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Chinese Tones: the Four Tones of Mandarin Chinese language

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Mandarin Chinese tones

Chinese tones are a real novelty for English speakers. Each of the vowel sounds in Chinese can be pronounced using one of the four main tones, or using no tone at all, which is called neutral. The same sound can have four different meanings, one for each tone. Let's first take a look at the tones.

第一声 - First tone:
In pinyin dìyīshēng. This one is usually the easiest tone for non natives. It is a high, flat tone, symbolized by a flat line. Some examples of words pronounced with the first tone are:
新: xīn, new. chinese-tones
书: shū, book.
喝: hē, to drink.

第二声 - Second tone:
In pinyin dìèrshēng. This is a tone that starts in a normal pitch and ascends, to end in a high tone. Since it is an ascending tone it is represented by an ascending line. Some examples are:
chinese-tones忙: máng, busy.
长: cháng, long.
龙: long, dragon.
来: lái, to come.

第三声 - Third tone:
In pinyin dìsānshēng. This tone is easily distinctive for non natives, though hard to pronounce! It starts with a normal pitch, then goes low, and back up again. It is a wavy sound, therefore represented with a wavy symbol. Descending and ascending. Here are examples:
chinese-tones好: hǎo, good.
小: xiǎo, small.
五: wǔ, five.
早: zǎo, morning.

 

第四声 - Fourth tone:
In pinyin dìsìshēng. This tone has a distinctive falling pitch. It is represented by a descending line.
大: dà, big. chinese-tones
去: qù, to go.
是: shì, to be.

轻声 - Neutral tone - :
In pinyin qīngshēng (literally "light tone"). It is, as the name indicates, a neutral tone in a regular pitch. It is never used in the first syllable of a word, always in the last syllable. It has no tone mark. In the following examples, the first syllable has a tone, and the second one is neutral.
爸爸: bàba, dad.
妈妈: māma, mom.
宝宝: bǎo​bao​, baby

As has been mentioned before, the tone of a word can change its meaning. The sound "sh" can be pronounced with all four tones. In pinyin, you cannot place a tone mark on a consonant, so a letter "i" is added, but it is actually mute. If the sound "sh" is pronounced with an ascending second tone (shí) it means "ten", while if pronounced in the fourth and falling tone it means "to be" (shì). If it is said in a high first tone, it means "lion" (shī).

How do you say "ten lions" in Chinese? You guessed it, "shí shī". But it is written 十狮1

 

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