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Chinese names for tones

Posted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 5:02 am
by johnyork
Chinese names for tones

When discussing tones with native Mandarin speakers, I use the following names to identify the 5 tones of Mandarin.
(1) 阴平声 high, (2) 阳平声 rising, (3) 上声 dipping, (4) 去声 falling, (5) 轻声 neutral

This is fine for discussing any of the 5 tones of Mandarin Chinese. However, when I want to identify a tone outside of Mandarin Chinese, this is where I need the opinion of native Mandarin speakers.

Here are some tones (outside of Mandarin) that I am refering to by their name in Chinese.

低平声 (literally low level tone)
入声 (literally entering tone) (i.e. a syllable that ends in a glottal stop)
中平声 (literally mid level tone)

So my question is this. Would you understand 低平声, 入声 and 中平声 if I used these words with you?

Re: Chinese names for tones

Posted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:15 pm
by Abun
Hello Johny,

I'm admittedly not a native speaker, but I would definitely understand you if you used those words in Chinese. In English, you would probably have to explain the concept of a tone before being able to speak of mid level tones or the like. But once the other person got the idea, it shouldn't be that much of a problem.

I would however be careful to use the word 入声/entering tone for tones in non-sinitic languages because the term is part of the original four-tone distinction of Middle Chinese (平上去入). 平 was a level tone, 上 and 下 probably a rising and falling one respectively, 入 was the term for the shortened tone on syllables with a -p, -t or -k ending. However as Chinese changed over the centuries, the tones also changed. Therefore, the 上, 去 and 入 distinction is today not more than a name and doesn't really describe what the tone sounds like (平 is a different case, I'll come to it later). Indeed, they sound very different from each other in the different Chinese languages. For example, 阳平声 is a high rising tone in Mandarin (about 35 for Beijing), but in Taiwanese Hokkien for example, it is a dipping tone much like 上声 in Mandarin, but at a higher pitch (about 325). Therefore, I you cannot use 上, 去 and 入 to refer to tones in other languages. 平 is a slightly different case because apart from the ancient 平 category, it is also used to describe a level tone contour.

To make things short, for non-sinitic languages I would use terms like 中平生、高升声 and so on and avoid the terms 上, 去 and 入.

Btw., I would be interested in hearing your experiences of using the terms you listed for the Mandarin tones. I would have thought that the average Chinese is maybe familiar with the terms 第一、二、三、四声 but not with the terms 阴平、阳平 and so on.



Re: Chinese names for tones

Posted: Mon Apr 21, 2014 3:16 pm
by Abun
And btw, sorry for getting the word seperation in your user name wrong :roll: