Tone sandhi

Tone sandhi
Sound change and alternation


Tone sandhi is the change of tone that occurs in some languages when different tones come together in a word or phrase. It is a type of sandhi, or fusional change, from the Sanskrit word for "joining".


Languages with tone sandhi

Not all tone languages have tone sandhi. Sandhi rules are found in many of the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico. Cherokee has a robust tonal system in which tones may combine in various ways, following subtle and complex tonal rules that vary from community to community.[dubious ]

Many Chinese languages have tone sandhi, some of it quite complex. While Mandarin sandhi is simple, Amoy Min has a more complex system, with every one of its tones changing into a different tone when it occurs before another, and which tone it turns into depends on the final consonant of the syllable that bears it.

Amoy tones in isolation, and the changes they undergo when they precede another tone.

Amoy has five tones, which are reduced to two in syllables, which end in a stop consonant. (These are numbered 4 and 8 in the diagram above.) Within a phonological word, all syllables but the last one change tone. Among unstopped syllables (that is, those that do not end in a stop), tone 1 becomes 7, tone 7 becomes 3, tone 3 becomes 2, and tone 2 becomes 1. Tone 5 becomes 7 or 3, depending on dialect. Stopped syllables ending in /p/, /t/, or /k/ take the opposite tone (phonetically, a high tone becomes low, and a low tone becomes high), whereas syllables ending in a glottal stop (written h in the diagram above) drop their final consonant to become tones 2 or 3.

The seven or eight tones of Hmong demonstrate several instances of tone sandhi. In fact the contested distinction between the seventh and eighth tones surrounds the very issue of tone sandhi (between glottal stop (-m) and low rising (-d) tones). High and high-falling tones (marked by -b and -j in the RPA orthography, respectively) trigger sandhi in subsequent words bearing particular tones. A frequent example can be found in the combination for numbering objects (ordinal number + classifier + noun): ib (one) + tus (classifier) + dev (dog) => ib tug dev (note tone change on the classifier from -s to -g).

What is and is not tone sandhi

Tone sandhi is compulsory as long as the environmental conditions that trigger it are met. It is not to be confused with tone changes that are due to derivational or inflectional morphology. For example, in Cantonese, the word "sugar" (糖) is pronounced tòng (/tʰɔːŋ˨˩/ or /tʰɔːŋ˩˩/, with low (falling) tone), whereas the derived word "candy" (also written 糖) is pronounced tóng (/tʰɔːŋ˧˥/, with mid rising tone). Such a change is not triggered by the phonological environment of the tone, and therefore is not an example of sandhi. Changes of morphemes in Mandarin to the neutral tone are also not examples of tone sandhi.

In Hokkien (Taiwanese), the words kiaⁿ  (high tone, meaning "afraid") and lâng (curving upward tone, meaning "person") combine to form two different compound words with different tones. When combined via sandhi rules, kiaⁿ  is spoken in basic tone and lâng in original tone (written in POJ as kiaⁿ-lâng). This means "frightfully dirty" or "filthy". This follows the basic tone sandhi rules. However, when kiaⁿ  is spoken in original high tone, and lâng rendered in low tone (written kiaⁿ--lâng), it means "frightful". This derivational process is distinct from the semantically empty change of tone that automatically occurs when kiaⁿ  is followed by lâng, and so is not tone sandhi.

Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin features three sandhi tone rules.

1. When there are two 3rd tones in a row, the first one becomes 2nd tone. E.g. 你好 (nǐ + hǎo = ní hǎo)

2. 不 (bù) is 4th tone except when followed by another 4th tone, when it becomes second tone. E.g. 不对 (bù + duì = bú duì)

3. 一 (Yī) is 1st tone when alone, 2nd tone when followed by a 4th tone, and 4th tone when followed by any other tone. Examples: 一个 (yī + gè = yí gè), 一次 (yī + cì = yí cì), 一半 (yī + bàn = yí bàn), 一般 (yī + bān = yì bān), 一毛 (yī + máo = yì máo), 一会儿 (yī + huǐr = yì huǐr).

See also

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