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Random Childhood Memory: The Riddle

weather: sunny
outside: 17.4°C
mood: ...

hóng
hung4


bou3

bāo
baau1.

bái
baak6


bou3
Red cloth conceals white cloth.
 

bái
baak6


bou3

bāo
baau1

zhū
zyu1

gāo
gou1
White cloth conceals pork fat.
 

zhū
zyu1

gāo
gou1

bāo
baau1.

hóng
hung4

zǎo
zou2
Pork fat conceals a red date.

=)

It's summer and lychee nut season. I'm munching on some super sweet green lychee and thinking that the lychee riddle rhymes better in Cantonese. =)

I remember the hot summer evenings with family, a big bowl of lychee on the table and everyone peeling and munching away. One of the adults would always admonish the kids to be careful to not swallow the seed. Because if you do, you'll have a lychee tree grow out of the top of your head.

It was an old joke that was told at least once every year, but everybody still laughed. And the lychee riddle always came out early in the summer. It reminded the older kids so that they'd know the answer and be able to put up their hand the quickest in Chinese school. It provided the younger kids with a vague concept early on.

I always thought fresh, sweet lychee ought to be bright red (like this). I've always heard my Mom and Aunts grumble at the fact that the ones here are brown. When I saw the green lychee in the bowl on our dining room table, I thought they weren't ripe.

But they're actually a different variety. They're so ripe, they explode in my hands while I'm peeling them. I can only have a few in one sitting before I instantly develop Type II Diabetes. =D

[Update - 2000h]

I've now included the pronunciations as links to audio files. Hanyu Pinyin on top and Cantonese Jyutping romanization below that.

<rant>

For the record, I hate "Jyutping". I only use it because it has the best support available and at least it has some kind of acknowledgement that tones exist. An initial "j" representing the "y" sound is unnatural and annoying. There was really no need to do that either. I don't like that they don't distinguish between a high flat tone and a high falling tone. Those are two separate tones, they are not interchangeable and using the wrong one can change the associated meaning. I have no idea why they're lumped together.

</rant>

I put a dot after the '1' to signify the high falling tone. No dot after the '1' is the regular high flat tone. The corresponding audio files for any initial-final combination in the high falling tone doesn't exist, so the sample actually still pronounces the high flat tone.


Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
katie_ah
Jul. 2nd, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
Mmmm. Lychees have been in season here for a while and man, they are so good. When I had a party a month or so a go, I swear, the lychees and the yangmei were gone in about 5 mintues flat. It's really a pity they aren't more popular in North America!
bride
Jul. 3rd, 2006 07:06 pm (UTC)
I know! You blink and they're gone =}
kat_box
Jul. 2nd, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC)
Wow, I didn't know they even CAME in that colour! Unpeeled they almost look like raspberries or strawberries. And yes, lychees are yummy! Messy sometimes, but yummy. :D
bride
Jul. 3rd, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, they remind me of small, flat durians. =)
pne
Jul. 2nd, 2006 07:05 pm (UTC)
How would you say the riddle in Cantonese?

(Perhaps you can write it underneath or above the Mandarin pinyin reading.)
bride
Jul. 3rd, 2006 03:12 am (UTC)
Done, I've included links to audio files for both the Mandarin and Cantonese. =)
pne
Jul. 3rd, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
at least it has some kind of acknowledgement that tones exist.

You could have used another scheme and added tone numbers/markers yourself?

(Speaking only for myself, I find the method of using two numbers from 1 to 5 to indicate the contours helpful, since I don't read romanised Cantonese that often, and it's fairly unambiguous -- for example, "21" for low falling and "33" for mid level. "Checked" syllables, ending in a stop, would get only one number, e.g. "5" for high checked.

Tone numbers have the problem, for me, that (a) I don't read them often enough to remember them and (b) there seem to be at least two ways of numbering the tones, so I'm never sure what contour, say, "tone 2" refers to.)

I don't like that they don't distinguish between a high flat tone and a high falling tone. Those are two separate tones, they are not interchangeable and using the wrong one can change the associated meaning. I have no idea why they're lumped together.

I was under the impression that they were allotones of the same tone, and that the difference in pronunciation did not correspond to a difference in meaning. Maybe that's the case in Hong Kong, but not in, say, Shunde?

Wikipedia says, "In Hong Kong, the first tone can be either high level or high falling without affecting the meaning of the words being spoken. Most Hong Kong speakers are in general not consciously aware of when they use and when to use high level and high falling. In Guangzhou the high falling tone is more usual." (s.v. "Standard Cantonese")

Considering the two the same also makes (in my opinion) the system of tones neater compared to the original Middle Chinese tones: the six tones in free syllables correspond to the three tones of middle Chinese times two for initial voiced/unvoiced consonant. So each possibly combination in Middle Chinese corresponds to exactly one tone in "standard Cantonese".

As far as I know, checked tones /5/ and /3/ come from a split in the original "yīnrù" tone... if /55/ and /53/ are separate tones, it would seem to me that they would also have to be the result of a tone split (of yīnpíng) as well, rather than as a more conservative distinction which got merged later on (as with the l/n initial distinction or the ng/null that leads to "ngo oi nei" turning into "o oi lei" for some speakers; similarly with "kwok" vs "kok" for "country", etc.)

Do you have any examples of minimal pairs -- that is, syllables that differ only in the fact that one has /55/ and the other has /53/, and that have different meanings?

I put a dot after the '1' to signify the high falling tone. No dot after the '1' is the regular high flat tone.

Is there a reason that you wrote "conceals" twice as "baau1." and once as "baau1" without the dot? Is this a meaning difference? Or a sandhi phenomenon caused by the following tone-1 syllable after the dotless one? A typo? Or something else?
bride
Jul. 3rd, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC)
You could have used another scheme and added tone numbers/markers yourself?

I'm very tempted to do just that, but in a hurry, I'd really like to use something well-known.

Re: Standard Cantonese

They don't speak Standard Cantonese in Hong Kong. That's a very good point and one that I've forgotten just because Hong Kong is a major gateway city. Shunde Cantonese is also different; it's a countryside dialect that's understandable, but slightly different. My parents grew up in Guangzhou though.

Do you have any examples of minimal pairs -- that is, syllables that differ only in the fact that one has /55/ and the other has /53/, and that have different meanings?

The one I had in mind was:
baau1 (the /55/) is a noun that means "steamed bun".
baau1. (the /53/) is a verb that means "to wrap" or "to include".

The verb can be either /55/ or /53/ depending on the tone of the next character (which is why the same character '包' is pronounced differently in line 2 of the riddle). /53/ is the standard, but it becomes a /55/ in front of another /55/ because it's clumsy to go from a high falling to a high flat.

The noun will always be /55/ and will sound wrong if you made it a /53/ in front of a /55/ character.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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