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Tengwar for Chinese: one clarification on "lazy pronunciation"

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  • Dave
    In my last mail proposing an orthographical Tengwar mode for Chinese ... spell with calma and anga do in fact sound quite similar to the English
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2004
      In my last mail proposing an orthographical Tengwar mode for Chinese
      (#4384), I wrote:

      > >>Notice how the retroflex affricates "ch" and "zh" that I propose to
      spell with calma and anga do in fact sound quite >>>similar to the
      English post-alveolar affricates as in church and jazz, which in English
      modes are usually represented >>>by----calma and anga. They are so
      similar in fact, that many non-native speakers (and quite a few Chinese
      speakers, >>>especially those in southern and other parts of China where
      Mandarin is not the native tongue but "only" the official >>>language
      people have to learn, while most still speak their own dialect of
      Chinese as first language) pronounce the >>>retroflex affricates rather
      similar to English post-alveolar ones. The reason is simple: People are
      lazy, and rolling (or >>>flexing upward) your tongue (which is what
      "retroflex" really means) requires an extra effort, so the post-alveolar
      >>>sounds, while still not the "easiest to pronounce", are less demanding.

      This was over-simplifying things a bit: When ch(i) is pronounced
      "lazily" (i.e. without rolling your tongue), it does indeed turn into
      something like the English church (which means that an aspirated
      unvoiced retroflex affricate becomes a post-alveolar unvoiced affricate
      [which in English shows no distinction between aspirated/unaspirated]),
      and when the unaspirated counterpart of ch(i), namely zh(i), is
      pronounced without "flexing the tongue", it becomes similar to the
      English post-alveolar voiced affricate as in jazz.

      The fact is, though, the further south you go in China, the more people
      tend to "go all the way", and then ch(i) and zh(i) are often further
      "simplified", which means that they become:

      ch(i) --> c(i) (dental aspirated affricate)
      zh(i) --> z(i) (dental unaspirated affricate)

      Similarly, "lazy" pronuncation of the unvoiced retroflex fricative sh(i)
      can produce a sound similar to English postalveolar shy, but more often
      people go all the way here too, consequently:

      sh(i) --> s(i) (unvoiced dental fricative)

      This goes so far that people, especially if they didn't receive a lot of
      education, are not even aware that their pronuncation is not really
      "standard", and then they can for example have trouble to look things up
      in a dictionary (if they look words up "by sound" at all, instead of
      using the Chinese radicals, that is).

      I am, however, not aware of a similar phenomenon for the voiced
      retroflex fricative r(i), which is not surprising, since its voiced
      dental counterpart is simply _not_ part of the Mandarin Chinese sound

      It remains true, though, that many non-native Mandarin speakers
      substitute something similar to the sound in beige for the "rolled r"
      (i.e. r[i]), simply because they find it hard to pronounce it correctly.

      > >>The same phenomenon can be seen for the other retroflex sounds, the
      fricatives "sh(i), r(i)". This being so, I do have a >>>mind to maybe
      let them "switch places" with q(i) and j(i): this way not only would we
      have the retroflex sounds all in >>>the same teema (the third), but as
      with the affricates ch(i), zh(i), these sounds are by many Mandarin
      speakers >>>pronounced rather similar to their post-alveolar English
      "counterparts" (shy and beige) anyway, so it would be most >>>befitting
      for them to occupy the same place in the chart (i.e. be represented with
      the same tengwa).

      <>>>>Notice again, though, that the English fricatives/affricate pair(s)
      distinguish between unvoiced and voiced, while the >>>Chinese ones
      normally discern aspirated and unaspirated. The only exception are
      Chinese retroflex sh(i) and r(i): here >>>the distinction is between
      unvoiced and voiced, respectively, just as it is between English
      post-alveolar shy and beige.

      Considering the above, one would conceivably need two different sets of
      spelling when trying to come up with a phonetic tengwar mode for
      Chinese: one for standard Mandarin (based on the Beijing pronuncation),
      and one for the Mandarin as it actually _is_ perceived and spoken by
      many people in large parts of China: i.e. without the retroflex sounds
      (and some other peculiarities, by the way).
      (I would rather stick to the standard version of Mandarin though,
      otherwise too many originally dissimilar sounds become identical, which
      would make reading "Chinese tengwar" more cumbersome.)

      Hmm. An even tougher challenge would be dialects such as Fukienese or
      Cantonese with their own complex sound and tonal system. There can be up
      to about ten different tones :).

      BTW, I'm still not sure how to represent the tones in my Mandarin mode,
      but now I tend to think the best solution is _not_ to put them on top of
      the tengwar/tehta (looks cramped and generally not nice), but rather
      place them as an independent sign after the last tengwar of each
      syllable. This would at the same time help to _clearly_ indicate where
      one syllable ends and the next begins. In most cases this would not be
      strictly necessary, but there are cases where for example "xi an" (two
      syllables/characters) is different from "xian" (one character/syllable).
      True, even putting the tone signs (macron/acute/breve/grave respectively
      for tones 1-4) on top of the syllables (i.e. the tengwar in case of
      "syllabic" consonants ending in -(i), the [final] vowel tehta in all
      other cases) a Chinese speaker would still be able to discern where a
      syllable starts and where it ends, but for aesthetic reasons alone I
      would prefer putting these tonal signs to the right of every syllable
      (so you have the sound on the left and the tone on the right) as follows:

      macron: put at mid-height, just like a hyphen in English (ok, in this
      position it actually ceases to _be_ a macron and becomes a hyphen ;)).

      acute: if the macron (hyphen) is an imaginary "middle line", then the
      acute should extend to equal parts above and below it (i.e. cover the
      same vertical space as the luuva, and the same horizontal space of a
      single luuva).

      breve (chevron pointing downwards): basically the same as for the acute.

      grave: same as for the acute.

      And if one thinks these tonal signs are too ugly (and my suggested
      spelling too un-tengwar-like) anyway, one can leave them out entirely to
      create an aesthetically more pleasing picture (for example in
      calligraphy). But be prepared that this will make reading the text more
      difficult, because the number of originally distinct sounds (discerned
      by the different tones) that now look absolutely the same will be very
      great indeed, by far outdoing the number of homophones you get even with
      the tonal signs in place :).

      And finally, one last challenge: how would you spell the word "erzi"
      (Chinese for "son")?
      It is made up of the syllables "er" and "zi", which each pose one
      problem we haven't dealt with yet: a) how to spell words ending in "r"
      (yes, I'm caught being sloppy there, apart from -n and -ng there is the
      consonantal ending -r in Mandarin; sometimes this "rolled r" is also
      attached to the end of syllables/words, especially in the standard
      Beijing pronunciation, without really having any particular meaning; it
      is always written with the same character as in our example word here,
      Question b): how to mark the "fifth" tone (which actually is more the
      _absence_ of a pronounced tonal feature as represented by the first four
      tones. Syllables in this tone are pronounced relatively quick and
      without any particular stress or tonal variation (this is different from
      the first tone, that is distinctively long and high).

      As for b), that is simple: simply use no tonal sign at all. Since all
      other tones are marked, this will suffice.
      As for a): well, for "er" I propose a short carrier with E-techta on top
      + oore. This is also how I would spell "er" when it's attached to words,
      though when spoken it then really merges with the preceding sound, e.g.
      "wan + er" is really read more like "wa + r" = "war" [pronounced quite
      differently from English "war", though!], with the final consonant of
      the first syllable dropping, otherwise "ji + r" = "jir" etc. A Chinese
      speaker will know how to read this.

      And let me end with my favorite problem, the "R-rule": In this mode I
      propose to always use roomen initially (as in "ran, ri, reng, ren, ru,
      rong, rao, rui, re") and always oore finally (as in "er"). Medial "r"
      (i.e. in the middle of a _syllable_, which I am using as the basic
      spelling unit) does not occur in Mandarin.



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