Ep06: The Ninth Tone

Ep06: The Ninth Tone
Pronounce it like a Pro

 
 
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In this episode, we’ve talked about the “Ninth tone” in Taiwanese.

(These show notes use tables and rich formatting. Please visit the episode webpage for an optimal viewing experience.)

WHAT IS THE NINTH TONE AND HOW DOES IT SOUND?

The “Ninth tone” is a “mid rising tone”, which sounds like a higher Fifth tone.

It is not an official basic tone and it appears mainly in the following situations:

  1. As a result of syllable contractions
  2. The first syllable of a triplicated adjective
  3. Foreign loanwords (mostly from Japanese)
THE WRITING OF THE NINTH TONE

The tone mark for the 9th tone is two slightly angled lines that looks like ending quotation marks. You will see many examples below.

Since this writing convention is relatively new and the 9th tone doesn’t occur very often, you might only see it once in a while in Taiwanese texts. But you will definitely encounter it in the spoken language.

Also, it’s heard in some onomatopoeia or some particles used to express certain moods, like the surprise sound “ha̋nn!?” or “ua̋!?”. Since they usually have a special, higher than normal rising pitch, some people will also use the 9th tone mark to write this sound.

THE NINTH TONE IN SYLLABLE CONTRACTIONS

Below are some examples of the 9th tone resulting from syllable contractions.

Original form Contracted form Meaning
e7-hng1

→ i̋ng9 tonight
tsa7-hng1

→ tsa̋ng9 yesterday
tiong7-ng1

→ tiőng9 middle
lâi7-khì2-1 + verb/location

來去...

la̋i9 to be going to
tann71

今仔...

ta̋nn9 just now, a moment ago
tsa7-bóo1-kiánn2

查某

tsa̋u9-kiánn2 daughter
tsiū3-án1-ne1 / tsū3-án1-ne1

就按呢...

tsua̋n9 / tsua̋nn9 therefore, as such
7-iàu2-kín2

無要

bua̋9-kín2 It’s OK. It doesn’t matter.

*Note that syllables that have been greyed out require a tone change

As we see from the examples, it mostly happens when a mid flat tone syllable is followed by a high tone syllable. When the two syllables merge, they naturally become a mid rising tone, or the 9th tone.

THE NINTH TONE IN TRIPLICATED ADJECTIVES

Triplicated adjective” happens when a monosyllabic adjective gets repeated three times. This is quite common in Taiwanese as a way to intensify the adjective. You can understand it as adding “really”, “totally”, or “extremely” to the adjective.

When we triple an adjective that is originally a 1st, 5th, 7th, or 8th tone word, the first syllable in the triplicated version turns into a mid rising tone, or the “9th tone”.

Here are some examples:

Adj Adj-Adj

“to be …-ish / to be sort of…”

Adj-Adj-Adj

“to be really…”

sio1 燒 (hot) sio7-sio1 siő9-sio7-sio1
oo1 烏 (black) oo7-oo1 őo9-oo7-oo1
tâm5 澹 (wet) tâm7-tâm5 ta̋m9-tâm7-tâm5
âng5 紅 (red) âng7-âng5 a̋ng9-âng7-âng5
tuā7 大 (big) tuā3-tuā7 tua̋9-tuā3-tuā7
7 霧 (blurry, hazy) 3-7 9-bū3-7
pe̍h8 白 (white) pe̍h3-pe̍h8 pe̋h9-pe̍h3-pe̍h8
si̍k8 熟 (cooked; familiar) si̍k4-si̍k8 si̋k9-si̍k4-si̍k8

Learning Tip:

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tones follow the regular tone change in triplicated adjectives. The rest use the 9th tone in the first syllable.

Another way to think about this is to remember that the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 8th tones are the ones that step downward, or lower the pitch, when they change tones. But in a triplicated adjective, they want to be different so they become a special rising tone that is even higher than a normal rising tone. This usually creates a dramatic up-down-up contrast in triplicated adjectives for the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 8th tones.

Tone category Regular tone change Adj-Adj-Adj special tone change
T1 (high flat) → mid flat mid rising - mid flat - high flat
T5 (low rising) → mid flat (mid falling) mid rising - mid flat - low rising
T7 (mid flat) → mid falling mid rising - mid falling - mid flat
T8 (high stop) → mid/low stop mid rising - mid/low stop - high stop
THE NINTH TONE IN LOANWORDS

Some loanwords, especially words from Japanese, have the mid rising tone in their first syllable.

Generally speaking, syllables that aren’t final in a word will change tone, but none of the tone change rules we have change to a rising tone. In other words, you normally wouldn’t hear a rising tone in the first syllable of a word. But this rising tone sound is common in Japanese loanwords, and so some people use the 9th tone mark when writing those loanwords to indicate that the first syllable is a special rising tone.

Here are some examples:

Taiwanese Meaning Japanese
ia̋n9-jín2 / e̋n9-jín2 engine エンジン (enjin)
la̋i9-lìn2-guh4 undershirt, tank top, muscle tee

(possibly from “running shirt”)

ランニング (ranningu)
kha̋ng9-báng2 billboard, signboard, shop sign 看板 (kanban)
li̋n9-jín2 carrot 人参 (ninjin)
ha̋n9-tóo2-luh4 steering wheel (from “handle”) ハンドル (handoru)
pha̋9-siàn2-too3 percent パーセント (pāsento)
sa̋m9-phú1-luh4 sample, sampler, tester サンプル (sanpuru)

Since Japanese loanwords don’t really have an “original” tone in Taiwanese, each syllable is just matched to a close equivalent in Taiwanese. The spelling may vary and there hasn’t been a strict standard as to how loanwords should be written in Taiwanese.


Music Credit: TeknoAXE

 

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