To native Mandarin speakers (NSs), how salient is tone vs other phonemic features?
The question comes up a lot for me, a non-native speaker (NNS), just because tone is an order of magnitude less salient. That is, if I miss any feature of a word, it’s almost sure to be the tone before, say, whether the beginning sound was a /ch/ or /s/.
But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t apply to NSs. An incident I heard about had the NNS mispronouncing shòu as shǒu when attempting to say “她很瘦” (she’s so thin). What came out, then, was “tā hěn shǒu” which was unhappily understood as “tā hěn chǒu” (她很丑 = she’s so ugly) by the NS.
Still, I have some vague intuition that NSs are more flexible on tone than on other features. In that vein, this quote in China Media Project caught my eye the other day. It’s referring to how an online commenter sneaks in a reference to the Nobel peace prize by substituting characters:
the user replaced the characters for “peace” + “prize”, or hépíng jiǎng (和平奖), with the same-sounding characters “crane” + “level” + “palm”, or hè píng zhǎng (鹤平掌). [tone marks added to original Pinyin]
So here we’ve got a tone switch with matching phonemes, hé vs hè, but we’ve also got a phoneme switch with matching tone: jiǎng vs zhǎng. This is new for me. Of the online puns I can think of off the top of my head, all rely on matching phonemes with mixed-up tones, e.g. cǎo ní mǎ. But new-to-me doesn’t mean much. Anyone else have examples of phoneme-switching-tone-preserving puns?