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[HugChina] Chapter 2:Chinese syllable, meaning, and word (2)

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Bernd Chang

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Posted on Thu, May 19, 2011 09:31 AM 01950



One of the features of Chinese is that each syllable is associated with a meaning. Word-speci?c tone changes in Chinese: there are certain tone changes that occur in speci?c Chinese words.

3. Word-speci?c tone changes

In addition to the tone changes mentioned in Chapter 1 for all third-tone syllables, there are certain tone changes that occur in speci?c words.

3.1 Tone change in the word ? bù

bù changes to bú when it occurs before another fourth-toned syllable in the same word, phrase, or breath group:

  4–4 2-4

not correct
Bù duì Bú duì

need not
bù  bì bú  bì

3.2 Tone change in the numbers y? 1, q? 7, and b? 8

The tone of the numbers y? 1, and, less commonly, q? 7, and b? 8 may change to second tone yí, qí, and bá before a fourth-toned syllable in the same word, phrase, or breath group:

  1-4 --> 2-4
?? altogether y? gòng --> yí gòng
?? certainly y? dìng --> yí dìng
??? a lifetime y? bèi zi --> yí bèi zi
??? seven dollars q? kuài qián--> qí kuài qián
?? eight fold b? bèi --> bá bèi

In addition, y? changes to fourth tone before syllables with ?rst, second, or third tone.


  1-2 --> 4-2
?? altogether y? zh?ng --> yì zh?ng
?? certainly y? tiáo --> yì tiáo
?? a lifetime y? w?n --> yì w?n

4. Change to neutral tone

In Beijing and northern China, certain syllables lose their original tone and are pronounced as neutral tone. This tone change does not occur in Taiwan, where all syllables retain their original tones.

The complete conditions for change to neutral tone are complex, but here are some general rules for the change of a second syllable to neutral tone.

• The second syllable is a repetition of the ?rst syllable:


  tone-tone --> tone-neutral
?? Mrs. tàitài --> tàitai
?? Yonger brother dìdì --> dìdi

• The second syllable is a suf?x that does not contribute a meaning to the word. This includes the suf?x ? z?, and the directional suf?xes ? tóu, ?miàn, and ?bi?n:

    tone-tone --> tone-neutral
?? child háiz?   -->     háizi
?? inside l?tóu   -->        l?tou

• The meaning of the second syllable is the same as or overlaps with the meaning of the ?rst syllable:

    tone-tone --> tone-neutral
??  clothing y?fú    -->       y?fu
  ? y? clothing ? fú clothing  
?? matter/situation shìqíng       -->       shìqing
? shì situation ? qíng situation  

The second syllable retains its tone when it adds to and expands the meaning of the ?rst syllable. Examples include:

?? ? ?
xuéq? xué q?
semester study interval
?? ? ?
zuòf? zuò f?
method of doing do method
?? ? ?
kànwán kàn wán
?nish reading read ?nish


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