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April 30, 2013

Got Tones?

There are two basic kinds of languages - with only a few exceptions, every language is either tonal or atonal. Many Aisan languages for example use the same phonemes with different tones to define their meaning. As a language learner...

... these tones can be extremely difficult to master - unless they have been absorbed at a very early age. Some languages have up to eight different tones for a single vowel sound.

As a native American English speaker, I find tones extremely difficult to get right.

To make matters worse, at least in this case, I grew up on the west coast of the United States. We have what is called a 'flat affect' - supposedly the most tone (and accent) neutral vocal style.

My accent (if you can call it that) is extraordinarily bland and is among the most difficult to define.

A British (or Irish, or Boston, or Jersey, or USA Southern) accent is generally easily recognizable and defined - and copied). My accent (at least when I travel to places out of my area) is generally a puzzle to my hearers. They can't define it with any certainty, but they do immediately recognize it as not being 'from around here'.

Tones and accents help us define and express ourselves. Here's an article that explores where tones come from and why some languages have then and some don't - http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=genetic-basis-tonal-language..

Be sure to send us any language usages that puzzle you, and be sure to let us know what it is about language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing, constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Also: If you'd like to have Morf visit your school or program this summer, you can contact him at mmorf(at)mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at April 30, 2013 11:12 AM


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