Since some of you are learning Taiwanese cough Ironlady cough , just curious on how it’s going. I know they’ve got a few more tons than mandarin (something akin to Cantonese?)…but how about the sounds? Are there any sounds that are difficult to produce even if you speak English and Mandarin? Do they have a decent romanization or bo-po-mo-fo type system or are you just having to memorize new ways to pronounce chars?
Hey, I showered today. Why are you coughing??
To answer your questions (just from my own experience, mind you):
I know they’ve got a few more tons than mandarin (something akin to Cantonese?)…but how about the sounds? Are there any sounds that are difficult to produce even if you speak English and Mandarin?
The most difficult phonetic part of Taiwanese for me is the distinction between the three kinds of “lip” sounds (which are Romanized as b, p, and ph in Church Romanization). I think, based on the reaction of my teacher, that I can now distinguish between them if they’re pronounced in single words, or if I’m pronouncing one or the other in isolation, but I wouldn’t give you NT$0.66 for my chances of really getting them right in a conversation. Same goes for the “dental” series (d, t, th). The “j” sound also seems to give me trouble – I would swearthat the two speakers on the tape pronounce it differently but the teacher is very set on one particular way, so I try to go with that. It’s like a “z” but I have the feeling that you have to have everything in your mouth set before you begin and jump right into the “middle” of the English sound. (Now you can see why I don’t need to do drugs. Who needs drugs to achieve an altered state when you have Taiwanese phonology?)
Do they have a decent romanization or bo-po-mo-fo type system or are you just having to memorize new ways to pronounce chars?
They have a great Romanization system, called Church Romanization. I suppose it has the same drawback as the old Wade-Giles system for Mandarin – that is, you have the same letter standing for different sounds depending on whether it has an “h” after it (in W-G that would be the " ’ " mark, which everyone forgets about or messes up). The advantage is that rather few people use Church Romanization, and in my experience the ones who do know the system thoroughly so you don’t seem to get the “creative” spellings you sometimes see in, er, Romanized Mandarin…(cough…cough…oh no, now I’ve got it too!)
Tonally of course we’re in deep doo-doo, because there are now 7 tones remaining (the 6th tone very kindly merged with another one, so at least we don’t have to worry about IT!) and every one of them changes unless it is the last syllable of a polysyllabic word or the last syllable of the sentence, UNLESS… well, you get the idea. The more I study languages, the more convinced I become of the value of extensive listening to stuff you can UNDERSTAND. That’s what helps me to grasp the tone changes, because my mind isn’t working 100% just to figure out what’s being said when I’m listening to stuff I should be able to undrestand based on the words I’ve officially ‘learned’.
Well, wordy as usual…does that answer your questions?
Sound problems aside, it’s a really fun language. I think you can participate in a whole new set of social interactions if you can learn even basic Taiwanese, so it’s well worth the effort.