Languages often have their nuances, but tonal languages are a bit different and can be challenging to interpret for those who are not native speakers. Many Asian languages are tonal languages, like Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese. In today’s blog, Akorbi will explain tonal languages and how to address them.
What are Tonal Languages?
A tonal language is a language where different tonal inflections can change the word’s meaning. For example, one word could have several tonal variations, and each tone gives the word a whole new meaning. Mandarin is one of the most commonly used tonal languages and is often the language people think of when learning about these kinds of languages. Some other tonal languages include Vietnamese, Thai, Yorùbá, and Cherokee.
Tonal languages are different from pitch accents. With pitch accents, a different syllable of the word is stressed to make it mean something different.
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Tonal Languages vs. English
Mandarin, one of the most commonly spoken languages globally, can be difficult to interpret, especially with English. Mandarin has four basic tones and uses a character alphabet, as opposed to English’s 26 letters. Unlike English, the characters cannot be “sounded out” because individually, they don’t have any meaning. In English, each letter has a sound, and those sounds combine into words. In Mandarin, characters are memorized. This makes it difficult for Mandarin and English speakers to learn the other’s language.
The Difficulty of Interpreting Tonal Languages
Not only are they written differently, but tonal languages like Mandarin also have different grammar and sentence structures. The English language uses different verb tenses when talking about things in the past, or something that will happen, which is expressed differently in Mandarin. Someone who was going to interpret between English and Mandarin would have to be fluent in both languages and have a solid understanding of how each language is expressed. It could not necessarily be interpreted word for word, but rather ideas interpreted to make sense to both parties.
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