Saturday, August 25, 2007

Importance of learning the proper Chinese pronunciation

Spoken Mandarin Chinese has 4 pitched tones and a neutral or "toneless" tone. "Tones" do not refer to "intonation" - the variation of pitch we normally use in english and other Westerner languages to convey differences of expressive meaning (e.g. surprise, anger, doubtfulness). In this context, tonality is a fixed feature of individual words or syllables and changes in tone alters the meaning of what we are saying.

For example:

  • 媽 ma1 pronounced with a high and level tone means MOTHER;
  • 麻 ma2 pronounced with a tone that rises to the top means HEMP;
  • 馬 ma3 pronounced with a tone that starts at the top, then rises toward the top means HORSE; and
  • 罵 ma4 pronounced with a tone that starts at the top and then falls sharply to the bottom means to SCOLD or CURSE
As you can see from the previous examples, mastering the Chinese tones is the most important skill needed in order to be able to communicate successfully in Chinese. A syllable pronounced with the incorrect tone might get in deep trouble!

You can practice your Chinese language pronunciation on-line with Pinyin Talker

1 comment:

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