yep, mandarin has 5 tones and cantonese has 7 tones.. (also IIRC cantonese had 9 tones a few hundred years ago, I am not sure on my point of reference there, but I remember reading/hearing that at college, so that point might be innacurate.)Shirasagi wrote:
Perhaps what your friend was trying to say is that many Chinese characters with the same phonetic sound often share a character. For example, ma (horse) 馬 (in Mandarin Chinese). Many other characters that share the "ma" pronunciation (but with different intonation) share the horse character, although their meanings are quite distinct. For example, ma (question particle) 嗎, and ma (mother) 媽.
Now, there are no inflection marks for characters, but there is an official PRC romanization called Pinyin that does use intonation marks. For example,
mā - horizontal bar indicates high, level tone. This is the one used for "mother".
má - rising to the right indicates rising tone.
mǎ - v-like mark indicates a dipping tone. This is the one used for "horse"
mà - falling to the right indicates falling tone.
ma - no mark indicates neutral tone. This is the one used for the question particle.
Now, while the use of tones is similar in Cantonese (although it has more differences in tones) and the same Chinese characters are used to write it, it doesn't make use of any intonation marks in its romanization, largely because there's no real consensus romanization for Cantonese.
I think the ma with the rising tone marks a question.. thus not being careful you could call your mom a horse or even say mom is horse? lol.. of course in this case horse doesn't mean that she can't speak because her throat hurts.. lol