Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Discussions on the Cantonese language.

Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by rathpy » Tue Jul 02, 2002 12:53 am

The CCDICT help page for Cantonese jyutpin romanisation, located at describes tones #4 and #6 as "lower level" and "lower departing" respectively. However, whenever I listen to a jyutpin WAV file example (linked to from the dictionary), I consistently perceive the pitches to be around the other way, i.e. I would describe a #4 WAV file as "low descending to very low", and a #6 WAV file as "low (starting just above the #4 low) faltering downwards slightly".

Are the WAV files perhaps using a different tonal numbering system to jyutpin?

James Campbell

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by James Campbell » Tue Jul 02, 2002 2:04 am

There shouldn't be a problem with the numbering system. It's just from what perspective you read their descriptions. Modern tone contours in the various languages do not match their ancient counterparts.

Lower level = Yang Ping tone (equiv. to Mandarin 2nd tone)
Lower departing = Yang Qu tone (equiv. to Mandarin 4th tone)

See my last few posts under "Cantonese originally not Chinese" (around post 115 on) where I post the cross-language tone categories and tone contours, including Cantonese.

Ping, Shang, Qu, Ru are the tone category names that have been used for thousands of years. Some English translations use terms like level, entering, departing, lower, upper, and so on. I prefer using Yin, Yang, Ping, Shang, and so on. These terms are related to the ancient tone contours than the modern ones.

There is a poem written about it:


In ancient Chinese, the Ping tone was probably a mid-flat tone as found in present-day Changsha Xiang or Guilin Mandarin. The Shang tone (pronounced shang3 in Mandarin) is described as a high flat tone as found in Jinan Mandarin. The Qu tone is described as a long and low tone as found in present-day Chengdu Mandarin. The Ru tone is described as having a short, clipped sound, about half the length of a Ping tone, as found in Yangzhou Mandarin and Nanchang Gan.

James Campbell
Sum Won

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by Sum Won » Tue Jul 02, 2002 2:11 am

If any of you don't know the 1-5 system used, you get Adobe Acrobat Reader, and check this file:
It has a diagram, and delves into some other aspects of Chinese linguistics.

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by rathpy » Tue Jul 02, 2002 7:09 am

James, thank you for your references (and to Sum Won for the link that helped me with the contour numbering system).


The following are summaries of tone descriptions from sources available to me:

CCDICT Help web page:
..1.....upper level
..2.....upper rising
..3.....upper departing
..4.....lower level
..5.....lower rising
..6.....lower departing
(.7.....upper entering - substituted by #1)
(.8.....middle entering - substituted by #3)
(.9.....lower entering - substituted by #6)

Unicode's Unihan data file:
..1.....High level/high falling
..2.....High rising
..3.....Middle level
..4.....Low falling
..5.....Low rising
..6.....Low level

Roy T. Cowles "A Pocket Dictionary of Cantonese"
../.....upper rising
.......upper going
..-.....lower even
..u.....lower rising
..^.....lower going
(none)..upper entering
..o.....middle entering
..-.....lower entering

Yeun, Y.C. "A Guide to Cantonese"
(none)..high even
../.....high rising
.......high falling
..-.....low even
..u.....low rising
..^.....low falling

"Cantonese for Foreigners" North Point, Hong Kong : Wan Li Book Co. Ltd., 1988
..1.....upper even
..2.....upper rising
..3.....upper departing
..4.....lower even
..5.....lower rising
..6.....lower departing
..7.....upper entering
..8.....middle entering
..9.....lower entering

The description systems above have some similarities but are different enough between them to confuse. Could you please further explain how ancient tone contours are a factor here? (Are the English descriptions based on ancient names of tone contours?)


Would you say that the numbering systems that are used by all the systems above should be the same, i.e. the same number/corresponding diacretic would be applied consistently?


In the other post you refer to, which name chart is for Cantonese??? (Guangzhou?, Toisan? ...). Sorry, I don't know.

In the charts, how do I know which tones are assigned which numbers? eg. tone 1A matches tone index #?


In the jyutpin example WAV files (that this web site links to), I would say that the tone contours *approximate* the following: (as a musician, I can tell how far apart the tones are, in semitones, for example, but are unsure how to assign this to the 1-5 scale).


I'll have to wait until I can verify which Tone Contour Chart I should look at for Cantonese, but this doesn't look (sound) right.


Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by rathpy » Tue Jul 02, 2002 7:22 am

In my last post, I mistakenly inverted the 1-5 scale. It should read:
James Campbell

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by James Campbell » Tue Jul 02, 2002 11:38 am


The order or counting of tones in each language varies. One must understand that no matter how you count them, they are all a subset of one and the same system. Mandarin 3rd tone is not going to equal the 3rd tone in Cantonese, Taiwanese, or Shanghaiese. You have to use a universal system in order to compare not just between languages but between dialects as well. That universal is the original Chinese tonal system from which all modern dialects evolved.


That system consists of 4 tone categories. Eventually, each tone split into a higher and a lower one. Normally words with starting with voiced consonants all dropped to the low tone. Mandarin doesn't have any voiced consonants left except for m, n, l, and r. Mandarin only has one split (in Ping--the 1st and 2nd tones), so anybody can do this: open your dictionary and find how many words starting with m, n, l, and r are in the Mandarin First Tone (Yin Ping) and how many are in the Second Tone (Yang Ping)? Except for those very few exceptions (like ma-ma) that have occurred, most words follow the rule--they've dropped to the Second Tone.

Most of the modern Chinese languages function in this way. And if you can understand this system, it makes it a lot easier mapping out your tones when switching between languages.


So the way the tones are counted and listed in the modern languages is completely irrelevant to this universal system I just described.

Cantonese normally counts the tones in the following order:
......I....II...III..IV (upper / lower)


S. Min:
Actually the 6th tone is the same as the 2nd. I suppose it was originally counted, but it has essentially merged.



Since in some cases tones have merged or they are equal to the contours of another tone, instead of leaving the space blank in the chart, I could write in the tone contour that it equals. In most cases, such as the Mandarin and the S. Min, the blank Yang tones have merged with their Yin counterparts, so it's not necessary to write them in. I leave them blank. Of course there are still characters that belong to those Yang tones, but they are just read the same as those they've merged with.

But in the case of Shanghaiese, it's not that simple. Notice that there are no tones in the II category (Shang). So, we know that Chinese has Shang tones, but what happened to them, where did they all go? So here it is necessary for me to write in where they've gone. If I write the following:


it is unclear to me which tones have merged. In fact it looks like a whole bunch of tones are exactly the same. So which ones have merged? The best way is to reference the merged tones to the one(s) they have merged to. In order to this, we just use the coordinates in the chart. So those coordinates are:


So for the Shanghaiese, 2A = 3A, and 1B = 2B = 3B. So in 2A's place we write 3A, and in 1B and 2B's place we write 3B:


So Mandarin could be written in this way, but it looks a little cluttered because of all the merges:



All the characters in the language can be categorized into one of the 8 tones. Except in Cantonese you have the special Yin Ru tone split which adds a little complication. Like I said in my other post, those Ru tone characters with an 'ae' or 'a' (we write & and A in ASCII IPA) in ancient Chinese get split into that lower Yin Ru tone (the middle tone). So by knowing what category a character is in, you can easily cross-reference its tone contour in any language.

Take for example the character 淡 (3C). This is a Yang Qu character (lower departing?). So this is tone 6 in Cantonese, a merged tone 3 in Mandarin, a tone 3 in Shanghaiese, and a tone 7 in Taiwanese. If I know the tones well in each language, they should be easy to remember then. So then, in IPA: tam22 in Cantonese, tan51 in Mandarin, tam33 in Taiwanese changing to 11 before other words, and de14 in Shanghaiese usually becoming just 11 before other words (notice that Shanghaiese still uses the voiced consonant d, just like ancient Chinese).


So here are the tones in some Cantonese dialects. Some sources vary a little bit. All those listed below are Cantonese, the first two being more or less the standard.

......I.....II...III..IV (upper / lower)

......I.....II...III..IV (upper / lower)

......I.....II...III..IV (upper / lower)

東莞 (莞成)


......I....II...III..IV (upper/lower)

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by rathpy » Wed Jul 03, 2002 7:23 am


The tables you provided say that the contours for Cantonese tones #4 and #6 are 21 and 22 respectively.

Your contours match what I hear on the sound files linked to from this CCDICT site.
eg. Listen to and compare: - pitch descends very low - level pitch

I still really can't understand why anybody (including the CCDICT Help web page) would name these tones as "#4 lower level" and "#6 lower departing" when the meanings are actually around the other way.

The important thing is, though, that I apply the correct tone contours to the correct characters. I originally thought that perhaps the jyutpin romanisation might have switched tones indexes #4 and #6, different to other schemes, but it seems not; because the sound files match the contours you provided, and also, the tone indexes nominated by Unicode's Unihan database (which use a 6-tone "Modified Yale" system) seem to be consistent with the jyutpin tone indexes. Yale uses the same tone numbering you suggested, right?

Regarding the universal tone classification system you described.. I can see how it allows you to take a character and readily determine its tone contour in a different language; But aren't the language differences more than just tone contours? I mean aren't the basic consonants and vowels of words different too? (I dunno, It's just what I've been told).

James Campbell

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by James Campbell » Thu Jul 04, 2002 5:37 am

You wrote:

I still really can't understand why anybody (including the CCDICT Help web page) would name these tones as "#4 lower level" and "#6 lower departing" when the meanings are actually around the other way.

Ok, you have to understand the Chinese characters for the tone classes to understand why they call it that, and then their translated meanings.

1. Lower refers to Yang tones (the lower row in the tone charts I provided before), they are usually lower in pitch than Yin tones (the upper row). So it can refer to two things: the lower pitch (not always true) and the lower row in the chart.

2. The names of the tone categories in English are:
平 = level
上 = ascending (I'm not sure if this is the term they use)
去 = departing
入 = entering
Why are they called these funny names? I don't know, but maybe the poem I provided helps explain. But at least each character is a representative of that tone class.

So Lower Level refers to the tone in the first column, lower row of the chart. That tone is 21, and 21 has nothing to do with the name "Lower Level"

Lower Departing refers to the tone in the 3rd column (called departing), lower row of the chart. That tone is 22, and this 22 has nothing to do with the name "Lower Departing"

3. It doesn't matter what language or what tone contour the Lower Level or the Lower Departing is, they will always be referred to in the same way. In Mandarin the Lower Level is actually a rising tone 35--go figure. You see what I mean? Tone contours can change quickly over time, but the names are as old as time itself and they no longer apply to the real contours or pitches of the modern dialects. Except in a few cases (by coincidence) that they still match, which I already mentioned:

By coincidence, these tones match the contours of these modern dialects (any others--I'm not sure):

Ping = Modern Changsha Xiang or Guilin Mandarin
Shang = Jinan Mandarin
Qu = Chengdu Mandarin
Ru = Yangzhou Mandarin or Nanchang Gan

If Cantonese contours do not match, it's not by accident and it's no surprise, and it's one dialect of hundreds that don't match.

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by rathpy » Thu Jul 04, 2002 7:37 am

Hey, thanks for your patience, James.

I started off just wanting to learn "Cantonese". Since then, I've had to learn about phonetics, the IPA (alphabet), several romanization schemes, unicode logic, keyboard input methods, some history, some pinyin (because a lot of writing texts are in pinyin), etc. phew!

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Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 3:53 pm

Re: Tones 4 & 6 in jyutpin

Post by sheik » Wed Jul 17, 2002 12:19 am

rathpy wrote:
> I started off just wanting to learn "Cantonese". Since then,
> I've had to learn about phonetics, the IPA (alphabet),
> several romanization schemes, unicode logic, keyboard input
> methods, some history, some pinyin (because a lot of writing
> texts are in pinyin), etc. phew!

I can definitely relate to this :)

/dam (finding the scope of learning Cantonese to be quite incredible too!)

Learn how to read, write and speak Cantonese!

Thanks again James

Post by rathpy » Thu Aug 29, 2002 12:17 am

If James Campbell is still around, I'd just like to say thanks again for his work on this old post. I think it's only now that I probably fully understand all that was written. It probably doesn't directly help with my beginner efforts to learn Cantonese, but has enabled me to understand the seemingly conflicting tone names/categories that I find in different books. I don't think I would ever have 'cracked the code' to know that Cantonese tones commonly numbered 4, 5, 6 & 9 are described as "lower" because they were on the bottom row of some ancient tone chart. This, and the info provided on mapping between tones, contours, dialects is fascinating, and helps makes sense in a complicated arena.