[quote=“joesax”][quote=“In another thread, Taffy”]…the loss of tonal distinction in Northern Taiwanese is symptomatic of the rise of Mandarin as the lingua franca.[/quote]Interesting. So I might actually have a chance of learning Taiwanese at some point? The seven tones and all the sandhis have hitherto put me off.
Seriously, could you give a little more detail, about all of what you said? The loss of tonal distinction, and the connection with Mandarin as a lingua franca. It sounds interesting and while I’m sure that people who study this stuff know all about this, I’ve never heard of it.[/quote]
The sandhi is still there, and it’s a b*tch, at least in the beginning. I’m generally ok with it now, but I still mess up tones now and then. And they tell you there are seven tones, but that’s not really true. Really they’re “tonemes”; a combination of tone and the presence or absence of a glottal stop. Hence the tonal system (before sandhi) goes like this:
- High, flat
- High, falling
- Low, falling
- Low, falling with a glottal stop (h, t, k or p)
- Mid-range, falling-rising.
- Mid-range, flat
- High, flat with a glottal stop
Hence “tones” 1 and 8 are almost the same, tone-wise (differentiated mainly by the stop). The same goes for “tones” three and four.
There are some regional variations - 8th tone to me sounds mid-range rather than high when many people use it (in middle-Taiwan Taiwanese). Then in Yilan, the 8th tone and the 4th tone have merged and are indistinguishable (which is what happened to the missing 6th tone from the above chart - it merged with the 2nd tone). The influence of Mandarin also means that tones three and five are apparently merging in the Taipei area.
Chris is also spot on in saying that Taipei Taiwanese is losing the glottal stops, which for me are one of the most distinctive phonological features of Taiwanese. Mandarin has no glottal stops and they can be difficult for monoglot Mandarin speakers to pronounce - hence the reason they are disappearing in Mandarin-dominated Taipei. Another distinction that is supposedly disappearing is the difference between “o” (kind of like ㄛ in Mandarin) and “o·” (more like the “aw” in the US pronunciation of “thaw”), but I haven’t heard too much about this.
One of the most interesting things to me about Taiwanese is that it more closely reflects the accent situation in England where you can get notable variations over relatively small distances. This is unlike the situation with Mandarin in Taiwan, which was an introuced language that wasa codified nationally, hence the only major differences are between people who are second language speakers (with their “home” language as Taiwanese, Hakka or aboriginal languages). So in Taichung, “egg” is “nng” but in Yilan it’s “nui”. In Tainan “who is he?” would be “i si siang?” but in Zhanghua it’s “i si chia?”. For a language geek like me it’s fascinating stuff.