Posted: Apr 29, 2012 11:50 am
by Zwaarddijk
WiĆ°ercora wrote:My flatmate inflects all her sentences. It's really annoying? Because she talks like this? And even in the middle? of sentences the pitch just rises? for no reason?

Japanese is a tonal language, but not to the extent of Mandarin or Vietnamese. The word 'hashi' for example, can mean either bridge or chopsticks (and probably about a dozen other meanings, but they are the only ones I'm aware of).

Is she from an area where the dialect usually does that(, or other equivalent thing - is her sociolect like that)? (I've read of female sociolects where that's common, but it also seems to be common in some dialects - especially Irish English is more likely to have rising tone in statements than other versions of English (whereas some dialects in England even have falling tone on questions!).) Prosody is very difficult to change - it's among the most challenging bits in learning a foreign language (in part because few teachers really know any good way of teaching it, and we generally don't consciously hear it as long as it's "normal".

Japanese isn't generally considered a tonal language, it's considered a pitch accented language. The difference may seem rather small, but this essentially means that tonal distinctions only occur in stressed syllables, whereas in other tonal languages, it can occur in any syllable whatsoever. Pitch accented languages actually occur in Europe - Swedish*, Norwegian, Serbo-Croatian, the Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian).

*as spoken in most of Sweden; it's mostly been lost in the far north, in parts of Dalarna and in pretty much all of the areas it's spoken in Finland.

I am not, to be entirely honest, sure why the distinction between pitch-accented and tonal languages is maintained in a lot of phonological descriptions. Some criticisms of the distinction between tonal and pitch-accented languages point out that it's not very well defined even.

Anyways, in "proper" tonal languages, every syllable has a tone, in pitch accented languages, there may be words that don't really have any tone at all, if that makes sense. (I'd guess for most of them this just means tone is *free* for those words or somesuch or follows some default pattern). I can't give any advice for how to figure out whether a language is pitch-accented or tonal other than that, but I kind of doubt anyone who's reading this will try to classify a language on the basis of what I'm writing anyway, so it's not that important, I guess?