Tones Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Fame Ketover of Lenguin.com, and this is Mandarin Chinese. Get ready because we're going to be talking about tones.

Listen to these four Chinese tones, which we'll do in their traditional order.

ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4

Again

ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4

Ok, so you're an English speaker, you're probably like, they just said the same word in four different ways. Well, not quite. See, in English, I could say, "Ma???". And that'd mean like, "is that you, mom?"Then I could say, "Ma!!". Which would mean perhaps, "mom, you're embarrassing me!!!". But in both cases the word "ma" is refering to the same thing. But, things work differently in Chinese. The way you say the word, determines which word it is. Now listen again to what we said are different words in Chinese.

ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4

Again

ma1 ma2 ma3 ma4

To a speaker of Chinese each of these words is perfectly distinguishable from the others. The different tones keep them apart the same way that in English different consonants set off "ma" from "pa" and different vowels set off "ma" from "me". So giving a word a wrong tone can be just as disastrous as giving it a wrong consonant or vowel. For example, if you say this: ma3, when what you meant was this: ma1, you basically just called your mother a horse.

So, let's take a look at the visual representation of each tone. The vertical scale covers about an octave. Just which octave it is, of course, depends on your voice. Now this is a somewhat greater range than you would use in English. Since the top of the range will seem slightly too high for comfort and the bottom's going to seem slightly too low.

The first tone, or high tone, word "mother" and the third tone, or low tone, word "horse", will help you locate these extremes. Have a listen:

ma1 ma3

Again, "mother" and "horse", high versus low.

ma2 ma4

People often equate Chinese tones to notes on the musical scale. And like you just heard, the distinctive difference between the two tones is that one is high and one is low. But you may have noticed that while the high tone was like a single steady high note, the low tone was lower in the middle than at either end. For a more dramatic example of such a difference in contour, listen to the second tone, or the rising tone, word "hemp" and the fourth tone, or falling tone, word "to scold".

ma2 ma4

Again, "hemp" and "to scold", rising versus falling.

ma2 ma4

Can you see the distinctive contours of the tones? You can also see it suggested in the accent mark used to indicate the tones of the romanization. Tones also differ in length, the third tone's the longest and the fourth tone is the shortest. They also have different patterns of loudness, which you can see in the width of the curves. So let's go through the tones in their traditional order. By the time we're done we'll have contrasted each tone with every other tone.

The first tone is called the high tone. It's pitch is near the top of your speaking range and it's contour is level. Listen to the high tone word which means "mother".

ma1 ma1 ma1

We don't really use such high level intonation in English, so the high tone might seem sung rather than spoken.

ma1 ma1 ma1

Try repeating "mother" after the speaker.

Make sure you stay on the same high note throughout.

ma1 ma1 ma1

If you're getting it right, it should feel a bit unnatural. Try saying the high tone word "mother" and then repeat after the speaker.

ma1

Notice that the mark in the romanization shows its level contour. Try saying "mother" again, and repeat after the speaker.

ma1

The second tone is called the rising tone. It starts in the middle of your range and almost immediately rises sharply to the top of your range. Listen to the rising tone word, which means "hemp".

ma2 ma2 ma2

In English, if you want to ask, "Is that YOU mother?", you can say, "ma????", with a rising intonation. So, think of that question, "ma????", and it may help you pronounce the rising tone word which means "hemp". But remember that it's not a question and it has nothing to do with mother. Try repeating "hemp" after the speaker.

ma2 ma2 ma2

Now try saying the rising tone word "hemp" yourself, and repeat.

ma2

Notice that the tone mark in the romanization rises from left to right. Try saying "hemp" again and repeat.

ma2

Now let's compare the high tone with the rising tone. Both are in the upper part of the pitch range. But the high tone stays level, while the rising tone climbs sharply, staying slightly below the high tone and then reaching the top of the range. Listen to "mother" followed by "hemp".

ma1 ma2

Again, high tone - rising tone.

ma1 ma2

Let's turn them around now, "hemp" followed by "mother".

ma2 ma1

Again, rising tone - high tone.

ma2 ma1

The third tone is called the low tone. It has a slightly dipping contour. It starts fairly low, and then dips to the very bottom of your range. You can almost feel and hear it scraping bottom. At the end it swoops up a bit. The most important part, and the part to listen for and the part to really emphasize, is the low part in the middle. Remember, also, that this is the longest tone. Listen to the low tone word, which means "horse".

ma3 ma3 ma3

Try repeating horse, concentrating on getting as low as you can.

ma3 ma3 ma3

Now try saying the low tone word "horse" yourself and repeat.

ma3

You can see the the dipping contour in the tone mark. Try saying "horse" again and repeat.

ma3

It's pretty easy to tell the high tone and the low tone apart, since they contrast in contours as well as in pitch. The high tone is level and the low tone is dipping. Listen to "mother" followed by "horse".

ma1 ma3

Again, high tone - low tone.

ma1 ma3

Now, we'll turn them around, "horse" followed by "mother".

ma3 ma1

Again, low tone - high tone.

ma3 ma1

The contrast between the rising tone and the low tone is a bit harder. Most students actually find it hardest of all. One reason is that their starting points are not too far apart, and they also both rise at the end. The best way to tell them apart is to keep your mind fixed on the features which give them their names. For the rising tone, think rising. All the energy goes into reaching the ceiling. The tone actually gets louder as it rises. For the low tone, think low. All the energy goes into reaching the floor. The rising tail of the low tone is almost an afterthought. In fact, the rising tail is completely lost in certain circumstances as we'll see in another lesson. Listen to "hemp" followed by "horse".

ma2 ma3

Again, rising tone - low tone.

ma2 ma3

Now, the other way around, "horse" followed by "hemp".

ma3 ma2

Again, low tone - rising tone.

ma3 ma2

Now, the fourth tone is called the falling tone. It's an sudden drop from the top of your range to the bottom. Listen to the falling tone word, which means "to scold".

ma4 ma4 ma4

Since in English we use a falling intonation at the end of statements and exclamations, the falling tone might sound declarative or emphatic. Listen to the answers in this English conversation. "Who's mowing the lawn?" - "Ma." - "Whatdya say??" - "Ma!!" Try repeating the verb "to scold", sliding all the way down the scale as fast as you can.

ma4 ma4 ma4

Now try saying the falling tone word "to scold" yourself and repeat.

ma4

Notice that the tone mark drops from left to right. Try saying "to scold" again and repeat.

ma4

The contrast between the high tone and the falling tone should be clear. Since one stays high and one starts high but drops sharply to the bottom. The rising tone is a mirror image of the falling tone. Except that the rising tone rises from the middle of your range to the top, while the falling tone falls the whole way down from top to bottom. The easiest way to tell them apart is to think of the English question and statement intonations. But remember that the rising tone has nothing to do with questions and the falling tone has nothing to do with statements. The contrast between the low and falling tones shouldn't present any difficulty. Just remember that the falling tone drops sharply through the full range, while the low tone spends most of its time at the bottom. It helps that the falling tone is the shortest tone and the low tone is the longest.

Well, that's the end of this lesson. Remember to head over to Lenguin.com to do the exercises for this lesson. That's Lenguin as in Lenguin the Penguin. Thanks for watching!

I want to thank all of our subscribers and supporters for their help in making these courses possible. In future lessons this is where I'll be giving shout-outs to our Patreon supporters. Be sure to visit our Patreon page to see all the goodies that we're offering.

Until next time, stay cool.

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