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  1. #1
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    Will English shift to be a tone language?

    Do you know that a Chinese Mandarin speaker can split every English syllable into four different syllables? In that way, it is easy for a Chinese speaker cheating. For instance, in the magic, when a Chinese speaker asks his Chinese mate in front of you, "What is this?" as he picks up a playing card. In this case, you thought that one ask another "What is the card?" but in fact the speaker telling his colleague what is the card already. For a Chinese can use four different tones to pronounce each syllables, he use "What1" telling his friend "This is spade." "What2" telling his friend "This is heart." and so on. Now let us check the second syllable in the sentence of "What is this?" It is 'is'. It could also be pronounced in four different ways. We regard them as 1,2,3,4. Finally, the syllable "this" can be pronounced in four ways too. Then put 'is' and 'this' together it should be 1,1=1, 1,2=2, 1,3=3, 1,4=4, 2,1=5, 2,2=6, 2,3=7 and so on. By this way, the speaker tell hie friend the card is spade 9 or club 12 while a English speaker thought the first Chinese ask question to his friend.
    From that example you may understand, in everyday speech, an English speaker at least wasted 3/4 information signals.
    In fact, English had accepted tone gradually, since the Great Vowel Shift, but until now, no one recognized it. Once English recognizes the tone officially, then the educated English speaker may master a vocabulary as large as millions words in short time.

  2. #2
    abaka is offline Senior Member
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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    As I understand it, the Chinese were themselves not aware that their language was tonal until a scholar demonstrated it to an emperor one and a half thousand years ago. Is it true that tones developed, as some suppose, in response to an ancient loss of inflections and, more importantly, final consonants? In any case, although English obviously uses tonal variation among words in a sentence for rhetoric and to distinguish statements, exclamations, and questions, there is no semantic tone distinction at the word level whatsoever. There may yet be, but I just can't see this happening for hundreds of years, at the minimum.

    Your example of cheating at cards is frankly unpleasant. English has millions of words as it stands, developed purely with its own devices.

  3. #3
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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    Quote Originally Posted by abaka View Post
    As I understand it, the Chinese were themselves not aware that their language was tonal until a scholar demonstrated it to an emperor one and a half thousand years ago. Is it true that tones developed, as some suppose, in response to an ancient loss of inflections and, more importantly, final consonants? In any case, although English obviously uses tonal variation among words in a sentence for rhetoric and to distinguish statements, exclamations, and questions, there is no semantic tone distinction at the word level whatsoever. There may yet be, but I just can't see this happening for hundreds of years, at the minimum.

    Your example of cheating at cards is frankly unpleasant. English has millions of words as it stands, developed purely with its own devices.
    English may have more than one million words already. But in the Oxford dictionary, there are only 300,000 entries. The rest is scientific words, as the editor believed that those words emerged fast and disappeared faster too, so he didn’t take them.
    I believe the English may have more words in next century but an educated English speaker can only remember around 30,000 words during life time. That will be a big problem.
    Besides, there is another issue about the number of sound. Thinking process is like a process of speaking in mind. If in parallel speak, your language can send more information than other language, then your thinking speed would be faster than other language. I regard thinking speed or information sending and receiving speed is very important thing during a life. It decides how many information that you have enjoyed during a life gap. All the information technique is improving it. Yet if you speak a language that sending and receiving information very slow, this language could not survival long. The best example is the computer language. It has only two signals and it can express the universe. Suppose there is a person who can only utter two sounds 1 and 0 no doubt, who can express the universe too. Just think about, the English has at least 400 different sounds. Suppose in the world, we just have 400 things to be expressed, then the English could be able to use each sounds to represent each things. While a two sound speaker have no such right. He has to use nine sounds as 011100101 to express the same meaning of one sound that English uttered. That means to say, the two sounds’ speaker use nine times to do the same thing as English speaker spend one time. So the ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ is not the oral movement but the information’s transmitting.

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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?


  5. #5
    CCMS is offline Newbie
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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    I'm sorry, but this is a case of uninformed conjecture. All languages are equipped to express anything that a human might care to express--they just do so in different ways. Chinese and English are completely different types of languages--in Chinese, intonation affects lexical meaning, whereas in English, intonation serves a range of other purposes such as 'punctuating' spoken language through intonation groups, highlighting new or important information and expressing the speaker's attitude about what s/he is saying. The capacity for both of these languages to create new words is equal--they just do it in different ways. I think the chances of English becoming tonal are about the same as Chinese becoming stressed-timed--extraordinarily unlikely.

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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    Whether a case of uninformed conjecture or not, from now on during poker games, I'll be paying more careful attention to tonal inflections.

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    CCMS is offline Newbie
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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    LOL--not a bad idea, I guess!!

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    Anglika is offline No Longer With Us
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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Monticello View Post
    Whether a case of uninformed conjecture or not, from now on during poker games, I'll be paying more careful attention to tonal inflections.
    Particularly if playing against a Chinese person

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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    Quote Originally Posted by CCMS View Post
    I'm sorry, but this is a case of uninformed conjecture. All languages are equipped to express anything that a human might care to express--they just do so in different ways. Chinese and English are completely different types of languages--in Chinese, intonation affects lexical meaning, whereas in English, intonation serves a range of other purposes such as 'punctuating' spoken language through intonation groups, highlighting new or important information and expressing the speaker's attitude about what s/he is saying. The capacity for both of these languages to create new words is equal--they just do it in different ways. I think the chances of English becoming tonal are about the same as Chinese becoming stressed-timed--extraordinarily unlikely.
    It is not a conjecture but truth. Just think about, in the dictionary, the explanation of alto is: lowest female voice. What if we make every explaining word as short as one sound? That is to say let lo=lowest, fe=female and vo=voice, then we may create a new word as lofevo. It will replace the current ‘alto’. Because, it is a compound word and every compound word is also a self-explaining word. You know it without any learning. From the Chinese experience, there are only 3,000 basic word in the world that need to be learnt, all the rest words are in fact can be explained by this 3,000 words. There is also a certain English dictionary that using 5,000 basic words to explain more than 100,000 entries. Suppose we replace all the 100,000 entries by the explaining sentences that formed by this 5,000 basic words, then English language still can express every thing, the only difficulty is it would be too long. So the key issue is making the basic words shorter. Once they are short enough, then their compound words would be short too. Many infrequently used words can be recognized easily. For instance, currently, rarely some one knows what is ‘prill’. But once we replace it by a compound word as high-grade-copper-ore, every body would recognize it immediately. The only problem is high-grade-copper-ore is too long, until we can make hi=high, g=grade, co=copper and o=ore then the new word would be ‘higcoo’. It is a self explaining word and sounds like a normal English word. By this change, no matter how many words English have, you can master them easily.
    Other examples are:
    Pig-meat = pork, pig-grease=lard,
    Ox-meat=beef, ox-grease=tallow
    Sheep-meat=mutton, sheep-grease=suet etc.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: Will English shift to be a tone language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cheng-Zhong Su View Post
    So the key issue is making the basic words shorter.
    This supposition at the base of your argument is entirely subjective and attempts to assume that what holds true in one language should be applied or used to judge elsewhere. Before you can make your comparison, you would need to demonstrate clearly that there is this need or drive to reduce to length of basic words and to establish that the mechanism used in tonal languages was in fact the dominant or only one. This is rather like taking a language with tense and one without, assuming that one approach is better, then making a comparison and finding, unsurprisingly, that your conclusion supports your theory.

    And why on earth would anyone wish to take a beautiful thing like a language, that has absorbed, reflected, shaped and changed with the history of the speech community and turn into into the sub-Orwellian, humourless, arid toytown wasteland that you are proposing in the interests of some, as it happens, rather baseless numerical convenience?

    Why would any speech community choose to sacrifice natural development, lose all their shades of meaning for the chance to say 'pig-fat' or 'lofevo'? They wouldn't. The very simple answer to the question in the title of this thread, if the change is to be for the reasons you give, is 'no'.




    an educated English speaker can only remember around 30,000 words
    [emphasis mine]

    You really ought to think a little bit about the use of the modal verb there. If you do wish to make such claims, then please back it up with links to credible academic works from multiple sources. To make this sort of claim to add a pseudo-scientific gloss to the cultural assuptions behind your theory is to take it towards the murkier waters where the xenophobe lurks, and worse. If this is merely sloppy usage, then please edit it. If it is not, then please show us the sources.
    Last edited by Tdol; 06-Mar-2009 at 09:39.

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