French Ears

Dave Cragg dave.cragg at lacscentre.co.uk
Thu Dec 15 10:43:05 EST 2011


On 15 Dec 2011, at 01:41, Tim Selander wrote:
> But the voice can rise in pitch, stay flat, or drop in pitch for each syllable. To foreign ears, it is a very, very slight change -- but of course a very obvious change to native speakers. And that slight change in pitch can completely change the meaning of a word. The language has a gazzillion (yes, I believe that is the proper technical term ;-) homonyms. Just one example:
> "Hashi" = chopsticks
> "Hashi" = bridge
> "Hashi" = the edge, like the edge of a table
> 
> and the slight up/down/flat pitch combinations of the two syllables determines which word, (chopsticks, bridge or edge), you are saying.

Or determines which part of the country you come from. :-) I've found that even among Japanese, context is more important than getting the "correct" tone. (Well, that's my excuse anyway.)

I hadn't heard the expression "tonic accent" before either. I've always used the expression "sentence stress" (or word stress), and a stressed word in a sentence usually determines a tonal change. Japanese is like French is some ways, both are "syllable-timed" languages, with each syllable getting equal time. English is a stress-timed language, and the stressed syllables determine the timing. So the phrase "big red hat" generally takes as long to say as "beautiful orange umbrellas". Which is why to some foreigners, English sometimes sounds slow and sometimes sounds fast.

Sorry for the trivia.

Dave



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