--- Leon Lin <[log in to unmask]> xiè le:

> These have been confusing me to the point that I
> start to try to figure them out in public. People
> sometimes stare at me when I repeat a phoneme/word
> over and over again.

Yeah, know what you mean. It's embarrassing, when you
think you know something, and find out you don't!

> 1. Do voiced plosives and affricates exist in
> Mandarin?

No, and you're absolutely right about Pinyin /b d g z
zh j/ being unaspirated unvoiced plosives. To English
ears, those sound voiced, because voicing is _not_ the
primary differentiator between English /b - p/ /d - t/
/g - k/ — it's aspiration and muscular effort. /b/ in
English is pronounced weakly and unaspirated, with
voicing being only a secondary feature. Chinese /b/
lacks that voicing entirely, except maybe in some

Shanghaiese has a full set of voiced plosives,
fricatives and affricates, IIRC.

> 2.1. The 3rd tone confuses me.

Ya, me too.

> 2.1.1. It is said to lower in pitch and then rise
> again, but this seems only
> to be true when the person is enunciating, speaking
> slowly, or speaking the
> character alone (as when teaching the student how to
> say it). To me it just
> falls into a very low pitch.  I feel that the 2nd
> tone is more accurately
> described with the 3rd tone's description.  Say
> di3-xia4 (below) and compare
> with di2-ren2 (enemy).

Precisely! We'll describe tones using Y.R. Chao's tone
numbers, on a scale from 1 - 5, where '5' is the
highest pitch level, and '1' is the lowest: the third
tone, in enunciated form, is /3-1-5/ or /4-1-5/.

The tone pattern for the last word in the phrase /da4
jia1 hao3/ — 'Hello, everyone', would be something
like /3-1-5/ or /3-1/, depending on dialect, formality
and whether or not the phrase is at the end of the

> 2.1.2 The 3rd tone seems to change into the second
> tone when it is followed
> by another character of the third tone: say
> yong3-yuan3 (forever, eternal).

Again, right on! The third tone becomes phonetically
identical to the second tone when it's followed by
another third tone. /yong3yuan3/ would have the tone
pattern /35-315/.

> 2.2. After repeating the 4th tone over and over, I
> still do not see how it
> 'falls'. It just seems to be a shorter version of
> the 1st tone, sort of like
> the difference in the length of the a's in "man" and
> "hat".  This also
> applies to other tonal languages, which seem to have
> all these tones but to
> me just sound like vowel length.

The tones do vary in their effects on vowel length;
the third and first tones seem to be the longest,
while the fourth tone seems to be the shortest. In
fact, that's how my ears detect the difference between
the third and fourth tones in speech: I still can't
pick up on the subtle difference between tones three
and four when the third tone is 'clipped', as I
described before.

> 3. Final pinyin /e/ does not seem to be pure, but
> with a unrounded central
> semivowel glide into it (I've heard people say that
> research has yet to find
> a language with a central semivowel). This glide
> seems to be a semivowelized
> unrounded high central vowel, described on the
> Ithkuil page as, "an obscure
> vowel found in Turkish and Japanese". (According to
> Wikipedia, it exists in
> Spanish and Korean as well (and IMO in Mandarin,
> too))  X-Sampa [M] or [M\]. 
> To see why I feel it isn't "pure", say first part of
> the word "suppose"
> (don't say the "ppose" part). This is quite
> different from the sound found
> in se4, as in yan2-se4 (color). 

[MV] or [i\V], or something like that. High unrounded
central/back vowel with a schwa offglide. However,
that's not really how I hear it pronounced when it's
with a final consonant; the vowels in /se/ and /sen/
sound different to me. The first sounds like [si\V],
while the second sounds more like [sVn], where that
crazy diphthong seems to have levelled out a bit.

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