Chinese is not a phonetic language, as a result its pronunciation is not related to the written Chinese words (characters). In order for non-Chinese speakers to learn the correct pronounciation, a system called “Pinyin” was developed to transcribe the sounds of Standard Chinese. Pinyin uses the letters of the familiar English alphabet to help the student determine the pronounciation of the unfamiliar Chiense words. Most Mandarin sounds are easy for English speakers to pronounce although some require more practice than others. Pinyin is also a useful tool for learning new vocabulary and for looking things up in a dictionary as well as for typing Chinese. Other than this, however, it has no practical usage since Chinese people do not read or write in pinyin. Actually, many Chinese people do not know pinyin at all. Therefore, you should learn to read and write in characters as soon as possible. I. The four tones: Chinese is known as a tonal language. Tones are the results of the variation of pitch levels in the pronunciation of a syllable. Each syllable is composed of three components: (a) Initials; (b) Finals; (c) tones. Except for nasal sound like "n" and "m", all Chinese syllables ends with vowels. So we call them "Final Sounds". The consonants at the beginning of a syllable are called "Initial Sounds". There are altogether 21 initials as shown in Table 2. Initials only refer to the consonants that appear in the initial position of a syllable. Although it is acceptable to have a syllable without an initial, there must always be a final. A final may have one or more vowel sounds and sometimes a consonant ending like -g and -ng . In fact, other than -g and -ng other consonants can’t appear in a final at all. Altogether, there are thirty seven finals as listed in Table 3. There are 4 tones in Mandarin Chinese as illustrated in Table 1. Each Chinese word (character) carries a tone. Perhaps the most important thing to remember at this stage is the fact that different tones of a certain syllable indicate completely different meanings. The features of the four tones are clearly illustrated in the following diagram: Figure 1:
Figure 1: a. The four tones
The representation of tonal pitch contours as numbers in Figure1 is attributed to Yuen Ren Chao, who devised this scale to cover the tonal aspects of the Chinese language as well as other tonal languages. Unlike the music score, it consists of five arbitrary levels and each is labeled from the bottom upwards, 1 through to 5. As with the music score, the lowest line represents the lowest pitch, and the highest line, the highest pitch. The variance of the pitch could be captured using the reference pitch numbers by observing the starting, middle and end-points of the tone. The numbers were then enclosed in two forward slash marks. For example, /55/ would be a high level tone, whilst /11/ is a low level one. /53/ is a high falling tone, /35/ is a mid rising tone, whilst /31/ is a mid falling tone. /214/ is a tone which starts low, falls and then rises again. Short tones can also be represented as a single number for instance a short mid level is /3/. By using the numbers, Tone one is /55/; Tone two is /35/; Tone Three is /21/4 and Tone Four has the pitch level of /51/. The lines in the above table indicate the pitch contours of the four tones. And the four tones are represented with the following symbols (Table 1): Tones First Second Third Fourth Symbols Examples dī dí dǐ dì
Table 1: Symbols of tonal accent If we use the musical notes to illustrate on the five scale, the four tones have the following patterns:
Figure 2: b. The Four Tones
Tone One: Tone One has the highest pitch level for it starts at five and ends up at five. It is near the top of your comfortable range. As a result, you should be able to sound the first tone syllable continuously without effort.
Tone Two: Tone Two starts in the middle of...