Going from Cantonese to Mandarin: Any Trouble with Tones?

Time required to find a simple, English-explanation-free video about Mandarin tones: five minutes.

Times required to learn how to say the four (five) tones of the language accurately from memory: four minutes.

It’s not like Cantonese and Mandarin tones are especially similar, but I guess my mind’s more receptive to the idea of tones now and so it was pretty simple to crack them.

In other news: sod diagrams that try to “explain” tones visually. They aren’t accurate and they suck. I went around with the wrong idea that Cantonese tone four didn’t go lower than tone six for about a year, and was in danger of similarly thinking that Mandarin tone four went no higher than tone one until actually listening to a native speaker.

Play it by ear, dude. You just gotta trust your instincts.

P.S. I guess I should note that although this is the first time I’ve learnt how to say Mandarin tones properly, I’ve had a non-trival amount of exposure to the language (especially songs). I’ve just never made any effort to learn the tones themselves until now.


2 thoughts on “Going from Cantonese to Mandarin: Any Trouble with Tones?

  1. The actual contours:

    C1 = M1
    C2 = M2
    C4 = M4

    I assume this is why the Cantonese tones are labeled this way, since 5 and 6 seem to be out of order.

    Basically, where there is no entering tone, Cantonese 1 = Mandarin 1 and Cantonese 4 = Mandarin 2. Mandarin tones 3 and 4 were compensations for the loss of entering tone, so they don’t match up with Cantonese.

    The changes you can expect:

    C1 = M1
    C2 = M3 (many exceptions)
    C3 = ?
    C4 = M2
    C5 = M3 (many exceptions
    C6 = M4 (many exceptions)

    • I’m not sure about C4 equalling M4 – I think M4 starts higher, even if they both fall?

      If you ignore entering tones, C and M correspond well according to the relationship you’ve got there. Taiwan Mandarin readings usually correspond even better – there are characters such as 期 and 危 which are tone 1 in Mainland Mandarin, but tone 2 in Taiwan, which fit the C4 > M2 pattern demonstrated by most other characters.

      Entering tones are indeed a spanner in the works, but one just has to deal with them.

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