identical hanzi + meaning => different tones

VERY often, for multi character "words":
some dictionaries (eg KEY) changes the last characters tone to neutral
while other dictionaries (especially the grand ricci and chinese-chinese dicts) retain the last characters tone
this happens even though the associated meanings are identical

for example, 巴結, in KEY is ㄅㄚ ㄐㄧㄝ˙ and in GR is ㄅㄚ ㄐㄧㄝ´
in both instances with the meaning ~"to advance some cause" or "flatter"

i realize this is a newbie question, and being such a one, i would appreciate learning the why of this matter

it is not (always) due to the general tone changing rules (that i know) and i cant immediately identify a plausible stylistic reason (eg choosing not to "write out" a spoken tone change) behing the "discrepancy"

does there, in fact, exist different ways of "speaking" these multi character "words"?
in what circumstances and for what reasons?
is it a question of "colloquial" versus "formal, purist" pronunciation?

Hi rizen,

it's great that you noticed that! Many would pass over such a fact. I would put it down to a tendency of very commonly used words, like 知道 or 认识, where the second syllables are pronounced in the neutral tone, to lose their second syllable's tone, just because they're pronounced so often and it's clear what the speaker means, and it's easier on the vocal cords as well as quicker to pronounce than with two fully pronounced tones. 巴结 is also very commonly used, at least among pupils/students.

I think in linguistics, one refers to two opposing forces: A force of abrasion (wear and tear) and a force of distinction (the need for clarity). The losing of the tone would be a phenomon of wear (where distinctions don't matter, one just wants it to be more comfortable to pronounce), while the introduction of Chinese tones about 2,000 years ago would be attributable to the force of distinction, where one needed a new way to tell different syllables apart. Old Chinese didn't have any tones, though I'm not sure about the the time they came into the language.

Perhaps someone is able to provide the right terms for abrasion/distinction.


yep, I also find it a little sad that different dictionaries have different tones on that, some have neutral, some show the real tone of the character.
What I generally do is try to remember the tone of the single character no matter what, and I would say it's better to actually prononce the real tone rather than the neutral one.
If you can, check with locals how each word is supposed to be pronounced. In Taiwan there are many words that people don't pronounce like the pleco dictionaries.
Example (but not about neutral tones): 顫抖 in pinyin is chan4dou3 but it's pronounced zhan4dou3, so often I have to re-learn words...
Hi Francois,

good to hear from you again!

yep, I also find it a little sad that different dictionaries have different tones on that, some have neutral, some show the real tone of the character.
I think that's due to the fact that the dictionaries just trail behind, and that many language developments are seen as peripheral to the language for a long time.

If you can, check with locals how each word is supposed to be pronounced. In Taiwan there are many words that people don't pronounce like the pleco dictionaries.
You can also do the following: Check the Cross Straits dictionary for the Guoyu pronunciation, then change the pronunciation in the flashcard's pinyin field to the Guoyu one.
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interesting discussion, thanks
completely agree with the "purist" approach
first learn the "full" pronunciation (given fx by grand ricci)

would be perfect if, especially in flashcards, the user could choose

1) the dict and meaning/definition
2) the pronunciation

1 and 2 independently of each other
also, the flashcard choice should be independent of the general dictionary setting (eg. dict order)
although, certainly it would be nice to also be able to change the pronunciation in a (general) dict entry (eg in KEY)

going even further
pleco would be a fantastic platform for collaboratively creating a user dict
with an adequate user-entry-point-authority system (think quora or stack exchange: how good is this entry? is it plagiat?) the need for supervised moderation could be very low
Yeah, or if Pleco supported multiple pronunciations for each flashcard, like for Guoyu, Putonghua, or even Cantonese, and the user could make a global setting for which pronunciation they want to use, that would make it quite trouble-free if the right data is filled in from the dictionaries, as well.

In the case of 知道 or 认识, there is 道路、隧道、道德 and so on, or there is 识字、相识 and others where the tones aren't lost, so if you learn those words, you will know the actual pronunciation of the characters 道 and 识 without any extra effort.

I would estimate Pleco has about 50,000 active users (number of forum users times ten). :)
also, the flashcard choice should be independent of the general dictionary setting (eg. dict order)
You can actually change the dictionary for your flashcards, by going to card info > change dictionary / entry... but yes the default is according to your dictionary order settings

What I am curious of is how many people learn Chinese seriously, meaning not just 6 months or 1 year with school and give up later, but really go all the way until fluency.
I live in Taiwan for 6 years and I know nobody else (personally) that keeps studying year after year, speaks Chinese daily and can read books or watch movies only in Chinese...

I guess Shun is one of those dedicated people, and active on this forum for years hey :)
Hi Francois and rizen,

yes, though for me the most important dictionary that's at the top is also the most important one for the flashcard. Of course, one could also do a Batch job to reassign the flashcards afterwards.

Thanks Francois, we are right to be proud of our achievements. For the last couple of years, I had the problem while studying Chinese that I felt I needed to know the precise usage of a word right when studying it. This gets harder the more specialized the words become. But your example of just keeping at studying (with like a million repetitions) convinced me that there can be an intermediate stage to vocabulary acquisition, namely that you simply study the English/German/French definition closely and associate it with the Chinese word first. Then when you see the word in the wild, you can refine its meaning in your memory and only then really link it to your language center. There's no need to store it in one's memory with its exact meaning from the start. As you can see from my example, sometimes one can be one's own impediment.

I guess everyone's reasons for learning Chinese are different. Those people who quit early simply have no such reason. Then you just have to want it deeply, stay on your course until something good happens.

Because you're living in a Chinese-speaking area and I am not, you are surely more fluent than I am, though my vocabulary isn't bad, either. I've worked through the New Practical Chinese Reader volumes 1-6 once (just have to finish a few lessons in vol. 6), then I mostly watched movies and read real texts. But I will study more now in the way described above, thanks to your positive example!
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thanks shun, in addition to controlling, on a per individual flashcard basis, the dict used, i would also like to be able to choose the pronunciation used

i completely agree on your perspective on learning: first get the approx meaning down, then refine via use. besides, in maybe 2/3 of the cases, there really is only one core meaning (most often found as the 1st entry in grand ricci or student dict classical medieval) and all other meanings are derived from the core meaning. and, furthermore, those secondary or associated meanings are seldomly surprising since they reflect a common cognitive human background (vis a vis noam chumskys theory of the nature of language)
I'm sure something along these lines is coming in Pleco 4 (with custom flashcard fields) or a future version. You can, however, control on a per-flashcard basis what dictionary to use for it already now. If you enable the small Plus symbols here (the third setting from the top), you can directly save a flashcard using the dictionary you see by tapping on one of the the small Plus symbols that appear with each dictionary entry:

settings defin screen.jpg

Yes, thanks, I'm going to look that book from Chomsky up. It's true, while studying, you just check if you got all the meaning branches, then you can link them up quite easily. Usually, there is just one branch of associated meanings, but up to three or four are common.
yeah, but i feel that often even _branches_ that seem disconnected really are quite connected and just reflect specialized/historical uses of the same underlying meaning

to get to that realization you have to study a lot of examples and branches quite thoroughly. with time i think you develop an intuition of the semantic relatedness, that allow you to quickly extract the "headlines" of the branches and to, furthermore (in perhaps 2/3 of the cases) comfortably associate these branches with a single core meaning

all of this may, in fact, be a major boon of studying chinese, a cognitive capacity that you can carry over into your general understanding of the world;-)
Indeed! Especially if one goes back to the Old Chinese meanings, one can discover various deep connections. I agree that in two thirds of cases, these meaning branches all go back to the same stem/root. In the other 1/3 of cases, there is more than one meaning stem, i.e. they started from a different thing and happened to have the same pronunciation and character. There, you can only group the branches of each stem together, but that is equally rewarding, of course.

An example I just came across (a rather easy word): 销 to melt is surely of the same stem as 销 in 销售 to sell. What you sell melts away.

Well said, almost any new mental activity will broaden one's thinking radius, and learning Chinese, a very foreign, but developed language, can be a great catalyst. (not for everyone, but for whoever is open to it)

a major wish of mine would be to have a dict (perhaps user-collaborative) that only list the core meaning(s)
as few as possible, and with "headlines" as short and synthetic as possible
... while maintaining a satisfactory degree of "concreteness" (not easy, i realize)

maybe in 40% of the cases, that "list" could be a single entry
and the "headline" (in english) only a couple of words long

i would not need the explanations for the "headlines"
those would be long and winding and could probably be gauged just as well, or better, from other dicts

and, if existing, these explanations should go after the listing
making the headline meanings easy to assimilate cognitively

such a dict would be perfect for flashcard studying
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Hi rizen,

why not start creating such a dictionary for the first one hundred entries? Have you already tried disabling the example sentences in flashcards? That would make their text much more concise, as well.

Cheers, Shun
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thanks shun
yeah did that, first thing, some 2 years back;-)
as always, good pointers though, much appreciated
(this one, the per the indiv flashcard dict order one, abundance of general study tips and concrete language examples)
you should get a full time job doing this;-)
Thanks rizen! Nice to read this, I do like to give advice. ;) By giving advice to 1,000 people, one can positively influence the actions of this many people if the advice is good. If I'm not giving anybody any advice, I can only influence my own actions. :)
yeah, kudos shun
you know all the ins and outs of this app
and you answer (i feel) all inquiries instantly and in an easy to understand manner
i really think that your contribution is extremely useful to the whole community
of pleco users and of students of chinese that decide to become users via your "help desk"
(and, of course, together with the hyper intense "help desk" of mike love himself)
and the growth of pleco benefits us all
earning pleco more money, means making viable the further development 4.0, 4.1, ... 5, ... ("pleco glasses"?)
and supporting the expansion of chinese as a 2nd language
nothing short of that;-)
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