious"

 

Here is an example. As far as I know, the following two sentences are correct:

练习空手道

我喜欢武术电影和 空手道。

 

Why can you not say: 我喜欢武术电影和练习空手道 ?

 

 

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I don't know if there's any rule that will tell you precisely how to do it, but it is true that in speech the natural rhythm of a Chinese sentence suggests a certain balance between one-, two- and three-syllable words and where they are placed. It's not formally "wrong" to do otherwise but the result sounds awkward.

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Po-Ching and Rimmington "Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar" has some stuff on prosody in Chapter 26 "Prosodic Features"... pp379-391 in my old version (2004).

 

There's plenty of material on prosody and rhythm in there, but this final section is specifically on "Expanding, condensing and padding to get into the appropriate rhythm": (click to enlarge image)

 

image.thumb.png.ad6f4355c1d90bdf97048a4581d0ca5a.png

 

Even the ebook is crazy money (USD 80) but maybe you can access it via an online library?

 

 

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15 hours ago, mungouk said:

 

There's plenty of material on prosody and rhythm in there, but this final section is specifically on "Expanding, condensing and padding to get into the appropriate rhythm": (click to enlarge image)

 

Thanks!

 

That page alone tells me that I will never understand it. Only chance is to get so immersed that I "feel" what is right.

 

Seriously though, I wonder if any foreigner can ever master this aspect of Chinese.

 

Also, I am somewhat surprised this aspect is not covered more widely in textbooks. Boya advanced =?

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7 minutes ago, 889 said:

Think of English, and how a full name has to sound right. Every parent of a new-born

instinctively knows which names work and which don't. But could you set out the rules?

 

Exactly. But then, I wonder how many Chinese or Japanese, who studied English, ever get to the point to "instinctively know" which name combinations work in English (?). I wonder the same with foreigners learning Mandarin. 

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In his book, p. 49 of Anatomy of Chinese, P. Link noted:  All things being equal, Mandarin prefers syllabic balance (not always, not all-the-time - there are many exceptions)

 

1 syllable + 1 syllable = balance

2 + 2 = balance

3 Syllables:  often reduced to 2

 

Examples:  学校 Xuexiao = 2 syllables

中学校 (zhongxuexiao) = 3 syllables feels awkward

Becomes 中学

 

中学 can subdivide to and

初中学 is awkward so it becomes 初中

高中学 becomes 高中

 

东欧洲 is awkward so it is generally said 东欧

 

The above said, in talking with Chinese friends about it, there are many many exceptions.  However, some of these exceptions are words not commonly used (圣诞节 感恩节).  P. Link has an extensive discussion of 3 syllable phrases (beyond what I can post here).  

 

Input from others on the topic above would be greatly appreciated because it wasn't an easy discussion with Chinese friends (likely as I would have problems discussing intricacies of English grammar).  I expect there is much more to this than Link provides.  

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

Input from others on the topic above would be greatly appreciated because it wasn't an easy discussion with Chinese friends (likely as I would have problems discussing intricacies of English grammar).  I expect there is much more to this than Link provides

 

Thanks for asking your friends and posting these examples. I guess it is a good idea to first think about if there are contractions and omissions of characters on the level of individual words and then expand this to sentences.

 

 

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  • 3 months later...

This is kinda deep and complex, since I don't think there IS a rule or a set of rules that regulate it.

I would compare it to English subordinate clauses/or phrasal structures, where a full sentence 我练习空手道 is restructured into 练空手道 when used as a noun phrase in the sentence.

 

我练习空手道。 I practise karate.

...和练空手道。...and karate training. 

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