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Mandarin pop
Posted: 13 October 2013 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Thought I should report back ...

I’ve spoken to several Mandarin speakers over the past few years, concerning this topic.

Most have no idea what I am talking about, just can’t understand what I am getting at, which is no doubt largely my fault.

The few that do understand, don’t know the answer.

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Posted: 13 October 2013 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Nothing whatsoever to do with Mandarin, but this clip from The Wire (NSFW) is somewhat on topic.

[ Edited: 13 October 2013 06:00 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 13 October 2013 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Most have no idea what I am talking about, just can’t understand what I am getting at, which is no doubt largely my fault.

I suspect it’s because your premise is wrong (the idea that tones can make songs hard to understand), so of course they don’t understand what you’re getting at.  If a Chinese-speaker had an idea that the lack of tonality in English made songs hard for English-speakers to understand, it would probably be hard to get English-speakers to grasp the idea.

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Posted: 13 October 2013 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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languagehat - 13 October 2013 06:42 AM

Most have no idea what I am talking about, just can’t understand what I am getting at, which is no doubt largely my fault.

I suspect it’s because your premise is wrong (the idea that tones can make songs hard to understand), so of course they don’t understand what you’re getting at.  If a Chinese-speaker had an idea that the lack of tonality in English made songs hard for English-speakers to understand, it would probably be hard to get English-speakers to grasp the idea.

languagehat: my idea is not that tones can make songs hard to understand.

My observation is that:

Mandarin speakers DO understand Mandopop, even though the Mandarin tonality is lost in such music.

My question is:

How is this so? The five tonal inflections are usually taken as being an intrinsic part of Mandarin, essential for comprehension in that language (unlike English). I suspect that Dave is right and that the explanation is that the essentiality of tonality to Mandarin is generally overstated, but I am keen to get the headfeel explanation from a native Mandarin speaker.

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Posted: 13 October 2013 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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I suspect that Dave is right and that the explanation is that the essentiality of tonality to Mandarin is generally overstated, but I am keen to get the headfeel explanation from a native Mandarin speaker.

I’ve noticed that lots of people are unable to piece apart or analyze language that they encounter in real time, or even when it’s printed in front of them. They either understand it or they don’t. But they can’t say why.

[ Edited: 13 October 2013 04:01 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 14 October 2013 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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languagehat: my idea is not that tones can make songs hard to understand.

My observation is that:

Mandarin speakers DO understand Mandopop, even though the Mandarin tonality is lost in such music.

My question is:

How is this so?

Right, sorry to misrepresent you.  I guess my feeling is that it isn’t much of a mystery; context counts for a huge amount in language, and pop songs tend not to be about abstruse philosophical ideas but love, jealousy, and other basic topics, so that what is being said is highly predictable.  After all, Chinese speakers can usually understand foreigners who get the tones completely wrong (I speak from experience, having been such a foreigner!).

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Posted: 14 October 2013 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Wouldn’t the relevant question be whether Mandarin speakers find anything unusual about the way lyrics are pronounced in pop songs? Or do they just find it a separate genre, something they have gotten used to and accept.

In Portugal some time back (I’m told), Brazilian soap operas were being imported for the first time and a lot of Portuguese couldn’t understand the language, at least not very well. Now they have no problem. Their ear has adjusted. But they don’t hear it as normal Portuguese.

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Posted: 14 October 2013 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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As I understand it, Chinese is very rich in homonyms (less than 2000 possible distinct syllables, including different tones, and less than 1000 common ones) so context probably plays a huge role (compared to English) in disambiguating even ordinary speech.

Edit: speaking of ambiguity, every time I see this thread’s title in the list of discussion, I think “orange soda?”

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Posted: 14 October 2013 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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languagehat

Right, sorry to misrepresent you.  I guess my feeling is that it isn’t much of a mystery; context counts for a huge amount in language, and pop songs tend not to be about abstruse philosophical ideas but love, jealousy, and other basic topics, so that what is being said is highly predictable.  After all, Chinese speakers can usually understand foreigners who get the tones completely wrong (I speak from experience, having been such a foreigner!).

Good points.

One lass did tell me that normally when she first hears a new song, it will be on a karaoke screen with the words written below.

Dr Techie

As I understand it, Chinese is very rich in homonyms

I know, right? It is fascinating to me that they are even able to function. Humans really are remarkable.

Consider the S.H.E. song Super Star, which has the lyrics “This hand is not a hand”. Shǒu bù shì shǒu. Take away the tonal information and it would seemingly have many meanings but even _with_ the tonal information, (and I am referring to http://www.chinesetools.eu here) shǒu could be any of five different words (each with a different character):

shǒu 1/ hand / (formal) to hold / person engaged in certain types of work / person skilled in certain types of work / personal(ly) / convenient /

shǒu 2/ head / chief / first (occasion, thing etc) / classifier for poems, songs etc

shǒu 3/ to guard / to defend / to keep watch / to abide by the law / to observe (rules or ritual) / nearby / adjoining

shǒu 4/ bow of a ship

shǒu 5/ pickpocket

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Posted: 15 October 2013 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Since when did not understanding the lyrics ever stop anyone from enjoying a song?

I have many, many songs in my collection whose lyrics are unintelligible to me. Doesn’t slow me down for a second. Why should Mandarin be any different?

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Posted: 15 October 2013 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Case in point.

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Posted: 15 October 2013 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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As I understand it, Chinese is very rich in homonyms

I know, right?

Was that purely fortuitous, or a sly joke?

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Posted: 15 October 2013 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Eye no write.

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Posted: 15 October 2013 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Aye, no Wright.

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Posted: 16 October 2013 01:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Dr. Techie - 15 October 2013 10:06 AM

As I understand it, Chinese is very rich in homonyms

I know, right?

Was that purely fortuitous, or a sly joke?

I’m totally claiming that as a sly joke.

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