Ni2 hao3 ma5, actually
Ni3 hao3 ma5
gremlins wrote:The other day in Chinese class, I said "you're a good horse" instead of "how are you?" (ni3 hao3 ma3 vs ni3 hao3 ma1).
actually. The usually third tone ni
changes to second tone when followed by another third tone.
(I've also seen the transcription "ma0".)
In Hanyu pinyin, "ma" is the standard transcription. Toneless syllables are unmarked when diacritics are used - adding a diacritic when using the numbers just seems redundant
It's not first tone, but neutral tone, which means its pronunciation is conditioned by the syllable before it. After third tone, it usually ends up as upper-mid level , which is close enough to first tone  that you might not notice the difference.
Not exactly. The pitch is conditioned by the preceding syllable, true, but calling it  and saying it sounds close enough to  to be confused with the first tone masks the defining characteristic of the light (or toneless) tone: it is much shorter than the 4 proper tones. It has no real length and no contour like the others do. It can't really be confused with the first tone if pronounced properly because it is so much shorter - it sounds like an english unstressed syllable [except for the shwa-ing, although many chinese speakers do that]. If you're going to give it a number value, I would recommend doing it in the same way as the cantonese short tones and writing it as 4 rather than 44, which erroneously implies ithas length [to begin and end on 4, when really it just hits it momentarily].
@gremlins - further to the tone change thing, "you're a good horse" would be pronounced as Ni3 hao2 ma3
(or ni2 hao2 ma3
) because of the way the third tones change. It sounds confusing, but there are catually only a tiny number of tone change rules to worry about, and most of them happen naturally when you speak without you having to force them much. If you're interested, PM me. Two of the rules - about tone change of bu4
"not" and yi1
"one" - are outlined in this thread
where it was [falsely] claimed that Mandarin had no allomorphy. The only other rule really is the third tone one.
Personally my biggest problem with Chinese is remembering to stress the second syllable of words, not the first as is my habit in English.