Every so often, I get questions asking what an individual pinyin means, for example,
“I thought ‘ai’ means love, why on your post it says something else”,
“What is ‘Kai’ mean?”,
or the question below (see image) “‘Tiao’ means to jump but in the statement it changed, why”.
Sometimes I will also receive messages with everything written in pinyin (and without any indication of tones).
By all means, Chelsea appreciates people asking questions, and I understand where this is coming from, especially people who are used to the alphabetic language system, in which a set of alphabets match up together to form a word.
However, this is an entire different story in Chinese language. Pinyin are not words, they are just some phonetic symbols to help with pronunciations of actual words. This is exactly the same as the symbols behind each word in an English dictionary.
When you are asking what does ‘Tiao’ mean, it would be equivalent of asking what does ‘Im’ mean in the word ‘important’…Unfortunately it doesn’t mean much.
My fellow pirate ship member @voddy93 answered this question perfectly:
I hope this little post will solve some puzzles for you who are struggling to make sense of the language.
On the other hand, not only that different tones on a pinyin can mean different things, even pinyin with the same tone can have many meanings.
The best way to ask a question or to write to someone,is just to find the relevant Chinese character. However I also understand that Chinese characters are not easy to type, so alternatively you should at least add 1，2，3，4 behind a pinyin to indicate different tones, it would make it easier for the recipients to understand your message.
But above all, I believe that if you want to learn the language properly, you should start learning the characters!