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Hakka Tones


The tone of a syllable can be the difference in meaning between two otherwise similar sounding syllables. Most Hakka dialects have six tones. The Shatoujiao Hakka in this site also has six tones. There are two type of tones, legato, and staccato. Hakka legato tones end in vowels, or nasal endings of the types /-m/, /-n/ or /-ng/. Hakka staccato tones are abrupt in quality, and associated by an occlusive ending of the types, /-p/, /-t/ or /-k/.

Example :

Click the table and you can download a Real Audio file of the sounds represented below.

Readings of the same tone

Below, the table shows examples of character of the same tone type in Hakka. I have deliberately made the examples such that there are example of vowel, nasal and occlusive endings. Real Audio files are provided.

(Traditional Tone
Tone ContoursExamples of Homotonic
Characters and their sounds
in Sa Tdiu Gok Hakka

Click below for sound samples

1yin pin sang
(Upper Level Tone)
(mid level)
(mid level)

ma jiam on sang
2yong pin sang
(Lower Level Tone)
(low level)
(low level)

ma yam van miang
3song sang
(Rising Tone)
(mid falling)
(mid falling)

ba cam pin giang
4hi sang
(Deparating Tone)
(high falling)
(high level)

sa am mun ngang
5yin ngip sang
(Upper Entering Tone)
(mid staccato)
(mid falling

gap git gok
6yong ngip sang
(Lower Entering Tone)
(high staccato)
(mid high

hap sit hok

How many tones can one really detect?

For this variety of Hakka, if we ignore the traditional definition of the RuSheng (Ngip Sang) or Entering Tone (those syllables having a occlusive ending such as -p, -t and -k), then we can see from the tone contours that tone 5 is about the same pitch as tone 3, and tone 6 is approximately the same as tone 4, so we can percieve only four tones.

We can compare them in the following:

Percieved Tones /33/ /11/ /32/ /53/
Examples fun1
to share, divide
tomb, a grave
a share, dividends
a hole, a depression

Tone Sandhi

So far we have considered single readings of characters individually. When two characters are brought together, the tone of tone character may change because of the tone of the other. This change in tone is known as tone sandhi.

For the majority of Hakka dialects, which belong to the JiaYing subgroup, tone sandhi occurs on the first syllable if the following syllable is of a lower tone for some tones only. For example, if [xn] is a syllable with tone n, the for the Jiaying Hakka subdialect of Shatoujiao:

ShatoujiaoTraditional Tone Categories
Tone x1 x2 x3 x4 x5 x6
Yin Ping Yang Ping Shang Qu Yin Ru Yang Ru
Normal /33/ /11/ /32/ /53/ /3/ or /33/ /5/ or /55/
/33/ > /34/ or /35/

[x1] + [x2]
[x1] + [x3]
[x1] + [x5]

/53/ > /55/

[x4] + [x1]
[x4] + [x2]
[x4] + [x3]
[x4] + [x5]

============= =============
Tones [x1] and [x4] are sandhied when it is followed by a tone which has a lower pitch.

Hakga Index

© Dylan W.H. Sung 2000.

This page was created on Saturday 29th April 2000,
and was recently updated on Monday 13th November 2000.