Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I fear I'm just not musical enough

Yet another reason why I don't learn Chinese....

Sorry, I don't get the tone thing at all. I guess I just have a tin ear.

Perhaps if I'd started younger, I might have had a chance. An item in the UK's Daily Telegraph last week reported a recent scientific study which seems to suggest that learning a tonal language in childhood may help you to develop perfect pitch.

Hmm - I confess to a certain scepticism on this. The Torygraph story is too slight to be of much value, and I can't see why it is 'news' now, since the original study appears to have been done back in 2004! Aha! I've just discovered this article in the New Scientist, which is evidently what prompted the Torygraph hack into action; but even this is dredging back into the past researches of Dr Diana Deutsch, not turning up anything new. I found rather more interesting (oh, how Google sucks you in!!) this piece from Scientific American which suggests that there may be a genetic predisposition to developing/using/learning a tonal language. You see, that feels like my problem: I've out-evolved the tones!


JES said...

When I was managing a large group of programmers back in the '80s, 3-4 of them were native Chinese speakers who had picked up at least as much English as they needed to get by -- in some cases that was quite a bit.

Having noticed as they'd struggle for just the right word (they were really sincerely trying to get it right), I thought Well, this isn't 100% fair. Why don't the rest of us make some effort to reach them, too? So I enrolled their de facto ringleader, a woman named I-Ping, to run an occasional lunchtime lesson in speaking Chinese.

It was disastrous and heartbreaking, at least for me. The effect must have been comical; my memory now is that I imagined tone in a one-to-one relationship with eyebrow altitude, so as the tone (in theory) went uuUUP so did my waggling brows. The lessons went on for a couple months, but the group's manager dropped out after the first three lessons or so. My forehead was exhausted.

The only way I justified this failure to myself was knowing that no one else in the group had ever read Horace and Livy in the original. Heh.

(Now don't go quoting them and the rest, on the assumption that I'll get the in-jokes. It's been 30 years!)

Froog said...

Yes, well, nearly that long for me too. I did quote (and translate) some Catullus on here a while back.

The head-bob on the third tone is pretty much essential, I find. I haven't tried Roger Moore-ish eyebrow gymnastics, but..... whatever works for you.