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Hakka Tones

I have looked around the internet for a discussion of this, but there just seems to be a blank. So here is my go at it. I am not a linguist and so I shall do my best to define the words that I will be using. It will be a 'make it up as I go along'-page, so don't hold your breath. (Updated to include SL Lee's suggestions.)

Sounds and Tones

This is crucial to the way I shall present the information so they will be defined here as :
      the bringing together of letters to form the written version of a word
  2. TONES
      the varying of the musical or tonal pitch of a given sound value to produce different words

Hakka Tones

I wish to credit C.F. Lau for pointing out in an e-mail to me recently that

> Your did not put the tone value in your spelling. It is not very difficult to count. 

> For example, the first to sixth tone in my accent is represented by:


> fun1 (divide), fun2 (grave), fun3 (powder), fun4 (portion), fud5 (hole in the ground),

> fud6 (budda)

In Hashimoto's book "The Hakka Dialect", he gives a treatment on the tonal systems through the use of pitch contours of a number of Hakka Dialects. The Shataukok dialect pitch contours are listed as (1: /33/) (2: /11/) (3: /32/) (4: /53/) (5: /3/) (6: /5/). His source is Henry Henne, Sathewkok Hakka Phonology, Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap 10. p. 1-53. 1964.

Pitch Contours

An arbitary scale of 1 through to 5 tone levels is used as a reference to the amount of change in pitch that a sound undertakes. The pitch variation is enclosed by two forward slanting slashes //. The first number is the initial tone level that starts of the tone, and the last number is the final tone level that ends the tone. In the Shataukok dialect, the fourth tone is given the pitch contour /53/. This means it starts at level 5 and falls to level 3, and so on for the other tones.

The SaTdiuGok Hakka Tonal System's Pitch Contours
Click here for a Real Audio playback of the examples given in the table above.

The Moi Yen tone contours are as follows. (1: /33/)(2: /11/)(3: /31/)(4: /55/)(5: /31/)(6: /44/). The tones 5 and 6 are underlined to distinguish them from the other contour values.

Tradtionally the tone number represents

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

Click below for sound samples

SaTdiuGok MoiYen
1yin pin sangl
mid level/33//33/
ma jiam on sang
2yong pin sanglow level /11//11/
ma zam van miang
3song sangmid falling /32//31/
ba tam pin giang
4hi sanghigh level /53//55/
sa am mun ngang
5yin ngip sangs
mid falling /3//31/
gap git gok
6yong ngip sanghigh rising /5//44/
hap sit hok

Legato and Staccato

It is surprising therefore for there to be four legato and two staccato tones. If we substitute the words long sound and short sound for legato and staccato respectively, we realise that the only way a sound can stay long (in the time to speak it), is that it must end in a vowel, or consonant with heavy off glide, or 'humming' of the sound. Similarly, for there to be a short sound, it must be brought to a sudden halt by a consonant.

The latter point is served when we examine the word lists of the short low tone 5, and of the short high tone 6. After surveying Hashimoto's word lists, I have observed that the words ending in consonants 't', 'k', and 'p', with their counterparts 'd', 'g' and 'p' are usually tone 5 or 6. Hashimoto's phonological treatment is given in pages 90 to 95.

So far we have concentrated on the two short tones. Of the other legato or long tones, the Moi Yen dialect has tone 3 simialr in pronunciation to tone 5. In fact this is reflected in Hashimoto. I was puzzled for a while why this was so, since he adopts two tone marking systems; one, a numerical system as described above, and the other a graphical system of angle lines to a vertical stem. He had only five unique graphical tone markers. On reviewing his work again, we realise that the pitch contours he used for the Moi Yen dialect has the same tone level vales in tones 3 and 5. In the Chung Shan dialect, (1: /24/)(2: /11/)(3: /42/)(4: /55/)(5: /1/)(6: /5/), the staccato tones 5 and 6 mirrors tones 2 and 4 respectively, giving the appearance of four basic tones. In my own Shataukok dialect, tone 5 near-mirrors that of tone 3 instead of tone 2. Tone 6 near matches that of tone 4. (With staccato, the abrupt stop produces one level, whilst in legato, sounds are elongated slightly bring the tone level down a level).

Below are the Real Audio files (each approximately 3K in size best with at least a 28.8kbps modem) of the four legato and two staccato tones. Please click on the underlines tones to hear fun 1 to 4 and fud 5 and 6. (see earlier). If you do not have a Real Audio player, you may aquire a free download from their site at In descendency of pitch the highest legato tone would be tone 4, then tone 1 , tone 3 and tone 2 respectively.

You may like to compare the following tones tone 5 : tone 3 and tone 6 : tone 4.


When a glide is applied to a sound, it draws the consonant or vowel out into a longer sound. This gives the sound a legato label for our purposes. On-glides appear at the beginning of a word, off-glides at the end.


These are the abrupt ending of a sound, which for our purposes produces a staccato effect.

Sa Tdiu Gok Romanisation : Back to Hakka Links : Back to Dylan's Homepage

© Dylan W.H.S 1996-1998

except where otherwise noted.

This page was first created on Wednesday 24th September 1997.
and then updated Thursday 25th September 1997 and again
to include homotonic characters on Tuesday 27th January 1998.

You can E-Mail me on anything within these pages.