In Tonal Languages, Pitch Has Meaning

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Tonal languages are prevalent in Asia, Africa, and South America, with Chinese being the most widely-used example. The sounds and sound patterns of a tonal language are sometimes called tonemes, and they can be especially difficult to grasp for someone whose first language is not a tonal one. Tonemes are often denoted in writing with markings above or below letters.


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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Tonal language speakers don't rely on specific notes, but rather pay attention to changes in pitch. 00:31

  2. In Mandarin, one syllable can be pronounced in four different contour tones. 01:35

  3. Register and contour tones are applied to vowels in speech. 02:09