Why are tones so important? Example sentence using dumplings & sleep (shui jiao)

Here are two sentences in pinyin to explain why tones are so important.  They would have the exact same pronunciation except different tones on shui & jiao.

xiǎo jie, shuǐ (三声) jiǎo (三声) yī wǎn duō shao qián?


Miss - how much is a bowl of dumplings?


xiǎo jie, shuì (四声) jiào (四声) yī wǎn duō shao qián?


Miss (prostitute) - how much is it to sleep with you (one night)?


水饺 - shuǐ jiǎo:dumplings

睡觉 - shuì jiào:sleep


Note: 小姐 xiǎo jie is used differently in parts of China. In Shanghai you can use xiǎo jie to call a female waitress & it's understood to be waitress.  However it is also used as slang to refer to prostitutes or bar girls. Therefore you probably do not want to randomly call a girl that who isn't obviously a waitress or you might get slapped.  If you want to be safe you can also address a waiter/waitress as 服务员 fúwùyuán.

(photo credit joanho)

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Comment by Sabrina Liu on June 4, 2011 at 4:17pm
so..did you get lucky with the tone?
Comment by Joelle Chevrier on April 23, 2011 at 8:53am
Shouldn't it be: 小姐,水饺一*碗*多少钱?
Comment by Ma Si Wen on April 22, 2011 at 11:19am
interesting post highlighting the importance of tones....actually i had a similar article on my blog too....check it out...Don't get toned out...

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