Monday, July 03, 2006

I need to buy an adjustable wrench.

I don't know how a toilet flushing lever can break, but mine did, and in order to replace it I will need to unscrew and remove the broken hinge. *Sigh*

Sometimes, students in foreign language classes like to speculate about etymology or grammar. Then they raise their hands and ask me about their crazy ideas.

Student: How do you know which verbs to conjugate?

Me: The ones that have a subject.

Student: But I thought you only conjugated the first verb?

Me: You made that up.

Student: No, but I thought....

Me: Nobody told you that. You made that up. Stop believing it.

Student: So then I'm confused, which verb are you supposed to...

Me: You're not confused. You don't believe. I told you, conjugate the ones that have a subject.

Student: Yah, but how come...

Me: Stop. Conjugate the verbs that have a subject. Conjugate. the. verbs. that. have. a. subject.

I know all about it because I did this when I was in college. I don't know why, maybe it's a stage. It's not that they don't understand, it's that they don't believe. Their skepticism won't allow them to understand.

Anyway, I'm bringing it up because it's happening in my Chinese class. I don't worry about it, I just thought I'd mention it.

Oh one funny thing from class today; Mandarin is a tonal language, so "ma!" is different from "ma?" They have different meanings. They are two totally different words, and to Chinese people, they don't even necessarily sound the same.

Today in class today we learned the word "hao" with a falling tone, meaning N-th, as in sevenTH or fourteenTH. One of my classmates mistook it for "hao" with low tone, meaning "good." So she remarked that we now know two "hao's." Our Chinese prof was totally stumped; she didn't know what hao the other hao could possibly be. Oh, says my classmate, the hao with the other tone, you know, they sound the same.

Our Chinese prof was wondering how the two haos could possibly sound the same, and was about to launch into explain mode. So I said something like 'they sound the same, unless you are Chinese.'

And then the prof was relieved, and just moved on with a "yah, they are different."

When I was in grad school, I heard that when Chinese parents are trying to guess what their infant kid is trying to say, the parents assume that the pre-verbal kid gets the tone right. So if the kid says "mama" with falling tones, the parents won't think the kid is saying mama (mommy) because in chinese, mama has high, level tones.

Instead, they parents will assume that the falling tones are what the child really meant, and might guess the kid was trying to say baba with falling tones (daddy). They don't assume that the kid was trying to say mama because the kid got the tones wrong. In other words, to Chinese people, "mama" with falling tones sounds more like baba (with falling tones) than it sounds like mama with high, level tones.

Isn't that interesting?

2 comments:

bitchphd said...

It is interesting, and it kind of makes sense! I mean, when babies are really little, you pay attention to tone because basically they make the same sounds all the time with different tonal emphases. Like, a yell because something falls on your toe is different than a yell to catch someone's attention or whatever. I guess it makes more sense to retain the emphasis on tone than it does to switch it to phonics.

myrna said...

Jazz, my dog, used different tones. hehe heee.