Re: AP in all of us? New evidence from speech research (Biao Tian PhD )

Subject: Re: AP in all of us? New evidence from speech research
From:    Biao Tian PhD  <biao(at)GICCS.GEORGETOWN.EDU>
Date:    Fri, 11 May 2001 10:15:19 -0400

I heard the call for native Chinese speakers to "pitch in", so I almost felt compelled to say something on this matter. Yes, Chinese speakers whisper, too. And we can still make the four tones while whispering, though I haven't figured out why yet. Since about one third of the words are synophones, it is quintessential to distinguish the four tones to understand the meaning. There are enough anecdotes how foreigners got the tones wrong, and of course, the wrong reaction from the Chinese counterpart. When we speak, it is important to hold the initial pitch as a reference, so the four tones would be based on initial pitch. I also heard that Japanese has some 21+ address forms, especially for women. When Japanese women address someone more senior, say the father-in-law, they intentionally raise their pitch to show their respect. However, this is not associated with the pentatonic or some other scale. So everything is relative to the initial pitch. While I thought that absolute pitch is a gift, i.e. an innate ability, a friend of mine who graduated from the Conservatory in Canton, China, told me that they all had to take the class on "absolute pitch" training, i.e., to associate a pitch with a tone on the tonal scale. It was a nightmare for some of the less fortunate students. In summary, pitch is important in Chinese, but it is relative to the initial pitch. We Chinese also have to learn the "absolute pitch". Biao >Hi - > > Chinese is a tonal language, but it is *possible* to understand >Chinese without the pitch information: > >1) Chinese speakers whisper, too! (However, there are formant changes >correlated with pitch in speech) >2) Chinese songs are almost completely devoid of the lexical tonal >information. (However, songs are special in their use of language - >especially regarding redundancy) >3) Tones are often sacrificed in natural speech (albeit using pragmatic >and contextual "rules") >4) Monotone computer speech synthesis is also understandable - by both >humans and machines - due to joint word frequency statistics as well as >semantic context. > >Aren't there any native Chinese speakers who want to "pitch in" here? I >would be interested to know if deaf-from-birth people learn to speak >with tones at all. > >Regards, > - lonce > >p.s. Related topic: I believe Bruno Repp (among others) found that pitch >in Chinese is processed in areas of the brain associated with language >rather than with music. > >Tom Brennan wrote: > >> Now let me make another comment on pitch. Languages such as Chinese >people >> speak do absolutely require control of pitch so what you have said >about >> speech not requiring pitch control is patently untrue for some >speech. I cannot >> comment on speech training of Chinese deaf as I have no first hand >experience >> with it. >> -- Biao Tian PhD Department of Physiology and Biophysics Georgetown Institute for Cognitive and Computational Sciences Georgetown University Medical Center The Research Building WP13 3970 Reservoir Road NW Washington, DC 20007 tel: (202) 687-6438 fax: (202) 687-0617 email: biao(at)

This message came from the mail archive
maintained by:
DAn Ellis <>
Electrical Engineering Dept., Columbia University