HRT and tones

Sorry to sound my age, but I may as well weigh in on the plague of HRT (High Rising Terminal), AQI (as we Brits call it in tribute to our Ozzie friends), or even uptalk.

I’m not recommending the confident tones of Military Man, but it sounds so needy??? Like I’m really insecure??? I’m like, maybe you’re an extra-terrestrial alien who doesn’t understand plain English??? Or like I’m just talking bollocks???

The gender element is important too. Robin Lakoff, in her important book Language and women’s place (1975??? Sorry, that’s not HRT, it’s just surprise that she logged it so early??? Anyway, the 2004 edition has new annotations. Falling tone. So there) argued that women were socialized to talk in ways that lacked power, authority, and confidence. Her account of “women’s language” interprets HRT as a gendered speech style which both reflects and reproduces its users’ subordinate social status—uncertainty, hesitancy, and indecisiveness.

According to Sharyn Collins, uptalk has also become more popular because of our dwindling attention span. She believes that the rising tones we so often hear in snatches of conversation are in fact people striving to divert their companion’s attention away from their mobile phone. “People are checking as they speak to make sure you’re paying attention,” she says.

***

Meanwhile, in standard Chinese, the second ascending tone is one of four that help distinguish one character from another. But in Yanggao, home of the Li family Daoists, it’s not easily heard—siding with us old fogeys??? (Oops, there I go again). Adapted from my book, p.23:

One feature of Yanggao dialect that does strike my cloth ears is how the descending fourth tone is used with abandon, notably in place of the low dipping third tone, as in hashui (drink water: ha not he, note), pijiu (beer), fanguanr (restaurant), or ritual terms like dagu (playing drum) and xietu (Thanking the Earth)—all with a heavy accent on the final falling syllable, not the standard low dipping tone. With my notoriously poor grasp of the tones, this becomes something of a relief to me: if in doubt, use the fourth tone!

Yanggao peasants call a spade a spade. Not “a spade???”

Among the Daoists, apart from Li Manshan, most obstinate in clinging on to his dialect is Wu Mei; his voice is as characterful as his guanzi-playing. The Daoists love it when I mimic his question in Milan in 2012, when we were taking the train to Rome. In his version of “Does Milan have an airport?”, the feijichang of “airport” comes out with the final chang descending decisively. On my trip to Beijing with the Daoists, they do their best to adapt, but I’m reluctant to abandon it, to the consternation of my urban friends.

Conversely, around Laishui and Yixian counties on the Hebei plain,  the descending fourth tone of standard Chinese sounds like an exaggerated third tone, falling and then rising, as in the words si temple and hui association, both often quaintly melodic rather than conclusive—an echo of HRT???

We must resist HRT??? It’s like really irritating???

3 thoughts on “HRT and tones

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