Tonal Geometry—A Chinese Perspective

  • Matthew Chen
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT, volume 36)


The study of tone sandhi has a long tradition in Chinese linguistics. The earliest intimation of tone sandhi appears to be Zhongyuan Yinyun, a 14th century pronouncing dictionary of Chinese, where the author Zhou Deqing noted that in versification “it would be best to avoid a pair of Rising tones or a pair of Departing tones.” The Mandarin tone sandhi rule as we know it today had already found a clear formulation by the 16th century due to the Korean scholar Cui Shizhen in his Fanli or ‘General Principles’, which I quote in part:
  1. (1)

    If both syllables are in the Rising tone, then the circumstances make it difficult to retain the original tone. In this case, pronounce the first syllable like the voiced variety of the Level tone, and then the second syllable can retain its original tone when pronounced. (From Mei, 1977:238f)

A similar statement is found in the very first Western language grammar of Chinese written by Francisco de Varo, O.P. in 1682, whose statement is reproduced here:
  1. (2)

    mai, en tercera tonada es comprar,… mas juntandola con otra tercera, como mai ping, pronunciandolas juntamente el mai ba quasi a ser primera…(Francisco de Varo, 1682, Arte de la lengua mandarina, p.9)1



Level Tone Asian Language African Language Tone Language Terminal Element 
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

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  • Matthew Chen

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