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"Unknown Tone" Chinese Particle

Utter this syllable when you're unsure you put the correct tone on the previous word.
  (+10, -1)(+10, -1)
(+10, -1)
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The tone (upwards voice; downwards voice; level) is an integral part of every word in Chinese. Get the tone wrong and, while the other person will usually still understand you, it may sound silly or uneducated (though the Chinese are very polite about such things).

For example, "I asked her" and "I kissed her" have the same syllables but a different tone on the middle word (in Mandarin)

Students of Chinese (like me) often remember the raw syllables to say a word, but forget what tone they are. Then we're reluctant to use the word out of fear it'll sound bad or be misunderstood. I'm constantly second-guessing myself when I talk and always asking my friends whether I got the tones right or what tone such-and-such word is.

I propose that some phonetically legal syllable in Chinese, which currently has NO other meaning, be assigned to mean "I don't know the correct tone of the word I just said; please don't necessarily take it literally."

This is just like the "(sp.)" marker people sometimes write after a word in English to indicate that they're smart enough to realize that they don't know how to spell it.

Mandarin has fewer allowable syllables than English, but there are several unassigned ones, like "tua" or "ging". This would be like the syllable "zat" in English; it's phonetically legal but has no current usage.

This way, if I make a mistake while talking, I don't have to stutter, go back, and resay it (which is tedious for both me and for the listener). Just say "tua" and go on with the sentence.

Xie xie.

phundug, Mar 27 2009

Grass Mud Horse http://www.youtube....watch?v=3D2eh4xehc4
A cute story about some horses and river crabs. Honest. [Laughs Last, Mar 27 2009]

Xhosa lesson on YouTube http://www.youtube....xt_from=PL&index=45
Some of the clicks are nasal in this video. [nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009]

[link]






       Zat sway…
Ian Tindale, Mar 27 2009
  

       The little I know of Chinese suggests that this is a good idea [+]. However associating spelling with being smart [-].
eight_nine_tortoise, Mar 27 2009
  

       I'm pretty sure that there are no syllables in Guoyu corresponding to the rules of syllable structure which have no meaning. I don't see how there could be in a language with so little redundancy. Why not use an illegal syllable, such as "ngok"? Also, what tone would it have?
I hear what you're saying but i'm not sure it's true. They could be archaic, for example.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       Wicky Wicky (said whilst moveing hand in imitation of a stapler) in a questioning tone.
eight_nine_tortoise, Mar 27 2009
  

       Well, that would sort of work for Hawai'ian, i suppose, but not for Chinese because that's four words, two of which aren't pronounceable in Chinese.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       See, I said I had a limited knowledge of Chinese.
eight_nine_tortoise, Mar 27 2009
  

       Zat is already taken by Germans trying to pronounce 'That'. - I just realize that was what [Ian Tindale] says, probably.
loonquawl, Mar 27 2009
  

       //As you know// Thanks for the nice early morning, "hey you are even dumber than you thought you were" moment, but wouldn't the flawed cadence of a new language speaker effectively do exactly what your extra tone does? So the tone you are looking for is a short silence before the word? I commonly speak to people who are learning English, which seems to be a rather stacato language in comparison to others, and gaps still stand out and signal speakers who need an extra second to choose a word and thus may be choosing the wrong one.
MisterQED, Mar 27 2009
  

       MQED, don't forget the dysloxocks who may never find the correct work (sorry that should be 'word'). I have whole days struggeling to remember everyday words (along the lines of you know that stuff, the brown stuff, and five hours later the word 'chocolate' comes to me).   

       Do the chinese blow raspberries? I think this could be a univeral sign for 'I just foked up the last statement, I hope you don't mind?'
eight_nine_tortoise, Mar 27 2009
  

       There are nasal clicks in Chinese nursery rhymes. If a learner used a click after they think they've mispronounced a word, it might signal the fact that they're naive quite well because of its infantile associations. I don't think that usage is very widespread though, but you'd be using a phoneme which was part of their inventory but not used in words. If they weren't nasal, an alveolar click would actually come quite naturally to an Anglophone or a Greek speaker in that situation for a start.
[Eight_nine], do you know about the Piraha?
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       How the hell do you click with your nose?
squeak, Mar 27 2009
  

       pharyngotympanicly.   

       //Get the tone wrong and, while the other person will usually still understand you, it may sound silly or uneducated//   

       Get the tone wrong in Vietnamese & you've just said a completely different word, usually completely unrelated to the one you intended.   

       For example, when trying to buy cigarettes one time I mispronounced "thouc la" w/ the wrong tonal accents which unbeknownst to me changed the meaning from 'cigarettes' to 'heroin'. Fortunately for me, I also mispronunced "mua" in the same manner so that instead of the word 'buy', it meant 'dance'. I had to have it explained to me later why the clerk looked at me like I was nuts & seemed angry with me.   

       + //Why not use an illegal syllable, such as "ngok"?// Hey! I know a couple of people who's name is Ngoc.
Zimmy, Mar 27 2009
  

       Well, "ngok" sounds Vietnamese to me now you come to mention it. I'm sticking with the nasal click idea. You would indeed get it totally wrong: "Ma ma ma ma ma" can mean something like "Get the horse, a mad dog is coming," but there are other languages where particular tones are only found in particular forms of syllable, such as Tibetan.
I want to find you a sound sample, [squeak]. Think of it this way. The difference between the t in "tip" and the n in "nip" is the same as the difference between a normal alveolar click and a nasal one. There's even a language which glorifies in the name of //ãõ//'e (with a tilde over the e), which has simultaneous glottal stops with some of the clicks. !xo is another one.
Right. Xhosa has nasal clicks. I'll find you some.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       This idea is turning into the discussion were my wife tries to correct my pronunciation in French, however I cannot hear the difference, and keep making random mistakes. I am coming to the conclusion that it is a good job I am not Chinese. Luckily the Chinese/Korean/Japanese people I work with have been good enough to learn English to cover my problems. Thank you to you all.
eight_nine_tortoise, Mar 27 2009
  

       The differences between certain vowel sounds in Mandarin Chinese is much smaller than in most languages other than Scandinavian ones. French is just an inferior language which doesn't deserve to be spoken at all, rather like English in fact. Seriously though, it's interesting that both Norwegian and Swedish and Chinese dialects have tones considering their vowel inventory. Cause or effect?
Korean and Japanese don't have lexical tone.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       //considering their vowel inventory. // It's because their consonant inventory is extremely limited. All Mandarin syllables must end in either a vowel, n, ng, or r. This allows only 1/20 as many available syllables as English, so they use tones to compensate   

       (...poorly - even with tone specified there's still multiple meanings of every one-syllable word)
phundug, Mar 27 2009
  

       I thought of both the rasberry and click for the substitute syllables. It falls to phundug to take this concept out on the road - tyr speaking chinese using these methods and see if you are understood. If yes, you win. If no, you still win. Video always welcome.
bungston, Mar 27 2009
  

       //even with tone specified there's still multiple meanings of every word//   

       I think that was one of the things that caused me to give up on a language.
word A + word B = thing Z not related at all to A or B.
word A + word C = thing Y not related to word A, B, C or thing Z.
plus you could do word B (as prefix) + word A & come up with something else entirely different.
I could not grasp any pattern to it.
Zimmy, Mar 27 2009
  

       Yep, Chinese is all about context. It's a lot like bridge (the card game). Ever play that? Every bid you make has a meaning entirely dependent on the previous bids.   

       If you ask "What does '2 clubs' mean?" it's a pointless question. If 2 Clubs was the opening bid, then it means a very strong hand. But if it's in response to "1 Club", then it means a weak hand with clubs. However, in response to 1 notrump, it means you have a major suit. Unless you've bid your own suit first, in which it shows a weak hand with a lot of clubs.   

       Just the same in Chinese. It's an incredibly compact, condensed language. English has redundancies: if you miss a couple of words in a sentence, you can still recreate the sentence, but (at least to me) if I miss even one word in a Chinese sentence, the whole meaning becomes lost.
phundug, Mar 27 2009
  

       [Phundug], indeed, and no consonant clusters either. Having said that, they do sort of cheat on the monosyllable thing by using, for example, two words for insect which always occur next to each other or something. I can't recall the details, but it's something like that, isn't it? Also, "mén" as in plural pronoun marker, is n o t a word really, is it? It's a suffix masquerading as a word.
In a way, you're trying to introduce a pidgin with a vocabulary of a single word.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       Agreed, [nineteenthly]. Because of the ambiguity, in speech they clarify many words by adding another word to it, which means something related and even sometimes the same exact thing. For example, mei\/ means beautiful, but it also means 25 other things. li\ means beautiful, but it also means 44 other things. So in speech (not fully necessary in writing, where you can tell the intended meaning from the written character), you say mei\/li\ to avoid the problem. That only has one meaning, and even if the tones are ignored, 2 meanings.
phundug, Mar 27 2009
  

       My memories are quite vague and i gave away all my Chinese stuff to a couple who went to live there, so it's hard for me to check up. So, some of the time they're just putting syllables together to make words like the rest of us, but are very attached to the idea that their language is monosyllabic, possibly because of the script. I also seem to remember that their tones sometimes sort of trail off when they're not emphasising particular parts of the sentence, but i'll have to have a listen to confirm that. I get to hear Mandarin among the students here but the permanent residents generally speak Cantonese. Maybe they do it too, i don't know.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       Shouldn't someone simply straighten out the Chinese language in the first place?
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 27 2009
  

       I think it's already almost perfect. One syllable per word, a maximum of around two thousand possible different words, no grammatical gender, no inflections, not even any plurals. It doesn't get a lot better than that. Maybe with Indonesian/Malay, but even that does a weird prefix thing with word formation. English, Welsh, Scots, whatever, we may not have tones in the same way but we've got a whole load of other weird shit going on. I'd take tones over Welsh consonant mutation or Irish spelling any day.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       Well, then all they need to do is sort out their vowel movements and we can all join in.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 27 2009
  

       It has to be said that it's not a language in which there are a nice, clear series of well-enunciated separate vowels like Italian or Finnish. That's true. When academic circles in the West became aware of it in detail though, it was seen as almost like the discovery of an algebra for natural language. There's some kind of Western symbol script based on concepts which was inspired by it and there may be links to the Voynich Manuscript.
nineteenthly, Mar 27 2009
  

       Maxwell your last 2 annos made me choke with laughter on my dinner.
blissmiss, Mar 27 2009
  

       [nineteenthly] - that's right - no verb conjugations!!!!!! Despite all the difficulties with Chinese, this property makes it, in my opinion, one of the easier languages to learn :)
phundug, Mar 27 2009
  

       [Phundug], the no verb congugation thing was the last straw for me on trying to learn Vietnamese.
a) the six different tonal variations on every vowel are very hard for me to hear, let alone reproduce. B) I can't just look up and translate stuff from the dictionary with relative ease because word combinations hugely change the meaning of the base words in no logical system I could comprehend. C) there is no verb congugation - I was already mightly struggling when hit with this last one. I didn't have the heart anymore to figure out how to communicate if something was a future / past / or current event. D) I have some sort of ingrained rejection of using the same identifyer pronoun as you use for a young girl when refering to myself if I happen to be talking to an older man. The generic pronoun 'toi' is seemingly not considered very polite, but it is what I would prefer to use if it were not impolite. Big time cultural difficulty with that one.
  

       I do agree that if you are at least close tonally, your meaning can usually be extracted from context because when I was more confident in my abilities I could convey the meaning "I would like to speak to (insert name)" and actually get to speak to the person when speaking to their parents (who did not speak English well enough to understand the same question in English). I was calling to ask the person to come for an interview - in most cases it was worth asking in VN's. I'm pretty sure now, that I did not get the tonals right, but it actually worked at the time.
Zimmy, Mar 27 2009
  

       6 tonal variations, ack! Cantonese has 7, I think. I screamed when I first saw the graph of the seven tones. Mandarin with its 4 is hard enough. I also can't readily identify the tone of a spoken word when I hear it. I go by vowel and consonant sounds. Luckily those vary from street to street in mainland China....
phundug, Mar 28 2009
  
      
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