Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sidebar: Mandarin Tones and Hearing Aids

I just came across this short article (and I wasn't even looking up anything to do with Mandarin!) which explains that folks with hearing aids might have difficulty understanding tonal languages.

Besides the interesting description of how one must use both sides of the brain in understanding tonal languages, it begs the question: Do native Chinese speakers fare worse with hearing aids than speakers of non-tonal languages? Are there some special specifications for hearing aids in China that make them more sensitive to musical sounds? Does this really matter?

No. Probably not.


Chris said...

I find things like this worryingly interesting. I also wonder sometimes how Chinese people speak tonaly when they have blocked up noses and sinuses.

How do they cope if tone deaf (very rare for someone to be truely tone deaf but it happens).

How does Chinese sign language work?
Can Chinese people lip read (apperently there is less mouth movement).

How doese Chinese braile work (if at all).

BTW glad they have Chinese health shops in Ireland.

Mashhood said...

context, context, context ;)

Brendan Lawlor said...

Chris, I understand the interest and share the worry. Some great questions there. Surely the collective wisdom of the Chinesepod community will provide the answers - I'm expecially interested in the sign language one.

On only vaguely related matters:
Here in Cork the regional accent might be said to be tonal in the sense that folks here basically sing their words. But there's no meaning imparted by the tones (unless you count "Hey everyone, yooohooo, I'm from Cork").

I'm not a native Corkonian myself and sometimes a very strong accent can still be challenging. Hey! Perhaps if I bought a hearing aid it would cancel out those tones!

Though I'd have to make sure it didn't say "Made on China" on the back.

(As you can see Mashhood, my current context isn't going to help me understand much Chinese ;-)

John said...

I think there is one internationaly accepted sign language. So a deaf Chinese person could speak to a deaf Irishman without any trouble.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Apparently there is indeed, and the really cool thing about it is that it was a pidgin that was adopted and standardized. Sign language is exactly that - a language in its own right with its own grammar and idioimatic use. I remember being blown away when I read that deaf kids tend to make the equivalent kind of grammar errors in sign that kids learning spoken languages so. Speech is just the most common delivery mechanism we have for language.

As for Irish people communicating with Chinese, I'm not so sure. I guess this breaks down when signers resort to spelling. I also refer the honourable gentleman to the famous observation by George Bernard Shaw that the English and Americans were "two nations divided by a common language". According to the wikipedia article linked above there's a European-wide naturally occuring sign language that went through the full pidgin-to-creole transformation. I wonder whether even International Sign has begun to see dialects developing.

languagelearner said...

Tones are rather strange for me too,but I have heard that Chinese people can be just as tone deaf as we can in terms of music,I think it was Chinese-pod who mentioned it.
I share the same questions as Chris as well,but the answers may be far more complicated for someone who's not studying the language.