Is it possible to sing in Chinese?

Forgive me if this question sounds ridiuclous, but since Chinese is a tonal language it seems to me like it would be pretty damned difficult to sing anything since the way you say a word would be completely changed. How is it possible to sing in Mandarin? :confused:

It’s plenty possible. My wife is from PRC, she tells me when you sing you pretty much ignore the tones and apparently native speakers have no trouble understanding you because they can tell what you are saying from the context. Only certain words make sense when combined with the other words around it, so to speak.

In my experience listening to Chinese music, I think it’s more a matter of producing the correct tone within whatever note you’re singing. Tone values are are relative, after all. The syllable may call for a high tone, rising tone, falling tone, etc., and these can all be produced within the note required by the tune of the song.

IANALinguist, but: People don’t generally use tones when singing. It’s still easy to understand. Hell, it’s possible to speak Chinese with no tones and be understood under most circumstances. The real problem is when foreigners unfamiliar with the language use the wrong tones.

I asked my Chinese teacher this questions once. Her reply was that the songwriter has to know the tones and make the notes match (or vice versa). During the period when government was controlling all the arts, they convinced people to write new words to well-known tunes. Many of the folks willing to do this were not of the highest caliber, so the results were sometimes amusing–I remember something about a song that was supposed to be praising the revolution but sounded more like a discourse about a cat with a big, fuzzy tail.

(that memory is very old and probably inaccurate, but you get the idea)

will this help Moon Prayer (Ting Ting)

I know next to nothing about Chinese music or Chinese language, but I know something about Western music. That’s what the above link is. This woman may be playing a pipa, but she is singing in a Western musical scale, in Western musical harmonies, with Western muscial rhythms. I do not see how this can help anyone understand Chinese language and how it is set to music in any traditional way.

How about the Christmas Story scene in the Chinese restaurant? Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra.

Tell me about it. When I was in China I had a hell of a time in restaurants because when I ordered dumplings they thought I was saying sleep. It beats me how they couldn’t get it from the context. I assumed they were having a bit of fun with the “big nose”.

There was an Italian guy there who could sing in Chinese, phonetically. I don’t know how good he was, but when he sang karoake he got a huge round of applause. It might have been points for trying. He couldn’t speak a word of Chinese otherwise.

Basically, what people said - you just ignore tones. Singing in English cuts plenty of linguistic corners too, what with substituting “‘n’” for “and” and the frequent use of sentence fragments. The meaning gets through.

That is, unless you’re listening to Chinese opera shudder. Whenever I go to my older relatives’ house, they have it on. If you think Western opera’s annoying to the initiate…

:confused: Chinese has the syllable “la”.

I think Cats is confusing Chinese with Japanese, which doesn’t make much of a distinction between the R and L sounds.

Oh god. I’m sorry, but I HAD to comment on this and warn people. For those unfamiliar with it, Chinese Opera is NOT singing :eek: It’s an exquisitely terrifying form of aural torture perfected over hundreds of years of turbulent Chinese history, incorporating such elements as Rage of the Mongols, Unholy Sacrifices for our Holy Emperor, and Unsilenced Pain of a Thousand Eunuchs. If Hell had a soundtrack, this would be it.

Proof (not safe for work – or anywhere else, really, if you value your sanity)…

Scary, scary stuff :frowning:

Chinese pop industry is a multi billion dollar business. If you’ve got trouble thinking that melodic Mandarin would be difficult to sing, try Cantonese. All the big canto-pop stars now also sing in mandarin.

Chinese opera is an acquired taste…and after 20 years in China I doubt I’ll ever acquire the taste. Frankly I think it’s popularity is only with people over about 80 years old. Do check out the movie Farewell to my Concubine, which is not torturous to listen to. It stars Leslie Cheung, HK movie star and Canto-pop sensation who tragically committed suicide a couple of years ago. Here’s a link from Time Magazine’s top 100 films

Back in one Linguistics class, the class and the prof were discussing the issue of singing in tonal languages. We decided, after listening to a couple of our classmates whose native languages are tonal languages, that the singer still produces a tone for the sound but that he or she will pick either the beginning, middle, or end of the sound to match the tone to the note.

We also decided that the matter bears further research. The quarter ended soon after the discussion so, of course, we all blew of the research issue.

I third the warnings about Chinese opera. I foolishly attended a Cantonese one in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year once. Luckily I managed to get out before my brain made an escape bid and crawled out of my bleeding ears.

The horror. The horror.

I also knew an Mandarin opera singer from Beijing who used to drink one too many tsingtao and give us a blast. It was excruciating.

Anyway, on occasion I asked my Canto friends what the words of a particular pop song meant, and quite often they knew the general gist, but didn’t know in detail, because the tones had been subsumed by the tune.

Jet Jaguar, FlyingRamenMonster, athelas, and jjimm say: no tones in Chinese song. The explantions given sound plausible.

**sundog66, NoCoolUserName, ** and Monty say the tones are somehow folded into the melodic pitch.

This sounds like the Sprechstimme developed by Arnold Schoenberg in Pierrot Lunaire. Did he get the idea from Chinese song?

There is the distinct possibility that there are differing qualities of Chinese songwriting. Canto- and Mando-pop pap churned out with trite melodies (or merely copies of existing western pop tunes) might be atonal, while classical music is more thoughtfully composed.

Hahahahaha! :smiley:

I still like it :frowning:

(sort of) related question.

I was watching House of Flying Daggers last night, and ziyi Zhang’s character sings a rather lovely song- does anyone have any idea if it is actually an old Chinese song, or a modern song written for the movie?