Tonal LanguagesMost of all the languages spoken worldwide are tonal languages. With tonal languages, the pitch of the tones is crucial. They determine what meaning words or syllables have. Thus, the tone belongs firmly to the word. Most of the languages spoken in Asia are tonal languages. For example, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese. There are also various tonal languages in Africa. Many indigenous languages in America are tonal languages as well. Indo-European languages mostly contain only tonal elements. This applies to Swedish or Serbian, for example. The number of tone pitches is varied in individual languages. Four different tones are distinguishable in Chinese. With this, the syllable ma can have four meanings.
They are mother, hemp, horse and to rant. Interestingly, tonal languages also impact our hearing. Studies on absolute hearing have shown this. Absolute hearing is the ability to identify heard tones accurately. Absolute hearing occurs very rarely in Europe and North America. Fewer than 1 in 10,000 people have it. It's different with native speakers of Chinese. Here, 9 times as many people have this special ability. We all had absolute hearing when we were infants. We used it to learn to speak correctly. Unfortunately, most people lose it later on. The pitch of tones is also important in music. This is especially true for cultures that speak a tonal language. They must adhere to the melody very precisely. Otherwise a beautiful love song comes out as an absurd song!