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Stuart Jay Raj on learning tonal languages


Jan Finster
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Here is an interesting video on learning tonal languages:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BtdZVO6n24&t=1369s&ab_channel=SteveKaufmann-lingosteve

 

Bits on tones starts at 12:19

He gives and example on 很好 at around 15:40. 

 

I am not sure, I really (fully) understand it, but it sounds intriguing. Has anyone here ever used Gedney boxes for Chinese? Can you guys elaborate on what he says (?!)

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Wow! That's really interesting and what he said about the tones being throat positions especially makes a lot of sense to me! A tutor once helped me a lot with my third tone pointing out that my throat is wrong while saying it and if I just nod when saying it, it will push the throat together and it'll come out right. It did and after doing that for a while I haven't had a problem with it any more.

 

The matrix with of the different tones, aspiration levels and registries also sounds interesting. After that demonstration of the Cantonese tones, Cantonese doesn't sound impossible to me anymore! The argument that that system explains all tones in all tonal languages makes sense too because everyone's mouth is pretty much the same, so there will have to be a finite amounts of ways of creating those sound. I'll definitely need to look into this at some point!

It was also funny how clearly this didn't seem to be Steve's cup of tea. The guy going wild about this Sanskrit map and Steve next to him looking like "what the actual heck is this". 😂 I'm with him at that I believe the best way to actually learn to use tones is to listen to them a lot and learn to recognize them. People are naturally great at mimicking if they just let go of their inhibitions and fear of sounding weird or something. Eventually they'll start coming out too.

 

But at the same time I also think that knowing a solid theory behind how to create those sounds is extremely important, because otherwise there seems to be a temptation to artificially map them to some words or sounds in your own native language, even if those aren't anywhere near the target sounds. And then you think that you know how to say something while wondering why the natives keep switching to English with you and the store clerk doesn't understand you when you ask for a plastic bag.

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It's quite interesting and I watched the video but I don't think he provides enough info in there to actually implement it.

 

I tried googling Gedney boxes and it wasn't too illuminating either.  The most common results are some kind of electrical conduit, also called a Gedney box. 

 

When focused on languages, I found mainly a few old papers, with text description of tones and no audio clip illustrations.  The term "Gedney box" comes from Gedney's study of Proto-Tai, a reconstructed parent language of many current Southeast Asian languages.  Illustrations of the tones are often given in terms of words in Proto-Tai.

 

It seems like a sizable research project to map out how it would actually work for Chinese.  But it does introduce interesting ideas of thinking in terms of "stopping" sounds, "cutting" sounds, "glottal" sounds, "creaky" sounds etc.  Unfortunately, I don't know what they actually sound like, although I can imagine some tones have more abrupt ends than others and some are creakier, breathier!

 

I can't even map tone 1 in Mandarin = flat?, tone 2 = ?, tone 3= glottal? creaky?, tone 4 = stopping?, etc.

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I watched the part from 12:19 and the stopped after not too long, skipping through a bit.

 

"Tones are not about pitch, they are about throat positions", and playing football (soccer) is not about ball skills, it's about muscle positions, playing piano isn't about music, it's about finger tension... definitely true in a way but an absurd over simplification. 

 

I'm always weary of these "throw out everything you know about xxxx and listen to my theory instead", especially when I see "masterclass" on the front page of a youtube channel. I don't really trust any self labelled polyglot on the internet, or youtuber giving language learning advice really, besides for Matt vs Japan, and maybe Steve Kaufmann.

 

Another absurd thing he said that in China it's expected that you will speak Chinese, even if you're a foreigner. I wonder what he will think if he sees all the language power struggle complaint posts on this forum. 

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On 1/13/2022 at 9:38 AM, markhavemann said:

"Tones are not about pitch, they are about throat positions", and playing football (soccer) is not about ball skills, it's about muscle positions, playing piano isn't about music, it's about finger tension... definitely true in a way but an absurd over simplification. 

 

I'm always weary of these "throw out everything you know about xxxx and listen to my theory instead", especially when I see "masterclass" on the front page of a youtube channel. I don't really trust any self labelled polyglot on the internet, or youtuber giving language learning advice really, besides for Matt vs Japan, and maybe Steve Kaufmann.

 

Another absurd thing he said that in China it's expected that you will speak Chinese, even if you're a foreigner. I wonder what he will think if he sees all the language power struggle complaint posts on this forum. 

 

Fair points on which I mostly agree. Nevertheless, I think he may still have something useful to say about tonal languages since he has learned several of them. And at least in Thai he appears to be fluent. Whenever I get to know a new "expert" on Youtube, I try to find the nuggets of gold and ignore their blindsides and shortcomings (I guess this also applies to people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and even our beloved Donald T. 😅

 

Regarding tones I wondered if it is not just throat position but also vocal cord status (degree of openness, tension) etc.

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