Lesson 0.1 – Chinese syllables, four tones, pinyin 


ExtraSMchineseffectYellow The register of Chinese syllables is limited – that is why Chinese needs tones 

Let’s say that you need to create a new word in English. You are free to create new sounds as long as the new word is pronounceable. 

Situation is different in Chinese.

There are altogether only about 400 syllables available. You can’t create new sounds. So… To make the arsenal of syllables almost four times wider, Chinese use four tones.

Change of a tone is equal to change of a letter in a syllable – it creates new category.

For instance: syllable  (in the first tone) is just as unequeal to the syllable  (in the fourth tone) as it is to the syllable 


ExtraSMchineseffectYellow  There are four tones (plus the “zero tone”)


1.      2.      3.      4. 


ExtraSMchineseffectYellow  One example is better than one hundred paragraphs



<Māma mà mǎ ma?>  

Mom _ to scald _ a horse _ question particle ma? “Does mom scold a horse?”

Of course this sentence does not make any sense – but it shows you, how “the same” syllable in different tones means different things.

If you take a close look on the characters, you will find that all of them have one component in common. I will talk about this more in the block 0.2.