Dialogue

Vocabulary

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Lesson Notes

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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What are tones in Cantonese?
Siuling: And why are they so important?
Language in context
Michael: At CantoneseClass101.com, we hear these questions often.
In the following situation, SASHA LEE, a high-school student, is at the school library with her classmate, LYNN LO. She seeks confirmation from her friend about the reading of one of the characters, saying,
SASHA LEE: 係唔係絲呀?(hai6 m4 hai6 si1 aa3?)
DIALOGUE
SASHA LEE: 係唔係絲呀?(hai6 m4 hai6 si1 aa3?)
LYNN LO: 唔係,史。 (m4 hai6, si2.)
Once more with the English translation.
SASHA LEE: 係唔係絲呀?(hai6 m4 hai6 si1 aa3?)
Michael: "Silk, right?"
LYNN LO: 唔係,史。 (m4 hai6, si2.)
Michael: "No. History."

Lesson focus

Michael: Did you notice how the meaning of the word changes when Sasha reads it...
SASHA LEE: 絲 (si1)
Michael: instead of...
LYNN LO: 史 (si2)?
Michael: The difference here is only in the tone. "Tone" refers to the use of pitch to distinguish the meaning of words. Each character comes with a tone, and it's important to pronounce Cantonese correctly, or people may think you're saying one word when you mean to say another. In total, there are six tones in Cantonese. We'll focus on two of them first.
Michael: Let's take a closer look.
Do you remember how Sasha reads the Chinese character as "silk?"
SASHA LEE: 絲 (si1)
Michael: Here, Sasha reads the character using the first tone, the high and steady tone. Consequently, what she says means "silk."
Michael: Now let's look at how the character is read out by LYNN LO:
SASHA LEE: 史 (si2).
Michael: Here, Lynn reads the character using the second tone. It starts with a low pitch and rises to high pitch. This word means "history."
SUMMARY
Michael: So far we have learned about the function and importance of tones in the Cantonese language. Producing a wrong tone usually results in producing a completely different word.
Michael: We've covered two out of six Cantonese tones — the high and steady first tone, and the second tone, which starts with a low pitch and rises to a high pitch. The third tone is a mid tone. It's pronounced in the middle of your range and is steady. You can use it to say "to try" in Cantonese,
Siuling: 試 (si3).
Michael: The fourth tone is the lowest tone. You'll find this tone in the Cantonese word for "time," or
Siuling: 時 (si4).
Michael: The fifth tone is another rising tone. It starts low, then rises to the middle of your range. This tone is used to say "city,"
Siuling: 市 (si5).
Michael: Last, the sixth tone is low and steady, but not as low as the fourth tone. An example of this tone can be found in the verb "to be", or
Siuling: 是 (si6).
Michael: Now let's look at one example. To make the difference clear, we will first present to you a series of words that only differ in terms of their tones.
Siuling: 醫 (ji1), 椅 (ji2), 意 (ji3), 疑 (ji4), 耳 (ji5), 二 (ji6) (enuciated)
醫 (ji1), 椅 (ji2), 意 (ji3), 疑 (ji4), 耳 (ji5), 二 (ji6)
Michael: These mean, in turn, "to cure," "chair, "idea," "to suspect," "ear", and "two."
Michael: Let's review. Respond to the prompts by speaking aloud. Then repeat after the Cantonese speaker, focusing on pronunciation.
Do you remember how SASHA says,
"Silk, right?"
Siuling as SASHA LEE: 係唔係絲呀?(hai6 m4 hai6 si1 aa3?)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Siuling as SASHA LEE: 係唔係絲呀?(hai6 m4 hai6 si1 aa3?)
係唔係絲呀?(hai6 m4 hai6 si1 aa3?)
Michael: And how LYNN LO says, "No. History."
Siuling as LYNN LO: 唔係,史。 (m4 hai6, si2.)
Michael: Listen again and repeat.
Siuling as LYNN LO: 唔係,史。 (m4 hai6, si2.)
唔係,史。 (m4 hai6, si2.)
Michael: You might sometimes hear that Cantonese has nine tones instead of six. In fact, tones marked as 7, 8 and 9 in this classification correspond to tones marked as tones 1, 3, and 6 by modern linguists. They're just shorter. Thus, it is commonly agreed that Cantonese has six contrastive tones rather than nine.

Outro

Michael: Well done! Now you know how to use tones to communicate in Cantonese. That's all there is to it!
Be sure to download the lesson notes for this lesson at CantoneseClass101.com — and move onto the next lesson!

3 Comments

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😄 😞 😳 😁 😒 😎 😠 😆 😅 😜 😉 😭 😇 😴 😮 😈 ❤️️ 👍

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Monday at 06:30 PM
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What Cantonese learning question do you have?

CantoneseClass101.com Verified
Friday at 09:22 PM
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Hello robert groulx,


You are very welcome. 😇

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Good luck with your language studies.


Kind regards,

利凡特

Team CantoneseClass101.com

robert groulx
Monday at 10:31 PM
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thanks for the lesson


my favorite phrase is 醫 (ji1), 椅 (ji2), 意 (ji3), 疑 (ji4), 耳 (ji5), 二 (ji6)


robert