figures speakingIn obtaining language comprehension,  it is important to understand the total language.  What makes a total language?  For starters, a total language is very different from a tonal language.  A tonal language is one in which pitch is used as part of speech.  Examples include Mandarin and Vietnamese.   Vietnamese is a tonal language that has 6 tones: mid-level, high-rising, low-falling, low-falling-rising, high-rising broken, and low-falling broken.  In other words the word “ma” can mean: ghost, mother, but, tomb,  horse, or rice seed depending on the pitch of the “a.”

Vietnamese and Mandarin also share some of the characteristics of a total language.  A total language is one which has, and makes use of: words,  letters, sounds,  gerunds, grammar, participles,  phonemes,  characters, punctuation, words of different sizes, infinitives, subject agreements, irony, sentence structure, inflection, cases, names,  correct spelling, and origin.  Linguist purists  have long debated whether  all 19 elements  are necessary for a language to be attain the coveted “total language” designation.  Most concede that a language need only to encompass enough of these fundamental elements to make communication possible.

English is not a tonal language. Do you speak or know anyone who speaks any tonal languages?

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One Response to Tonal vs. Total Languages: Do You Know The Difference?

  1. Drew says:

    Steve – great post!

    That actually leads me to my next question: did you plagiarize this from the linguists?!?

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