Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lowering the Tone...

... sorry... this post isn't actually smutty (and yes, yes, I promise I'll remember to tell you how it goes if I have a session of eliciting naughty words).

I'm not talking about the tone of decorum - I'm talking about linguistic tone. Tone is where you use the relative pitch of what you're saying as a way of contrasting lexical difference - So if you say 'uncle' in Mandarin with a different pitch you could accidental say 'rabbit' - which is embarrassing for you - unless you're uncle is a rabbit.

Most languages from the Tibetan family have tone - Lhasa (modern 'Tibetan'), Sherpa, Gurung, Yohlmo and Manange all still have lexical tone. So, after my first session, I wasn't too surprised to have found the tone pairs that I was so excited about.

Thing is, I'm not very good with tone. I'm not good at hearing it, or analysing it. And because it's basically only a two way distinction in Tibetan languages it can be hard to really hear the contrast.

S., with her usual, level-headed dispensing of advice, has loaned me her intro to Tibetan book (I'm not sure how she had room for clothes with all the invaluable books she has with her). I've been listening to the accompanying CD trying to get my head around it. Not much luck so far - lets hope that there aren't too many minimal pairs more likely to cause offence than uncle and rabbit.

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