Ep08: Tone Change Rules - Part 1

Ep08: Tone Change Rules - Part 1
Pronounce it like a Pro

 
 
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In this episode, we’ve talked about “when” exactly to change tones in a Taiwanese phrase or sentence. In particular, this Tone Change Rules Part 1 episode is about the tone change in Nouns, Time Words, and Measure Words.

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

TONE CHANGE HELP GROUP WORDS TOGETHER

What’s interesting about Taiwanese is that it uses tone changes to help group together ideas and thoughts.

In a typical sentence, most syllables change tones and only a few spots will hold on to their original tone. Those spots stand out more and mark the end of a “tone change group”. It’s kind of like a landing spot where you can rest before you begin your next concept, idea, or thought.

You can also think of it as a type of punctuation, like:

The day before yesterday, comma, my brother, comma, went to see a movie, period.

“The day before yesterday” is like one whole unit that talks about time even though it consists of several words. “My brother” is another unit, which is the person or the subject. And “went to see a movie” is also another unit that says what he did. Taiwanese tone change is used to group words together into these larger units.

LEARN FROM WHAT YOU HEAR

Most native speakers are unaware that tone changes exist, let alone all the rules for when to apply tone changes. Typically native speakers just recall how they’ve heard something said before.

For some new coinages and unfamiliar words, even Taiwanese people might have trouble using the right tone or changing the tones correctly.

You also see many native speakers unable to tell you the original tones of words that rarely appear at the end of a phrase, or that aren’t easily broken down. That’s because they’ve only heard them as a changed tone and hardly in isolation.

Learning tip:

Our hope is that by learning these rules, you’ll be equipped with the tools to analyze any sentence that you’ve already heard or maybe seen written out, and be able to figure out which tones change and how the sentence should sound. That way, you can read it aloud to yourself with the correct tones, and start getting your mind used to hearing the correct pronunciation. Soon, you’ll start to speak by recalling what you’ve already heard before, and start repeating whole phrases or chunks with the correct tone, and not trying to think about it at the individual word level.

TONE CHANGE: COMMON NOUNS AND PROPER NOUNS

A “noun” is a person, place, or thing. In a sentence, they’re like the key players that stand in for the subject, object, or location.

1. One-syllable nouns

One-syllable nouns always in the original tone regardless of where it falls in the sentence.

tsheh4 “book” (a thing)
ang1 “husband” (a person)
tau1 “home” (a location)

Exception:

Words like “guá” (I), “” (you), “i” (he/she/it) are “pronouns”, which often behave a little differently than nouns. We will cover this in another episode.

2. Nouns with more syllables

Usually all the syllables before the final syllable will change.

Word in isolation Word in isolation Combined in a noun phrase
thâu5

(head)

moo1

(hair or fur)

thâu7-moo1

(hair on one’s head)

Tâi7-uân5

(Taiwan)

7

(speech)

Tâi7-uân7-7

台灣

(Taiwanese language)

Ka7-7

(Chiayi, a place name)

tshī7

(city)

Ka1-gī3-tshī7

嘉義

(Chiayi City)

Ka7-7

(Chiayi, a place name)

kuān7

(county)

Ka1-gī3-kuān7

嘉義

(Chiayi County)

Tshuà3

(a family name)

Tik8-hông5

(a given name)

Tshuà2 Tik8-hông5

蔡 德

(a person’s full name)

Lâu5

(a family name)

i7-su1

(Dr.)

Lâu7 i7-su1

劉 醫

(Dr. Lâu)

Âng5

(a family name)

sió1-tsiá2

(Ms.)

Âng7 sió1-tsiá2

洪 小

(Ms. Âng)

Khóo2

(a family name)

sian7-sinn1

(Mr.)

Khóo2--sian0-sinn0

先生

(Mr. Khóo)

Ka7-5

(a given name)

hiann1

(older brother)

Ka7-hô7 hiann1

家豪

(a friendly and respectful way to call someone named “Ka-”)

Siok8-hun1

(a given name)

tsí2

(older sister)

Siok8-hun7 tsí2

淑芬

(a friendly and respectful way to call someone named “Siok-hun”)

Exceptions:

The title “--sian-sinn” (Mr.) is different because when it’s attached to a name as a title, it’s said in the neutral tone. The syllable before a neutral tone keeps their original tone.

When a full name (family name + given name) is used together with a title, e.g. “Âng7 Siok8-hun1 sió1-tsiá2” (Ms. Âng Siok-hun) or “Tshuà2 Tik8-hông5 sian7-sinn1” (Mr. Tshuà Tik-hông), it is more natural to separate the title and the full name into two tone change groups.

Also, when the noun phrase gets very long or too difficult for the speaker or listener to process, people would naturally break it down into smaller units. For example, “National Taiwan University Teaching and Learning Center” would be more naturally pronounced as:

Kok8-li̍p8 # Tâi7-uân5 # Tāi3-ha̍k8 # Kàu2-ha̍k4-tiong7-sim1

National # Taiwan # University # Teaching and Learning Center

(the “#” sign marks the break of the tone change group)

TONE CHANGE: TIME WORDS

“Time words” are words like tomorrow, Thursday, in the afternoon, and so on. Regardless of where they are in the sentence, the final syllable will keep its original tone.

Word in isolation Word in isolation Combined in a noun phrase
1-pài3

(week)

3

(four)

1-pài2-3

禮拜

(Thursday)

tíng2

(last)

1-pài2-3

禮拜

(Thursday)

tíng11-pài2-3

頂 禮拜

(last Thursday)

Exceptions:

If more time words are combined to form a larger “time phrase”, they might be separated into smaller groups just like the very long noun phrase example above.

Here are some situations where time words are more naturally separated into smaller groups:

Pattern Example
Year: YY (#) YY

(optional break between the 2nd and 3rd digit)

It8-kiú2#-tshit8-lio̍k8

(Year 1976)

Year # Month-Date It8-kiú2#-tshit8-ngóo1 5 # gōo3-gue̍h3 tsa̍p4-7

七五 年 # 五月 十

(1975-May-12)

Day # Time pài2-sann1 # e7-poo1

三 #

(Yesterday afternoon)

pài2-7 # nn̄g3 tiám2

二 #

(Tuesday at 2 o’clock)

Part of the day # Hour Tsái1-khí2 # peh2 tiám2

起 #

(8 o’clock in the morning)

Hour (#) Minute

(optional break)

nn̄g3 tiám2 (#) 2-tsa̍p4-gōo3 hun1

點 (#) 四十五

(2:45)

But:

nn̄g3-tiám2-puànn3

兩點

(half past two; as one time word)

TONE CHANGE: MEASURE WORDS

Measure words”, or sometimes called “counters” or “classifiers” are used when you count a noun. For example, “seven books” would be “seven + measure word + books” in Taiwanese.

A number plus a measure word, either with or without the noun, is grouped together by the tone change. Only the final syllable is in the original tone.

Number Measure word Noun
tshit4

(seven)

pún2

(MW for books)

tsheh4

(book)

tshit8 pún1 tsheh4

七 本

(7 books)

tshit4

(seven)

pún2

(MW for books)

--

(“book” omitted and understood from context)

tshit8 pún2

(7 of them = books)

WORDS USED IN THE EXERCISES

Exercise 1 - Common nouns

ke7-thng1

chicken + soup

→ “chicken soup”

7-uân5

fish + ball

→ “fish ball”

tiān3-hué2

electricity + fire

→ “light” or “lamp”

tiān3-ping7-siunn1

電冰

electricity + ice + box/case

→ “refrigerator”

kong7-tshia7-tsām7

公車

public + car + stop

→ “bus stop” or “bus station”

Exercise 2 - Family name + given name

Tân7 luî5

1) Taiwanese writer (1939- )

Selected works:

Hiong-Póo-”, a novel of Roman-Fleuve style and in the form of anecdote telling based on Taiwanese history and folklores.

Tân-luî Té-phinn sió-suat-tsi̍p 短篇 小說”, a collection of Tân-luî’s short stories, 5 volumes.

2) Taiwanese singer (1963-)

Active period: 1991-present

1 bîng5

Taiwanese political activist (1918-2019), wrote “Taiwan's 400 Year History”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Su_Beng

Siau7 Thài2-jiân5

泰然

Taiwanese composer and musician (1938-2015)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyzen_Hsiao

Sòo2 Huân7-tsin1

素 還

Popular fictional character in “Pòo-tē-布袋”, Taiwanese glove puppetry. The character was created in 1988 on a TV puppetry show.
Liāu3 Khîng7-ki1

廖 瓊

Kua-á-歌仔” (aka Taiwanese opera) diva/maestra (1935-)

https://www.moc.gov.tw/en/information_225_77020.html

Ông7 Io̍k4-tik4

王 育

Taiwanese language scholar (1924-1985)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ong_Iok-tek

Exercise 3 - Titles

Ngôo7 i7-su1

吳 醫

Dr. Ngôo
Tiunn7 lu̍t4-su1

張 律

Lawyer Tiunn
Lîm7 thài2-thài3

林 太

Mrs. Lîm
N̂g5--sian0-sinn0

先生

Mr. N̂g
Ka7-hô7 hiann

家豪

Ka-hô (+ respectful title “older brother”)

“家豪” is the statistically most common name in Taiwan (2018, Ministry of the Interior).

Siok8-hun7 tsí

淑芬

Siok-hun (+ respectful title “older sister”)

芬” is the statistically most common name in Taiwan (2018, Ministry of the Interior).

Exercise 4 - Time words

la̍k4 tiám2

6 o’clock
la̍k4-tiám1-puànn3

六點

half past 6, or 6:30
1-pài2-gōo7

禮拜

Friday
āu31-pài2-gōo7

後 禮拜

Next Friday

Exercise 5 - Measure words

tshit8 ki1

seven of them

(MW: for long, stick-shaped objects)

tshit8 ki1 pit4

七 枝

seven pencils
peh2 bué2

eight of them

(MW: for fish, snakes, worms and dragons)

peh2 bué15

八 尾

eight fish
káu1 pue1

nine glasses/cups
káu1 pue7 tsuí2

九 杯

nine glasses of water

Music Credit: TeknoAXE

 

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