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Pronunciation 4.1 Introduction Tone (声调, shēngdiào) is one of the two most distinctive features separating Chinese from Indo-European and many other languages in the world (the other feature is the writing system to be discussed in Chapter 5). Every Chinese character has a tone and every tone is built in lexicon, which means tone affects the meaning of words. Because of this property, Chinese tones have attracted not only numerous linguists and Chinese philologists to investigate their characteristics and functions, but also specialists on Chinese language acquisition who try to discover an effective way for students of Chinese as FL to acquire tonal competence. Although studies show that the modern dialects of Chinese present a wide variety of tonal systems ranging from three to ten different tones (Chen 2000: 13–19), this chapter only discusses the tonal system and tonal acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. Among the many modern Chinese linguists, Chào Yuán-rèn (赵元任) is considered one of the most versatile scholars who not only helped to shape the field of modern Chinese linguistics, but also made an immeasurable contribution to the field of Chinese pedagogy. He developed a method to measure the four tones in Mandarin Chinese on a pitch scale of 5 (Chao 1930), as illustrated below. This tool helped unravel the mystery of Chinese tones. Tone 1: high level 55 as in mā 妈 “mother” or in wēn 温 “warm” Tone 2: middle rising 35 as in má 麻 “hemp” or in wén 闻 “hear” Tone 3: low falling rising 214 as in mă 马 “horse” or in wĕn 吻 “kiss” Tone 4: high falling 51 as in mà 骂 “curse” or in wèn 问 “ask” The four different diacritics over the vowels illustrated above represent the four tones in Mandarin Chinese. They are so simple and easy to understand that they, in the years since their first publication, have become the most commonly used teaching and research method describing the four tones. Notice that each tone has at least two numbers to describe pitch range: the first number stands for the starting pitch value and the last number for its ending pitch value. The middle number, shown for the third tone, stands for the point of changing pitch contour. 4 88 Teaching and Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language The duration of each pitch range stays approximately the same as that of a syllable final accompanying the tone (e.g. ā, én, iăo, ìng). In addition to the four distinctive tones, Mandarin also has a neutral tone most likely attached to function words (e.g. le “aspect marker”, ma “interrogative marker”, de “possessive marker”), second character of compound words (e.g. 漂亮 piàoliang “beautiful” and 认识 rènshi “to recognize”), or reduplicated words as in bàba 爸爸 “dad”, māma 妈妈 “mom”, jiĕjie 姐姐 “older sister”, etc. Unlike the four tones discussed above, the neutral tone is normally unmarked. Occasionally, one may see a little circle above to mark the neutral tone (e.g. å), but most teachers and researchers simply do not mark it. After Chao’s introduction of marking tones with numeral numbers, many researchers began to pay attention to issues relevant to the perception and production of these four tones by both native Chinese children, students of Chinese as FL, and researchers (Chao 1948b, Kiriloff 1969, Cheng 1973, Li and Thompson 1977, Yue-Hashimoto 1980, Shen 1985, Miracle 1989, Repp and Lin 1990, Fox and Qi 1990, Blicher et al. 1990, Chen 1997, McGinnis 1997). The results of these studies have benefited Chinese teachers by improving their understanding of the characteristics of tones and their behaviors in acquisition. However, it is not clear how many teachers are willing to incorporate those research results into teaching Chinese as FL, either because of their limited knowledge of the physiology involved in tone production or because of the complex concept involved in perception, which will be addressed in Section 4.3. Another issue that has attracted many researchers’ and teachers’ attention is tone sandhi, which refers to the situation in which certain tones adjacent to one another in natural oral discourse, change in consequence of this juxtaposition. Mandarin has a number of instances of tone sandhi; however, I will focus only on the three cases that students have to learn in order to achieve communicative tonal competence. The first and the most important tone sandhi in Mandarin involves the third tone. When two third-tones are next to each other, the first third tone usually transforms into the...


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