Prosody is the rythm, pitch, "melody" of a language. When to pause, when to raise the pitch at the end of the sentence, that sort of thing. According to several researchers, prosody is much more important to "sounding right" than pronounciation of individual phonemes. If you've got the prosody down, you can butcher some phonemes and still sound pretty much native, though maybe native with a speech impediment or a dialect.
Despite this, prosody is very seldom taught in language instruction. ChinesePod is no different; while there's the Pinyin Program for learning to pronounce the phonemes, there's nothing at all to help the learner get the rythm of the language down. So until we get some resources from CPod, we're left to our own devices. So:
1: Do you know any resouces for learning Mandarin prosody? There's lots of documentation on it in French, but I haven't seen any for Mandarin. Any book you've read that deals with it?
2: Do you have any ideas on how to study it? I've done a lot of shadowing (ask if you don't know what that is) and I think that helps, but I'm looking for other methods, as well. How can I model my own prosody to that of the native speakers?
pretzellogicDecember 17, 2009, 12:12 PM
I'd never heard of prosody. But until about 8 years ago, I'd never heard of markedness. But to answer your question....
My only suggestion is to shadow a good mandarin speaker who goes through all emotional phases/states (except those states he might be in when his concubines are around). The Emperor in the movie "Hero" does this. I am told that his Mandarin is worth emulating.
bababardwanDecember 17, 2009, 12:16 PM
Interesting that you say there's lots of documentation on it in French.I would have thought this is just one of those things that ends up coming naturally with time and lots of imitation/practice and didn't need to be formally taught.I would have thought your shadowing to be a good technique.Does the French stuff just document what it is and talk about it ,or does it suggest that it needs to be taught? If it did suggest that it needed to be formally taught,was there much there in the way of substantiating evidence that it made much difference?
simonpetterssonDecember 17, 2009, 12:38 PM
When I studied French at Uni, the grammar book had a great section on prosody. There were rules governing how the pitch went up and down in a sentence and such. Naturally, these weren't really extensively memorized, just like declensions and such grammar, but reading about it made one understand how the prosody worked and made it easier to identify the melody, rythm and stress patterns in French.
As to "picking it up naturally" it can happen, but it doesn't necessarily. It's too fickle a method, as I see it. For some scientific background, ckeck out this webpage about the work of Olle Kjellin, reknowned Swedish linguist. Unfortunately, it's not very exhaustive. More unfortunate is that Kjellin's chorusing method, which he claims teaches prosody very effectively, requires not only a teacher, but also a minimum of eight students to work effectively. For the individual autodidact, the method is impractical.
bababardwanDecember 17, 2009, 01:34 PM
ok,I'm being lazy [big day] and have only read the abstract so far ,but 3 things jumped out at me from that:
1."Guided"...I'll have to see more what they mean by this ,but I would have thought that just pointing out that trying to emulate the rhythm,pitch,melody is important and to practice,practice,practice.I'm just being the devils advocate here mate,but it reminds me of personal trainers when it comes to getting fit.Some people really benefit from them ..but I think it's often for the motivation and commitment as much as anything else..not from a lack of knowing how to get fit.Others can just go jogging/gym whatever by themselves and get the job done.
2."Imitate native like pronunciation"
3."but experimental evaluation has yet to be performed."..ok,this was 10 years ago and maybe there is some evidence by now.
This sort of stuff sounds right up Ken's alley.I bet he'd be interested in discussing it if you could get his attention.It would be most interesting to hear what he, John or Jenny thought.
bababardwanDecember 17, 2009, 02:21 PM
A couple of other thoughts/questions.Where would you see such teaching sitting? I know with a lot of important things to learn in a field of study it's always tempting to say this should be taught from the beginning,but I would think other than perhaps a very brief mention,it would sit best at intermediate level.There are other things to concentrate on prior to that.Also,how would you envisage it being taught? Something along the lines of it's own programme like the pinyin programme.Once again,if it were to be taught,I would think like a personal trainer it would be easier to get this stuff across in a one on one situation like you get with a guided subscription.
This discussion does remind me though of how there was a fear among the male poddies that we were imitating too much [the wonderful female teachers] and becoming ,to use a Jenny turn of phrase, "girly men" .Thus,the warm reception David received when he entered the realm of the Advanced podcasts,hehe.Hey,I don't mind though.The musical nature and the extra expression that brings is for me one of the big appeals of Mandarin.
simonpetterssonDecember 18, 2009, 06:09 AM
Alright: Where would I see this teaching sitting?
Well, The great thing about CPod is that it's modular, so it's up to each and every learner. I'm not gonna sit here and say how I think this should be implemented. That's up to CPod, and if they don't think it's important enough, it's their call. Ultimately, we're all responsible for our own learning, so we might have to do this stuff ourselves.
That said, Kjellin thinks that this should be done right at the beginning. I'm somewhat of a believer in the "listen a lot before you speak" approach, even though I'm not aware of any evidence for it (or against it; I don't think studies have been made). Therefore, I'd place this right at the beginning of pronounciation practice. Practicing prosody should be the first speaking you do. For me, that would be (if I did it all over again) at around the Elementary-Intermediate level, since I'd want to delay speaking. For many others, it would be earlier. The key here is that bad habits can be "fossilized" and hard to change, as is evident by people having lived 20 years in a country and still speaking with a thick accent (=bad prosody).
Kjellin points out in the article I linked to that mispronounciation of individual phonemes often go undetected by a native speaker if the prosody is right. That is, you can botch some of the pronounciation and they won't even notice. He also says that listening to a speaker with an off prosody will be mentally tiring and the interlocutor might well cut the conversation a bit short.
For the individual learner, maybe chorusing together with short phrases would work. I think I'll give that method a try. That is, listening to a sentence played in repeat and then "chorusing" along with it (as opposed to "shadowing", which I normally do). Listening 10-20 times first and then repeating up to 100 times, as suggested by Kjellin for the real chorusing pracitce in classes.
EDIT: Wohoo! I just discovered I have EXACTLY 2,000 words in my vocabulary list. Awesome!