March 27, 2013 | Mandarin
More Than One One in Chinese
Tones for this basic number are all over the place.
As I go through my Fluenz lessons, over and over I have been getting the word for “one” wrong when I type it in pinyin. Not the letters—which are just y plus i, so how wrong could one really go with those?—but rather, the tones.
So finally I went and looked this humble little number up, and lo and behold, it appears it can be expressed with any of three to four different tones depending on the syllable’s proximity to other tones.
My Cup of Coffee Is ‘Yī Bēi Kāfēi’ (But Pronounced ‘Yì Bēi Kāfēi’)
By itself—as part of a number, and also at the end of a sentence, I believe—“one” is in the first tone: yī. No problem.
But if it is followed by the first, second, or third tone, it is pronounced with the fourth tone. In Fluenz, I see zài yào yì píng for “want another bottle.” Another example would be yì tiān (one day).
And when “one” comes before the fourth tone, it is pronounced in the second tone. In Fluenz, I just had to type in zài yào yí ge kāfēi. (Want another coffee.)
So wait a second, is ge considered fourth tone? I am not seeing any written tones on my ge’s in Fluenz.
Yes, it is, according to the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, which shows ge with a fourth tone: gè. But maybe that’s only because on that page, the ge is standing there all by its lonesome. I see on another post elsewhere on the Wild Wild Web that ge is supposed to be a neutral tone in many cases where it is mistakenly written with a fourth tone. So maybe the rule for yī being pronounced as yí is really that it should be pronounced as second tone not only before fourth tone but also before the neutral tone, of which I still have a very shady understanding.
Complicating things, I read somewhere else that when “one” is between two similar verbs, it changes to the neutral tone. Can’t picture that at present. I think, however, that this is not the biggest of my problems in Mandarin Chinese.
Finally, here’s one other issue. I read the following on a University of North Carolina Chapel Hill website: “When writing Pinyin, note that, despite the change when speaking, the original tone marks are still written.”
Great! But that’s not how it’s working in my Fluenz software. If it were, I wouldn’t be getting so many answers wrong. Is Fluenz violating this standard for the sake of pedagogical expediency, or is UNC not representing a universal point of view?
Don’t get me wrong, I am feeling very fond of my Fluenz at present, but they did not explain my yi’s to me.
It’s funny the kinds of things that can trip up the solo language learner—often they are such little things, but so disproportionately perplexing!