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Say It Right Series

Tones: Beyond Basics

Posted by pulosm October 21, 2007 in the Group General Discussion.

One of the things I often notice about non-native Mandarin speakers is that some speakers rigorously stick to the four (or five) tone paradigm and ignore what they are often hearing.  I say ignore what they are hearing, because besides just the sandhi changes, the tones change dramatically in speech based on the tones around it and other factors. 

The third tone is the most illusive.  Some leading Chinese linguists have argued that this tone is wrongly taught to foreign speakers.  Indeed, more than 70% of the time the tone never "rises up" like it is "supposed to."  Did you know that sometimes the third tone is actually pronounced as a high level tone?  No, I'm not crazy...it's true.

I have been fascinated by this topic ever since I started studying Mandarin.  When I realized that in compound words that have a 3rd tone/2nd tone composition the third tone doesn't rise at all, but just falls abruptly, and the 2nd tone rises from that low point, it was a revolution for my Mandarin.

 Anyway, this article is interesting.  It is actually about a study of Mandarin versus Taiwanese tone pronunciation, but it starts off by talking about these interesting issues.

 http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/ETD/image/etd1003.pdf

 I found it fascinating!

 I'd be interested in hearing any thoughts people have on this subject.

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