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Cantonese 9/7 tones a LIE


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I posted this in another thread but thought it would make for it's own interesting conversation and didn't want to hijack.

My GF is from Hunan and speaks Yiyanghua (near Changsha) has lived in Guangzhou for 4yrs and speaks Guangdonghua fluently and obviously also can listen to everyone (just added because it is commmon for people from other provinces to be able to listen and understand Cantonese but not speak it).

She teaches me a little Cantonese here and there even though we only use Putonghua or English for communicating at home and generally together. She tells me she only uses the common 4/5 tones from Putonghua for speaking Cantonese and basically doesn't think there are any other ones, I keep trying to explain that the books also say there are more she just says people all understand me I understand everyone.

Every new word she teaches me in Cantonese she just tells me one of the 4 tones from Putonghua so hmm can anyone explain this. Is she just good at parrotting what she hears and imitating the accent so she unconsciously uses more tones, is she crazy or what???

Fwiw people assume she is Guangzhou native if she doesn't tell them and speaks Cantonese with them.

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As I understand it, there are really only about 6 or 7 distinct tone contours in Cantonese:

- high level

- high falling (somewhat merged with high level nowdays)

- mid rising

- mid level

- low falling

- low rising

- low level

The other 3 'tones' are basically high level, mid level and low level for syllables ending with -p, -t or -k. (This is just my layman's explanation; if you look around here and at the Cantonese forums here you'll be able to find more technical explanations.)

I'd kind of be surprised if your gf really did speak with Mandarin tones and native Cantonese speakers thought she was native Cantonese; I think a more logical explanation is she's not really aware of Cantonese tones but is good at mimicking them correctly, after all a lot of native Cantonese speakers aren't really aware of the types of tones - they just know when a word is pronounced wrongly or correctly.

Perhaps you could post a recording of her speaking Cantonese for the native speakers here to comment on?

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That's a good idea she's at work now I can ask her though I don't have the bits and pieces to record it i'm sure I can find someone to help. Fwiw she speaks cantonese 80% at work i'd guess so yeh the idea that she's just good at imitating it is highly possible.

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Tone 1: high level flat

Tone 2: rising to high level

Tone 3: mid level flat

Tone 4: low level falling

Tone 5: rising to mid level

Tone 6: low level flat

This is always confusing to me. I thought when you say Lei hou, the tones are first low rising, and second mid rising.

And low level falling to where? Hell? Or does it fall from a higher tone? :help

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  • 2 weeks later...

Don't bother with the tones. It's boring anyway. And for what? Chinese don't know them... Just listen and copy exactly. That's all what you need to do.

I speak OK Cantonese and have no idea what tones I use. But obviouslly the correct ones since I have no problem being understood.

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It's absolutely correct that tones are important! But if you copy a word 1:1 you don't have to know the tone since you will copy it automatically.

I suggest to get a feel for the language and to listen as much as possible. Even if you don't understand anything. Just copy what you hear.

The Pimsleur course is also very good since it's audio only and does NOT get into the tones, hence it's interesting. Unfortunately is has only 30 lessons, which means you learn only 200+ words, and that will not bring you very far. (The 90 lesson Mandarin course is a good base which you still have to build up).

So my advise would be to just forget about tones and just copy. And go out and speak! Don't sit home and do theory. And don't worry, if you get a tone wrong you will not get beaten up.

PS: maybe people with bad cantonese tones are the most misunderstood people in the world?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Most native Mandarin speakers would find Cantonese's tone system hard. Sometimes they don't know they're speaking in a wrong tone, because some tones in Cantonese seems the same to their ears. Even those native mandarin speakers who has lived in Guangzhou for many years(like my grandfather) can be heard to be not native.

To get the exact tones right, it's important to listen carefully to a native speaker.A mandarin-native speaker may make things more confusing.

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