DID YOU KNOW...
...that Chinese is a tonal language?
Chinese people are able to distinguish between different meanings depending on the tone used. In essence, this also happens in English, Spanish, German or French. We can all distinguish the phrase "Ready!" from "Ready?" simply by the tone used. Tonal languages, including Chinese, are characterised by an extensive use of tones.
In the previous example there is no difference in the lexical meaning depending on the tone, we can simply distinguish between a statement and a question. Sin embargo, en el caso del castellano encontramos muchos ejemplos donde la tonalidad tiene un valor léxico. El únicamente la tonalidad lo que nos hace distinguir “bebe” de “bebé”, “esta” de “está”, “mama” de “mamá”, “canto” de “cantó”… y así podríamos seguir extensamente.
Mandarin Chinese 4 main tones
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken dialect. In the case of Mandarin Chinese, there are four different tones which means that one sound can have four different meanings. ¡Algo más complejo que nuestros ejemplos en castellano!
The first tone is pronounced in a continuous manner and without variation. The second tone starts on a low pitch and ends on a high pitch, just like when we ask a question in English. The third tone starts on a medium pitch, then it falls considerably and finally ends on a high pitch. The fourth tone starts on a high pitch and ends on a low pitch.
You can therefore imagine how important it is to learn and understand the different tones in order to communicate correctly in Chinese. We can use an example to demonstrate this. The syllable ma can mean the following depending on the tone:
- ma, in the first tone, is "mother".
- má, in the second tone, is "sesame".
- ma, in the third tone, is "horse".
- mà, in the fourth tone, is "tell off".
So, if you are thinking about learning Chinese, start with singing lessons, and try not to upset your mother by calling her a horse!