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Since many people choose to learn Chinese online, I turn to the Internet for the answer. I searched “中文声调变化 zhōng wén shēng diào biàn huà” (Chinese Tone Changes) and “拼音声调变化 pīn yīn shēng diào biàn huà” (Tone Changes in Pinyin), there’s barely an answer. But to my surprise, when I searched “mandarin tone change”, there were quite some great answers to this question. I now list some of the basic and frequently-used rules as below:
To read more on this on StudyMoreChinese:
Among all the various rules, these three seems most reasonable and acceptable. But still, when I asked some other Chinese friends, they hold different opinions. The only consensus we reached is the one rule about “不 bù”. In oral Chinese, we do change this tone. Besides, someone mentioned the “ABB” and “AABB” word patterns: “绿油油: lǜ + yóu + yóu → lǜ yōu yōu”, “马马虎虎: mǎ + mǎ + hǔ + hǔ → mǎ ma hū hū”.
To be honest, I was really confused by these rules. I was thinking, like, “Thank God, I do not have to memorize this. I’m so glad I’m Chinese.” Seriously, I think maybe it’s too much emphasis on tones. I do not know the learners’ purpose and reasons of learning the Chinese language. But if it’s for daily communication, then they may take it easy. It seems to me that all these tone changes are naturally there when you speak a little bit faster. When we say the phrase slower, say, character by character, then all the characters remain the original tone. And others will still understand you.
In addition, I think you can get a natural sense of tone changes with more listening and speaking practices. I remember when I was in junior high school; quite a few classmates could not figure out the right stressed syllables in English words. What’s worse, some could not pronounce them right even with the phonetic symbols. Our teacher thus told us an easy way to master stress. She asked us to read the stressed syllable first, repeatedly read it, and then read the whole word. Believe it or not, it did work. The more we practiced, the more fluent we read. I understand that it’s different to learn English and Chinese. My point is for language learning, especially when learners are focusing on speaking, it’s very important to practices more (listening and speaking) and to develop a natural sense of the language.
Getting a natural sense of the language is extremely important both in language learning and translation. In English Chinese translation or vice versa, if you have a great sense of the language, your translation will read more native-like.
To sum up, it’s better for language learners to see the whole picture, say, a natural sense of the language, rather than a specific part which maybe neglected by native speakers. I’m not saying that tones are not important. They do matter, and we need to be accurate on the tone of every Chinese character. But we should not be too hung up on tones when we’re focusing on the learning of a whole sentence, paragraph or even a whole piece of article. After all, the foremost purpose is to make ourselves understood.
This blog post was originally published on the Study More Chinese Blog
(photo credit: kevin dooley)
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