tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

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Mount Everest
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tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Mount Everest » Mon May 13, 2019 3:05 am

I have just asked a question about language resources here:
https://forum.language-learners.org/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=10490

I am interested in many languages, such as Uyghur, Tibetan, Dzongkha, Nepali, Laotian, Cantonese, Tamil, Frisian and Scots. I haven't asked about Hindi, Urdu, Khmer, Thai, Vietnamese and Burmese because I have an idea to what study in case I choose them in the future. I just want to pick up 2 languages from the list above.

1. Tonal languages

I'm currently improving my Chinese skills. I have just finished HSK 1 book and I will do HSK 2 very soon. I am expecting to study for HSK 3 and HSK 4 very soon as the previous modules (HSK 1 and HSK 2) are fairly easy from the syntactic and morphological point of view. My main problem has been the tones. I am still looking for resources aimed at my level. That said, should I avoid adding one more tonal language? I am interested in Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, Cantonese and Burmese; however, should I wait until I get high level listening skills?

How could I improve my listening skills?

2. Mutually intelligibility

2.1 To what extent are Uyghur and Uzbek mutually intelligible?

2.2 Should I learn Uzbek or wait my Chinese reach a higher level, before picking Uyghur? I say Chinese, assuming that there might be resources in that language. And what should be ideally the minimum level to start learning Uyghur through Chinese? B1? B1/B2? B2? C1? I also mentioned Uzbek because I thought learning a related language could help me to get an insight of Uyghur, since there resources for the later are so scarce.

2.3. To what extent are Tamil and Malayam mutually intelligible? Should I learn Hindi first, before studying Tamil?

2.4. To what extent are Hindi and Urdu mutually intelligible? Are they one language with two different names or actually two separate languages?

2. 5. To what extent are Hindi and Nepali mutually intelligible? I have heard from a Nepali guy that Hindi is very easy for him. He said he grew up watching movies and listening to songs from India (in Hindi), not to say that lot of words were borrowed from Sanskrit.

Would Hindi and Nepali be somehow similar to Portuguese and Italian? Spanish and French? Or more like Portuguese and Spanish?

Any questions answered will be highly appreciated.
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Re: tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Axon » Mon May 13, 2019 9:05 am

1. There is a small danger of applying tone contours from one language onto another. However, there is huge variation among native speakers of all these languages, and "tone" is just one part of having an understandable accent. Learn to distinguish all the tones in all the different languages, one at a time. It will become easier over time.

You should become familiar with Chao tone letters and numbers if you aren't already, so that you have a frame of reference for which tones are which on a grand scale. There is no such thing as "leveled" resources for Chinese tones - speaking a simple sentence uses the same tone system as a complex sentence. Study tones in combination with one another by looking up multi-syllable words on Forvo to hear native pronunciations. Actively pay attention to tones when listening as much as you can.

What are your current questions or weak spots with Mandarin tones?

You can improve your listening skills by intensively listening to something with a transcript. Listen to the same thing over and over and write down what you can hear, then compare it to the transcript. Listen to lots of native materials in addition to materials for learners.

2.2 There are a lot of materials for Uyghur in Chinese. It will probably be tough to read a Chinese textbook until you are between HSK 4 and 5 in vocabulary, and even then there are a lot of words used in pedagogy that are not on the HSK lists.
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Re: tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Gordafarin2 » Mon May 13, 2019 12:40 pm

2.4. To what extent are Hindi and Urdu mutually intelligible? Are they one language with two different names or actually two separate languages?


I hear them sometimes lumped into a single language name, Hindustani or Hindi-Urdu (though this is, naturally, a sensitive topic for some people).

My limited understanding is that at their heart, the core language is the same, but there are differences in vocabulary - more Sanskrit-based words in Hindi, and more Arabic & Persian words in Urdu. Certainly closer together than different dialects of Arabic, or the many languages that are all called "Chinese".
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Re: tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Flickserve » Tue May 14, 2019 3:19 am

Learning two dialects of Chinese with their tones is really tough. Learning one is already tough as it is.

Cantonese is harder than Mandarin - greater number of tones to recognise. I absolutely do not think that knowing correct Mandarin tones helps you find the correct tone in Cantonese and vice versa.
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Re: tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Querneus » Tue May 14, 2019 5:58 am

Flickserve wrote:Cantonese is harder than Mandarin - greater number of tones to recognise.

Mandarin has four tones plus a neutral tone that appears in some grammatical words or endings (and, for some speakers, the second syllable of some nouns and adjectives). Cantonese has six tones, but a lot of people these days merge the 3rd and 5th tones so it's increasingly having just five tones. The difference isn't that great...

I absolutely do not think that knowing correct Mandarin tones helps you find the correct tone in Cantonese and vice versa.

Eh, there are some useful patterns if the Cantonese word ends in a vowel, -m, -n or -ng:

Mandarin 1st tone ~ Cantonese 1st tone
(example: 開心 kai1xin1 ~ hoi1sam1)
Mandarin 2nd tone ~ Cantonese 4th tone
(example: 提前 ti2qian2 ~ tai4chin4)
Mandarin 3rd tone ~ Cantonese 2nd or 5th tone
(example: 可以 ke3yi3 ~ ho2yi5)
Mandarin 4th tone ~ Cantonese 3rd or 6th tone
(example: 上帝 shang4di4 ~ seung6dai3)

However, if the Cantonese word ends in -p/t/k, then the tones are very unpredictable. I am trying to learn both Mandarin and Cantonese and the above patterns do save me a lot of mental energy nevertheless. There are some exceptions such as 於 (simplified 于) which is yu2 in Mandarin and yu1 in Cantonese, but these are thankfully few!

EDIT from March 2020: Further discussion about this post in the Chinese Study Group.
Last edited by Querneus on Tue Mar 24, 2020 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Flickserve
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Re: tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Flickserve » Tue May 14, 2019 6:48 am

The difference isn't that great...…


You are a better learner than me then. You seem to be a better systematic learner than I am. My spoken Cantonese is good. Solid B2 level only limited by vocabulary range. I use Cantonese in my daily life - just today I was dealing with my broadband bill and changing contract.

I found I get far better accuracy in tonal reproduction by listening and shadowing in both dialects. Whilst the pronunciation has some relationships, the tonal relationships are much more difficult to predict and put into practice.

My Mandarin definitely has a Hong Kong accent as many mainland Chinese people have noted this. It's getting better as a Taiwanese person and mainland person have recently insisted my pronunciation is better than many Hong Kong people. However, I learnt it not by trying to find relationships with tones across the two, but again by listening to the rhythm and regarding it as a totally new language. Once I let go of that "relationship between the two" idea, Mandarin became a lot easier to learn.

The sheer number of HK people (Cantonese mother tongue) who speak Mandarin using wrong tones and vice versa just leads me to believe it's not as straightforward on a practical level as you suggest on a theoretical level (unless exposed from young). I.e. the theory sounds OK, putting it into practical use is an entirely different kettle of fish.
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Re: tonal languages, language learning, mutually intelligibility

Postby Querneus » Tue May 14, 2019 7:30 am

Flickserve wrote:The sheer number of HK people (Cantonese mother tongue) who speak Mandarin using wrong tones and vice versa just leads me to believe it's not as straightforward on a practical level as you suggest on a theoretical level (unless exposed from young). I.e. the theory sounds OK, putting it into practical use is an entirely different kettle of fish.

A large part of why they don't use the patterns is because they are not taught about the Cantonese tone numbers in school, let alone the Mandarin correspondences. You try asking most Cantonese speakers what the tone of 林 or 白 is and they can only say them aloud, they can't give you the number. So they can't know or use the patterns.

Of course this would not mean they'd predict tones correctly even if they were taught all this. I mentioned that this only works for words ending in a vowel/m/n/ng (not those ending in -p/t/k), and the many Cantonese speakers who merge the 3rd and 5th tones would have even more trouble.

I'm just saying that if you're learning both languages you can do some uplifting with these patterns. Check the Mandarin pronunciation of words ending in a vowel/m/n/ng with the tone of 林/文/勞/頭... 98% of them have the Mandarin 2nd tone. lin2/wen2/lao2/tou2...
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