In 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?