Tones, aspiration

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Dymn

Senior Member
你们好,

It is widely known (or thought, I don't know) that the main difficulty to learn the Mandarin phonology is tones. To my mind, another hard characteristic for foreigners can be aspiration (mixing up b/p, d/t, g/k, j/q, zh/ch and z/c).

My question is: would somebody who doesn't make a distinction in tones and aspirated and unaspirated consonants be understood? Or otherwise, somebody who does make it in tones but not in aspiration or the other way round?

谢谢!
 
  • Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    你好棒 bang4 (unaspirated p) "You are great".
    你好胖 pang4 (aspirated p) "You are fat".

    你好帥 shuai4 (departing tone) "You are handsome"
    你好衰 shuai1 (flat tone) "You are in a slump"
    would somebody who doesn't make a distinction in tones and aspirated and unaspirated consonants be understood?
    No. It would cause unintelligibility (significant comprehension difficulty) or even misunderstanding.
     

    GoldDaHu

    Member
    Chinese - China
    你们好,

    It is widely known (or thought, I don't know) that the main difficulty to learn the Mandarin phonology is tones. To my mind, another hard characteristic for foreigners can be aspiration (mixing up b/p, d/t, g/k, j/q, zh/ch and z/c).

    My question is: would somebody who doesn't make a distinction in tones and aspirated and unaspirated consonants be understood? Or otherwise, somebody who does make it in tones but not in aspiration or the other way round?

    谢谢!
    Hi, buddy, forget the aspirations and tones, they are extremely difficult, even for native speakers.

    You know, in some southern provinces of China, the local language is significantly different from Mandarin, so people speak in Mandarin usually with a deep local accent. For example, 虎(tiger), in Mandarin it pronounces as hu3, but in many dialects, it sounds like fu3; 师(teacher), in mandarin it is shi1, but it is often pronounced as si1 in many dialects. Even a person speaks in Mandarin, he or she still inevitably pronounces some words with the tones of a dialect.

    Admittedly, it will, certainly, cause some unintelligibility and misunderstanding, but if your grammar, vocabulary, or the structure of sentence are appropriate, it would not result in totally misunderstanding. It is much more effective to pay attention on grammar or vocabulary, instead of aspiration and tones, that will make your Chinese learning much easier.

    I have to say, I don't means the tones and aspirations are not important, instead, they are indispensable parts of Chinese.

    Good luck, my friend!
     

    lindholmen

    Member
    Mandarin
    Indeed some natives cannot do it the right way in Mandarin. I used to pronounce 虎 as fu3 and I could not distinguish n/l when I was a pupil but my Chinese teacher was very strict with this. Even today I am still appreciated with the strictness. Will it certainly make misunderstanding when you pronounce 虎 as fu3 or 帅 as shuai1/suai? Not necessarily. But you got to understand that the important factors to the comprehensibility of their local dialect are shared local culture and context of the communication, along with the grammar and vocabulary.
    I hope it is not literally forgetting the aspirations and tones but keep it in mind and improve it gradually. Radios and movies in Mandarin might be your best friend to adapt to tones and aspiration.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    No Chinese speakers would confuse 明天我就去你娘 (/kʰan4/) with 明天我就去你娘 (/kan4/) because the phonemic contrast between aspirated consonants and their tenuis counterparts exists not only in Mandarin but also in all Chinese languages (e.g., 看: 西安官話 kʰæ̃, 臨桂官話 kʰan, 太原晉語 kʰæ̃, 蘇州吳語 kʰɵ, 長沙湘語 kʰan, 廈門閩語 kʰũã, 南昌贛語 hɵn, 廣州粵語 hɔn, vs. 幹: 西安官話 kæ̃, 臨桂官話 kan, 太原晉語 kæ̃, 蘇州吳語 kɵ, 長沙湘語 kan, 廈門閩語 kan, 南昌贛語 kɵn, 廣州粵語 kɔn).

    The difference between 师 /ʂ/ and 斯 /s/ is not aspiration but retroflection.
    The substitution of 虎 /xw/ with 府 /f/ pertains to labialization, not de-aspiration.

    My point: Although Chinese people are used to accents of various regions, the mix-up in aspiration is highly unusual and therefore particularly confusing.

    Result of neglecting tones and aspiration: 愛勤儉的中國人 = 愛金錢的充闊人
     
    Last edited:

    brofeelgood

    Senior Member
    English, 中文
    Both are important in my opinion. If we don't pay attention to either, hilarious consequences will likely ensue. Skater gave some good examples above.

    Aspiration is not a difficult obstacle to overcome, because distinctions between b/p, d/t etc are common across most languages and people have no trouble telling them apart, e.g.
    - He's pitching/bitching.
    - He's standing there like a brick/prick.

    Where tones are concerned, once you get used to all of them (4 main + 1 light) and how they sound, the only work left is to remember which one each character is assigned to. There are exceptions of course, e.g. homographs or when certain characters of the same tone come together, but nothing extraordinarily difficult to grasp.
     

    M Mira

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    Aspiration is not a difficult obstacle to overcome, because distinctions between b/p, d/t etc are common across most languages and people have no trouble telling them apart, e.g.
    - He's pitching/bitching.
    - He's standing there like a brick/prick.
    Realizing "voiced"/"voiceless" consonants as aspirated vs. tenuis~voiced is a Germanic feature. Romance languages don't usually do that and realize them as tenuis vs. voiced, with no aspiration at all, so it's understandable why OP has difficulties with them.
     
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