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Home > Knowledge Bank > Learning Mandarin > Some Rules of Tone Sandhi

Some Rules of Tone Sandhi

2011.10.20


Students in Mandarin learning courses will meet the phenomenon of tone sandhi. Most of them will feel quite confused about this. In order to help them pronounce more exactly, here we have a summary for parts of the rules of the phenomenon.

The tone sandhi of the sound “一”is quite common in speaking. One thing that students who learn Mandarin should know is that the original tone of “一”is the first tone. For example, when “一”is used independently, when it is used to represent ordinal number like “第一名” and when it is used in the end of a word like “唯一”, “一”should be pronounced as the first tone.

Students who learn Chinese language may ask that when the tone sandhi will occur? If it will occur except for the three situations mentioned above, then how it should be transformed?

The teachers of Keats school in Kunming to study Chinese concluded the two rules for the tone sandhi of “一”.
Rule-1: in the pattern of 一+the character of the first/second/third tone, “一”should be pronounced as the fourth tone. For instance,
一+character of the first tone: 一生yì shēng,一天yì tiān,一些yì xiē
一+character of the second tone:一直yì zhí,一同yì tóng,一齐yì qí
一+character of the third tone:一点yì diǎn,一起yì qǐ,一手yì shǒu
Rule-2: in the pattern of 一+the character of the fourth tone, “一”should be pronounced as the second tone. For example:
一+character of the fourth tone:一半yí bàn,一共yí gòng,一切yì qiè

After learning this, we will also share some rules for the tone sanhi of “不”,for this is also an important part for students who are in Chinese language school. The original tone of “不”is the fourth tone. Generally, it won’t be transformed, except for one situation when the character behind it is the fourth tone and “不”will be pronounced as the second tone. For example, 不对bú duì,不要bú yào,不是bú shì,不但bú dàn,不错bú cuò.

You can see that although the situation of tone sandhi is quite few, the words of tone sandhi are quite common in daily life. Therefore, students who study Chinese should practice more and learn well. As for tone sandhi, students will be quite confused in their elementary stage of learning Chinese and always forget the tone sandhi or misuse the tone sanhi.

As the improvement of Chinese language level, the rules of tone sandhi will be gradually remembered by their brains. But there are still many students will forgetting the tone sanhi when they are speaking. Thus as the teacher of the Mandarin language courses in China, you should help them to correct the mistakes.

In addition to these situations, there is still another tone sandhi------neutral tone. Neutral tone means that some character loses the original tone in flow of speech, which makes the sound very soft like no tones. Some students who learn Chinese in China asked the author that why neutral tone exists in Chinese language. The reasonable explanation for this question is that neutral tone can make Chinese languagesound more rhythmical and metrical like beautiful music.

Of course, the function of neutral tone is not only like the above. It is related with vocabulary and grammar. Firstly, some neutral tone can differentiate word meanings. You can give students who study in China an example: the word 兄弟 in Chinese; if the pronunciation is “xiōng dì”, it refers to big brother and the young brother; while if the pronunciation is “xiōng di”, it only refers to young brother.

Secondly, some neutral tone can differentiate parts of speech. The teacher used to give the following example to the students who study Mandarin in Yunnan:

The Chinese word 地道: if the pronunciation is dì dao, this word is adjective; if the pronunciation is dì dào, this word will be a noun. 

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