English is a Tonal Language

English is a ‘Tonal Language’ – surprise, surprise!

In Chiang Mai, a woman came to the course who could already read after a fashion and speak fairly fluently – but she came because she had a great deal of confusion about the tones, and so never bothered to “read the tones” – previously she simply tried to recognize the tone from memory of her spoken Thai.

The ‘Rapid method’ clarified the whole issue for her.

The main confusion, I think, is that the ‘Thai method’ uses the same terminology for classes and tones: high tone, high class – mid tone, middle class – low tone, low class (plus rising and falling tones)…

There is absolutely no relationship at all between the class and the tone!

Letters have sex!

That’s why I created a completely different way to classify the consonant classes:

  • ladies (for high class, because they are higher class creatures!!!)
  • ladyboys (for low class, because they are kind of lower class riff raff – not politically-correct and certainly insulting, but then this mnemonic is only for those who’ve already learned the ‘class system’); and
  • boys who are very simple non-descript creatures and who kind of float (fart) around in the middle…

English Tones

I also changed the tonal system – it may be technically accurate to describe them as high/low/falling/rising (in terms of tonality), but no native speaker ever thinks like that. When we ask a question, for instance, we never consciously make a rising inflection. It just happens naturally. Similarly, a Thai person never thinks: “Because the word ‘three’ has a rising tone, I have to deepen my voice and allow it to rise to a reasonably high squeaky pitch…”

So here is how to say the (four) Thai tones correctly using ‘English tones’:

  1. The so-called “rising tone” is our question“Why?”
  2. The so-called “high tone” is when we ask a question while feeling unsure or skeptical: “Are you sure?” “Is that the new iPad?
  3. The so-called “falling tone” is our emphasis or excitement“Yeah!”
  4. The so-called “low tone” is our sad or relaxed feeling“Oh dear….”

And I don’t like to refer to a 5th tone, but it could be considered a flat, boring, monotonous sound as in the shipping forecast!

That’s all there is to it. smiley