Cyphernaut - Tones (Chinese-中文)
One of the things that makes Mandarin Chinese a difficult language for westerners to learn is that it is a tonal language. Tones are important in Chinese and are indicated in Pinyin with tone marks above the main vowel in a Chinese syllable. The same syllable with different tones indicates different meanings.
There are four tones; five if you count the neutral tone (a syllable without tone marks in Pinyin). There is no definite pitch for these tones; they are relative to each individual speaker. The tones are listed here and depicted graphically below.
- 1st tone - a continuous high level tone with a pitch value of 5-5
- 2nd tone - a rising tone that goes from a pitch of 3 to one of 5; the rise in inflection when saying "What?" gives an approximation to the 2nd tone
- 3rd tone - starts with a falling tone from 2 to 1 but then rises subtly to a pitch level of 4
- 4th tone - a falling tone from 5 to 1
- neutral tone - pronunced briefly with tone determined by the preceding stressed syllable i.e. following a first tone, the neutral syllable would have a second tone; following a second tone, it would have a third tone etc.
When vowels appear together in combinations, the tone mark will appear on the main vowel which is determined with the following hierarchical order: a-o-e-i-u-ü. For example, xiē and háo. One exception is when i and u are together, the tone mark always appears on the second vowel, i.e. liù and huì.
The tables below show a few examples of different Chinese or Hanzi characters and how a change in tone changes the meaning of the word or syllable. The Hanzi displayed is Simplified Mandarin.
|Chinese Tones - ba|
|3rd tone||把||bǎ||measure word|
|neutral tone||吧||ba||imperative particle|
|Chinese Tones - jie|
|Chinese Tones - ma|
|neutral tone||吗||ma||questioning particle|
|Chinese Tones - shi|
|Chinese Tones - wu|
|2nd tone||无||wú||nothing;have not|