Examples include: 是、去、在、要、就、但、没有、如果

Not sure how to back up this question, except to mention that I've received feedback from natives that I tend to overdo these words' pronunciations (especially 是). I've also seen 是 labelled as shi0 instead of shi4 in a few textbooks. Also, when I listen to native speech, I am under the impression that a handful of words in a sentence are naturally (perhaps automatically) glossed over/sped up in order to stress the more important words in a sentence (and, for natives, this I imagine is done for the sake of convenience too).

From these observations, I've surmised that the tones of common words in daily speech are usually glided over more rapidly than other words that are not as common (particularly in situations where it is clear which word is intended e.g. 我是学生 cannot be interpreted as *我时学生 etc).

Is there any credit to this hypothesis? Is it okay to do the same as a learner i.e. to glide over some of the more commonly spoken words in a regular conversation?

Similar posts: What difference(s) does it make to use the citation tone instead of the neutral tone, for the tail character in these words?

words where it is important to distinguish between the neutral tone and the citation tone especially @L Parker's point number 5 on quasi-neutral tones

1 Answer 1

  1. I discussed quasi-neutral tones in the fifth point of my answer to another question here. Salient points include:

    • Usually, a stress is placed elsewhere in the sentence. Such words (edit: usually frequent words / function words, i.e. 虛詞) are therefore weakened in their presence. See the three examples in my orginal answer for more details.
    • The tone sandhi is facultative (i.e. the citation tone and quasi-neutral tone coexist), not obligate.
  2. They are not glided over when, e.g.:

    • There is pragmatical reason to place stress on them. You emphasise in 我是學生 when e.g., someone is doubting your identity as a student. Interestingly, 學生 may become relatively toneless in the presence of a stressed , especially in rapid speech.

    • There is contextual reason to place stress on them, e.g., when you are delivering a speech (especially the 朗誦 kind that values intonation, more so than 演講). Otherwise, in oral exams, if you are expected to be conversational, gliding over is permissible, even more natural.

  • (From Point 5 of your quasi-neutral tones post: "家中光景很是慘淡。(hěn shì > hěn shi): in the presence of the stressed adverb 很 indicating the severe extent of poverty, 是 should be read lightly.") So if I stress 很 e.g. XXX很难 does 难 become neutral/spoken lightly? Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 23:47
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    @MuchAppreciated25 I think it is best to not overgeneralise the rule. The list you provided in the question only contains frequent words and/or function words (虛詞); the same goes for the examples I quoted in my fifth point (是, 在, 還+V, 快+V). // 難 as an adjective meaning 'difficult' seems to be the odd one here; there seems to be some semantic 'gravity' in it, unlike frequent/function words. It should not be glossed over easily.
    – L Parker
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 1:48

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