Questions about Chinese

Discuss the Chinese language.

Questions about Chinese

Post by Florian »


my major is Marketing, but my minor field of study is Chinese. I have lived and studied in China for 1,5 years. During this time my interest in the language became pretty strong. but nevertheless i am only a beginner with some questions, hopefully someone can help. (Engish is not my mother tongue, so please excuse any faults.)

1) Modern Chinese, putonghua, has the characteristic of one character=one syllable. But i heard that classical Chinese does not strictly adhere to this characteristic, like modern Japanese, sometimes one character has 2 or more syllables. Question: are there still some characters in putonghua that feature the characteristic of more than one syllable? What about present dialects?

2) Another characteristic of putonghua is the "changing of tones". For example, when 2 words in the 3rd tone follow each other, than the first will change to 2nd tone. Now i heard, this is not true for Cantonese, they dont change in the tones. Question: Is this true? And what about other dialects?

3) The tones in putonghua are based on the "Beijing way". So in putonghua, the first tone is a high-pitch tone. But in Tianjin for example the first tone will be a low-pitch tone. So, even though it is both "standard putonghua", as compared to nanfang putonghua or xinan putonghua, the tones are not pronounced the same. Question: Are there other "irregularities" like this in different areas?

Thank you for your help,

Hanzi Wensheng

Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by Hanzi Wensheng »

1.) It's safe to say that *ALL* Chinese dialects/languages follow the one character = one syllable rule. The reason why Japanese sometimes have more than one syllable for a single character is because they developed their spoken language before they imported Chinese characters into their writing system. Other Chinese-influenced languages such as Korean and Vietnamese also follow the one character = one syllable rule.

2.) The changes of tones isn't random, there is a system. The reason behind it is because for example, when you have two syllables both with third tones, it'd be difficult to pronounce, therefore it's modified to allow speakers to speak more smoothly. I'm not fluent in Cantonese so I can't answer that part of your question, sorry.

3.) I'm not aware of this difference in the first tone you speak of between Beijing and Tianjin dialects. As far as I know, the first tone is supposed to be a flat tone like "maaah".

Dylan Sung

Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by Dylan Sung »

I think Florian may be confused about characters with multiple reading, for example,

觉 (覺) jiao jue
脚 (腳) jiao jue

(sorry about the lack of tones) If we take the first character, jiao as in shui jiao refers to sleep, whilst the pronunciation jue refers to feelings and perception. Therefore different pronunciations may stem from different aspects of meaning the character has had to beare over time.

I agree with Hanzi Wensheng. With respect to Cantonese tone charge,

Guangzhouhua Fangyan Cidian (ISBN 962 07 0194 1) has a section on biandiao (tone change or sandhi) p.279

1. /53/ + /55/ > /55/ + /55/
2. /53/ + /53/ > /55/ + /53/
3. /53/ + /55/ Ru > /55/ + /55/ Ru
4. /55/ + /55/ > /11/ + /55/
5. /35/ + /35/ > /11/ + /55/ (or 35)
6. /11/ + /11/ > /11/ + /55/
7. /22/ + /22/ > /11/ + /35/

In my experience of another Chinese dialect, Hakka, tone changes depend on the pitch height of adjacent syllables. I have heard of more complex sandhi changes where even the actual pronunciation or reading of a character changes the initial of the following syllable. (It appeared in a thread on sci.lang or sci.lang.japan a few years ago and related some aspect of Min dialects.)

Yep, the national language, putonghua is based on the speech patterns of Beijing dialect, but venacular Beijing and standard putonghua differs in vocabulary as well. Tianjin dialect is a regional type of Mandarin, and it is quite usual to have pitch variation of tones to differ from place to place. Have a look at where James Campbell has listed several thousand dialect's sets of tones.



Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by Aurelio »

Hi Florian,

like Dylan's already said, there's plenty of regular tonal change in other fangyan, too. I know a little bit of Hokkien which is part of the Min group of Chinese (Han) languages. Hokkien has 7 tones, each (!) of which changes if the syllable is used in a compound. Mandarin tai4 ("too much"), e.g., is pronounced tai11 (low tone) when standing alone but tai24 (falling tone) when used in combination like in taitai. Unlike in Mandarin, however, the occurence of tonal change does not depend on the tone of the following syllable. See ... 032&t=1032
in the Hokkien forum for an idea on this topic.

Some more observations on tones:
The Beijing (Mandarin) tonal system is the result of a massive simplification process. You might be aware of Classical Chinese having four tonal classes (Ping2, Shang4, Qu4 and Ru4) which are not identical at all with today's Mandarin tones. Each of these four tones split into 2 registers based on whether the initial consonant of the syllable was voiced or voiceless, giving a system of 8 tones which today's fangyan are roughly based on (Cantonese has 9, as the Ru tone split into 3; Hokkien, e.g. has 7 tones, as the Shang class did not split).
In Mandarin, Shang and Qu are not split (or rather merged back?) and the Ru class (that had final consonants p, t, k and [']) has disappeared completely. Mandarin's first tone is the ancient upper Ping, its second the ancient lower Ping, the third tone comprises upper and lower Shang, the fourth class upper and lower Qu (the Ru.s having been spread out over all three tones).
Going further back in time than the Ping, Shang, Qu, Ru it's conceivable that there were even fewer tones with Qu being the result of syllables ending in voiced b, g or d losing their final consonant. That would simplify the original tonal system down to two tones (Ping and Shang). But this stage is deeply shrouded in pre-Qin past.

Hope I didn't bore you to death and, hey, I'm happy somebody is asking a question that is not tattoo-related ;-)



Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by guanlei27 »


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Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by unnai »

The reason behind it is because for example, when you have two syllables both with third tones, it'd be difficult to pronounce, therefore it's modified to allow speakers to speak more smoothly. I'm not fluent in Cantonese so I can't answer that part of your question, sorry.

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Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by thamoskuk9 »

What is a Chinese Visa?
A Chinese visa is a stamp or endorsement placed by officials of a China on a passport that allows the bearer to visit China. Chinese visas are obtained through a visa service from the local consulates of China. "Visit" is further defined as the reason for entry, usually business, tourist or transitory. There are over 270 countries that offer visas and literally thousands of different types of visas available based upon country, type of visit, and length of visit.

Do I need a Chinese visa?
If you are traveling to mainland China, whether for business or tourism, you require a Chinese visa to be obtained from a consulate in advance of your trip. You are exempt from this requirement if you travel and stay only in Hong Kong or Macao for less than 30 days.


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Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by clarke »

wat about their culture..... want to know more about

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Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by neilkevin »

Hi frineds,
I am new in this forum.My hobby is to learn different languages.Recently I have studied Japanese Kanji.Right now I would like to start learning Chinese language.I want to know some basic information for this language.
Please tell me are Japanese kanji and Chinese Characters same?If no then what is the difference between them???

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Joined: Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:28 pm

Re: Questions about Chinese

Post by brandi21 »

As I know Japanese and Chinese languages are really similar, not a lot. But they are really difficult to learn as Russian too. Even many Chinese people can't write but only know spoken Chinese languagу cause the characters are really difficult to memorize. I am also interested in learning various languages. Today it's rather widespread to learn the east languages..