|1st tone||2nd tone||3rd tone||4th tone||neutral tone|
Standard Chinese is a monosyllabic language, in which each morpheme is one syllable long. In the meantime, Chinese is also a tonal language. There are four different tones. Each syllable of the language carries a tone, thus is a tonal syllable, and always represents one or more morphemes of identical sound (homophonous morphemes).
These two linguistic features, monosyllabism and tonality, are closely related to each other. They co-exist. In other words, a fully-developed tonal language must be monosyllabic in the meantime. Chinese is such a language, and has a different stress pattern from that of non-tonal languages such as English. In the following table, examples from English and Chinese are compared with each other:
|#||yıng′ yuˇ||hanˆ yuˇ|
|2||China||zhong′guo″ (middle country)|
|3||library||tu″shu′guanˇ (picture book house)|
|4||black board ⇒ blackboard||heı′banˇ ⇒heı′banˇ (black board)|
|5||goal keeper ⇒ goalkeeper||shouˇmen″yuan′ ⇒ shouˇmen″yuan′
(defending gate member)
|6||He will visit China soon.||他不久将访问中国.
An English polysyllabic word consists of one, and only one, stressed syllable and one or more unstressed syllables (#2 and #3). In contrast, the corresponding meaning units in Chinese take a different stress pattern. Because each syllable has a fixed pitch pattern or tone, all syllables in it are evenly-stressed. In both English and Chinese, the stress of a monosyllabic word is itself (#1).
Some English words are combined to form a compound word, in which a word keeps its stress, but another loses stress to becomes an unstressed syllable. This compounding process, that is, the transition from the left side to the right side of the arrow in English on #4 and #5 in above table, does not happen in Chinese. Both or all syllables remain equally stressed. Thereafter, there is no compound word in Chinese in terms of the non-tonal language.
Unlike the English sentence, the Chinese sentence is composed of evenly-stressed tonal syllables (morphemes). Thereafter the sentence, both classic and modern, is written with evenly spaced ideographic characters or phonemic spellings (#6). This type of syllable string (morpheme string) works well for the language.
Because of the tones, Chinese syllables are more independent and autonomous. Thereafter, writing Chinese in the western style, that is, spacing words by the 'spelling rules'(cihui:807), is completely erroneous. The mistake that the spelling rules makes is that the flexible individual tonal syllables are tied together to become a disyllabic or polysyllabic word like those in the non-tonal languages such as English. As a result, the language creativity of native speakers is consequently substantially restricted.
The morpheme in Chinese is one syllable long. When a new unit of meaning is formed, if more than one syllable is involved, the product will be phrase consisting of evenly-stressed syllables. For instance, in above example #2, zhong′guo″, another syllable, lıˆ, can go in between these two syllables, to make a new phrase, zhong′lıˆguo″ (中立国:middle standing nation: neutral nation). Furthermore, exchanging the positions of the two syllables in zhong′guo″ makes another phrase, guo″zhong′ (国中:national middle school). Because of the tones, syllables in Chinese are more independent, more autonomous, and freer.
Monosyllabism is a tendency and process. When a meaning unit composed of more than one syllable first appears, it may sound like that only the whole string makes sense, while individual syllables don't. So it is a polysyllabic word. But due to the tones, the syllables can later work separately.
For instance, dıan′daoˇ(颠倒:put upside down) was once identified as a disyllabic word which could not be further analyzed into two morphemes (cited Meyers:3). This unit of meaning appears in the following two idioms:
But it was later found that dıan′ and daoˇ were free morphemes that could be used separately, such as in following two idioms:
Another example in this regard is you′moˆ(幽默), the transliteration of English word 'humor'. In English it is always a single word that cannot be analyzed into two morphemes, and too in Chinese when it was first transliterated. But as the syllables are evenly stressed in Chinese, they were split apart later in the following cases (cited Myers:4).
hai″you′ le ta′yi″moˆ(还幽了他一默).
and hu-ed him a mor.
making a joke with him.
zheˆzhongˇmoˆ, woˇ xıangˇ nıˇ zuıˆ haoˇ bu″yaoˆ you′. 这种默，我想你最好不要幽。
this kind mor I think you best still don't hu.
This way of teasing, I think you'd better not do.
A verb-object construction becomes the grammatical relationship between these two syllables. Meyers further asks: if the two syllables in you′moˆ can be split apart to form a phrase, can we use the two syllables in langˆmanˆ(浪漫:romance) separately, too (1995:1)? Answer to this question is a firm 'yes'. They can follow the pattern of you′moˆ in grammar. In order to demonstrate the possibility and legitimacy of separation of these two words, I will use langˆmanˆ side by side wih you′moˆ in following two sentences.
ta′you′ le nıˇyı″moˆ, nıˇhe″buˆlangˆta′yı″manˆ. 她幽了你一默，你何不浪她一漫?
she hu-ed you a mor, you why not ro her a mance?
She has teased you, why don't you romance with her in response?
zheˆ zhongˇ moˆ bu″ yaoˆ you′, danˆzheˆ zhongˇ manˆ queˆ buˆ fang″ yıˆ langˆ.
this type mor don't hu, but this type man not hurt lang.
Don't do this way of teasing, but it doesn't hurt to romance this way.
Copyright © 2011 by zhang′ju′lıˇ.