The tone

Posted: August 18, 2010 in Misc., People
Tags: , , ,

I remember reading somewhere that in Chinese, the meaning of a word doesn’t just depend on the literal pronunciation but also on the tone of speaking. So the same word spoken in two different tones could mean two entirely different things.

I’ve always believed this to be a big drawback given how many extra subtle hints can be communicated using the tone along with the words literal meaning.

For example, when girlfriend responds to my call to go out with a slow, lazy, dreary and painful ‘lets go’, it simply means that she’s coming along just for my sake and shall later make me pay in full for not letting her laze in peace. On the other hand, if her response is a super enthusiastic, cheerful ‘lets go’, it implies that I’d be committing harakiri if I try to back out. And that we’re going out for a party with her friends or probably a show of SATC. Finally, if she responds with an angry, sharp and loud ‘lets go’, it means I’m gonna pay irrespective we go out or not.

All these years I believed that, thanks to the phonetic peculiarity of their language, the Chinese missed out on these subtle hints. Now, after hearing two Chinese sisters fighting on the next table and their mom cursing them, I believe I may have been wrong. It may be that the Chinese are just smarter than the rest and have formally included the tone into their language to prevent any misunderstandings. That way one can never be confused between Rachel’s flirtatious ‘get out of here’ with Monica’s threatening one.

It does take out the ambiguity benefit that the speaker can claim but does make things a lot easier for socially dumb folk like me. #ilike ;)

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