Saturday, July 20, 2019

The crazy tonal languages

My dad is a Cantonese and my mom a Teochew. And I grew up speaking English and Cantonese at home. I don't know any Teochew though. 

I drove them out for lunch today and we began talking about singing in Mandarin and Cantonese whilst we listen to Taiwanese singing in Cantonese and Koreans in Mandarin.

The Chinese languages and dialects are all tonal languages and would you believe that Cantonese has 9 tones, 6 common tones with an additional 3? 

I figured out what the 6 are but still have no idea what the other 3 stand for.

And here is an interesting article, aptly titled Nine Tones of Hell, that says, "There are some Cantonese tones that only dogs can hear." 


I found the 9 tones here and it is amazing that all the 9 tones are the numbers 0 to 9. 

But it may be difficult to remember the sequence by numbers. And so here's another way with more memorable sentences, but only the first 6 tones. Pick which works for you, I pick number 2.

1. 身份証唔會換
san1 fan2 zing3 ng4 wui5 wun6
ID card does not need to be renewed

2. 豬扒配牛腩飯
zu1 pa2 pui3 ngao4 nam5 faan6
Pork chop with beef belly rice

3. 輸咗佢唔怕認
syu1 zo2 kui3 ng4 pa5 jing6
Defeated, he is not afraid to admit.

4. 交錢去行政部
gaau1 cin2 hoei3 hang4 zing5 bo6
Enough money to go to the administrative office 

There are claims that tone language speakers have an enhanced perception in musical pitch. They say that we are better in telling apart pitches that are close together. I'm not sure if that is true because I do know someone who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese and probably a couple more dialects but when she sings, she couldn't quite hold her pitch.

But back to those songs we were listening to in the car, which we couldn't entirely understand what was sung, I notice it's not so much the tone that's the problem, since they are already being "sung in tones". Chinese and especially Cantonese songs must to be composed in their tones for them to sound natural. 

The problem is more the consonants. 

But that's another crazy complicated thing.


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