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Running-Standing or Sandhi'ed-Default 該是「動調及靜調」還是「變調及本調」

(... back to Tadpolenese 摩登蝌蚪字...)

A monotonic view of the Hoklo language: how things went wrong

In the majority of Hoklo-language teaching materials that one can find today, we often see terms like default tone (本調), sandhi'ed tone (變調), or even "consecutive tone sandhi" (連續變調). Unfortunately, all these names are really misnomers for the stereotonic feature of Hoklo.

Let us start by understanding the meaning of tone sandhi (變調). For instance, from Merriam Webster dictionary we see:

Sanskrit saṁdhi, literally, placing together
Modification of the sound of a morpheme (as a word or affix) conditioned by syntactic context in which it is uttered (as pronunciation of -ed as \\d\\ in glazed and as \\t\\ in paced or occurrence of a in a cow and of an in an old cow)
This means that a given syllable has some default pronunciation (本調), but that in some particular situations, the default pronunciation undergoes some change (變調).

Problem number one: Default tone's frequency is too low

Unfortunately, Hoklo's stereotonic dichotomy does not fit this definition. First of all, in a typical colloquial speech, or written text, the so-called sandhi'ed tones are used by more than 70% of the syllables, while the so-called default tones are used by less than 30% of the syllables. The [70% : 30%] split often goes up to [80% : 20%] in longer sentences. How is it possible to call something the default tone (本調) when it is clearly used less often than the sandh'ied tone (變調)? This would be akin to calling the an in an old cow the default form of English's indetermined article, and the a in a cow the modified form of the same article .

Problem number two: "Sandhi'ed" tones are closer to other dialects, and to Middle Chinese

This is not the whole story. Some other facts serve to dispel the tone-sandhi misconception about Hoklo. First of all: by looking at Chinese dialectology, one quickly realizes that Hoklo standing tone values vary greatly from dialect to dialect, while their running tone values are not only more consistent within Hoklo language, but also are more consistent with other dialects like Cantonese. Hence, it is clear that Hoklo running tones follow the original Middle Chinese tones. That is, the so-called sandh'ied tones (變調) are actually the original tones (本調)!!! 

Running-Tone Tables

Cantonese (source: Wikipedia)
 55,53 35 33 5
 11,21 13 22 2

Quanzhou (source: 當代泉州音字彙)
 33 24 55 55,24
 22 22 22 22

Teochew (source: Wikipedia)
 33 35 52 5
 11 11 11 1

Taipei (source: Wikipedia)
 33 55 51 4,51
 31,21 ... 31,21 31,21

Middle Chinese (source: reconstruction)
 55 35 53 5
 11 13 31 1

 Standing-Tone Tables

Cantonese (source: Wikipedia)
 55,53 35 33 5
 11,21 13 22 2

Quanzhou (source: 當代泉州音字彙)
 33 55 41 55
 24 22,23 41 24

Teochew (source: Wikipedia)
 33 52 12 1
 55 35 11 5

Taipei (source: Wikipedia)
 55 51 31,21 32
 14,24 ... 33 4

Middle Chinese (source: reconstruction)
 55 35 53 5
 11 13 31 1

In the above tables, each table has two rows (Yin and Yang) and four columns (Ping, Shang, Qu and Ru). The upper row (Yin 陰) is named so historically, because Yin in Chinese refers to female quality, hence it signifies a higher-pitch tone. Conversely, the lower row (Yang 陽) carries the connotation of male quality, hence it signifies a lower-pitched tone. In the above tables, we have marked in red color those tone categories where the Yin-Yang rule is clearly violated. That is, the Yin tone being at a lower pitch than its Yang tone counter part. It is clear that for the Standing tone tables, the Teochew and the Taipei dialects violate the Yin-Yang rule in a number of categories, whereas in the Running tone tables, no violation is observed, at all. It should also be clear from straight comparison, that the Standing tone tables of Hoklo dialects bear closer resemblance to the Cantonese or Middle Chinese tone values.

In short, the so-called "sandhi'ed" tones are in all likeliness derived from the pronunciation of Middle Chinese, whereas the so-called "default" tones vary wildly from dialect to dialect (see e.g. Teochew's Yang-Ping category, which is very high-pitched). If anything, Hoklo standing tones are better candidates for the term "sandhi". Or equivalently, the so-called "sandhi'ed" tones are actually the default tones!!!

The term "consecutive tone sandhi" (連續變調) is particularly misleading in the case Hoklo. It only reflects the biased and monotonic perspective of those linguists that use the term. This misnomer has caused endless misconceptions and complications, when in reality Hoklo tones have a very simple stereotonic structure.

Problem number three: Real tone sandhi does exist in Hoklo

Thirdly and very importantly: real tone sandhi DOES occur in Hoklo, to a limited degree. So, by calling something that is not tone sandhi with this name, it only serves to blur away the real tone sandhi that happens in Hoklo. Real tone sandhi is particularly clear in some Teochew dialects, see e.g:, where one can observe that the pitch of some syllables are raised or lowered, depending on the pitch value of the preceeding or following syllable.

Another example of tone sandhi is in the different pitch values for the -h vs -p/-t/-k finals in the Taipei's Hoklo. Yet another example is the adjustment of pitch values before the 'al dimunitive. For instance, the running tone of 市 cirl is usually pronounced with a low-falling tone [21] in Taipei Hoklo, but when followed by the 'al dimunitive, as in 菜市仔 caiccirl'al (market), the pitch value is raised to [33].

Problem number four: Monotonic tone tables and confusing sandhi diagrams 

Given that Hoklo is a stereotonic language, it is therefore a mistake to give out only its standing tone values in a tone table. Unfortunately, this mistake is commonly seen in Chinese dialectology books and research article. Take for instance a snapshot of Wikipedia page on Taiwanese tones (, year 2008 A.D.):
Taiwanese tones
Pitch in
DescriptionPitch in
1yin level (陰平)a˥ (55)high˦ (44)high
2 (6)rising (上聲)á˥˩ (51)falling˥˧ (53)high falling
3yin departing (陰去)à˧˩ to ˨˩ (31~21)low falling˩ (11)low
4yin entering (陰入)ah˧˨ʔ (32)mid stopped˨˩ʔ (21)low stopped
5yang level (陽平)â˩˦ to ˨˦ (14~24)rising˨˦ (25)rising
7yang departing (陽去)ā˧ (33)mid˨ (22)mid
8yang entering (陽入)a̍h˦ʔ (4)high stopped˥ʔ (5)high stopped

We see that only the standing tone values are given in this table. And then, for the running tones, separate rules are introduced in the form of a tone-sandhi wheel diagram:

With rules as complicated as:
  • If the original tone number is 5, pronounce it as tone number 3 (Quanzhou/Taipei speech) or 7(Zhangzhou/Tainan speech).
  • If the original tone number is 7, pronounce it as tone number 3.
  • If the original tone number is 3, pronounce it as tone number 2.
  • If the original tone number is 2, pronounce it as tone number 1.
  • If the original tone number is 1, pronounce it as tone number 7.
  • If the original tone number is 8 and the final consonant is not h (that is, it is pt, or k), pronounce it as tone number 4.
  • If the original tone number is 4 and the final consonant is not h (that is, it is pt, or k), pronounce it as tone number 8.
  • If the original tone number is 8 and the final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 3.
  • If the original tone number is 4 and the final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 2.

A big problem with these sandhi-wheel diagrams is that each Hoklo dialect/sub-dialect seem to follow a different diagram. In particular, Teochew's case is different from Taipei or Tainan's cases. Here is an example of the sandhi chart from the website:

Frankly, "chaotic" would be a polite word to describe this approach to Hoklo tones. Unfortunately, this approach has been propagated to endless number of Hoklo teaching materials. 

Problem number five: Monotonic writing system forced upon a stereotonic language

Finally, the worst part of it all is, because people have traditionally been taking a monotonic approach to Hoklo language, this language so far has always been written in a monotonic fashion. As a result, while reading Hoklo texts, be them in Chinese characters or in alphabetized writing, there is simply no continuity in the reading flow, especially when the words need to be read out aloud. The reader must often backtrack his/her eye movement and re-scan the text, trying to parse out the right tonal phrase structure so that words could be pronounced correctly. This unnaturalness causes frequent pauses and corrections when reading a Hoklo text. But even with the best of all efforts, the reading outcome may still differ from the original writer's intention. That is, the writer's original tonal-phrase information cannot be faithfully represented in a monotonic writing system.

A stereotonic view of the Hoklo language

Some tonal languages like Vietnamese are extremely monotonic: meaning that a word with given tone category is pronounced with the same pitch contour, independent of the location of the word.  Han Chinese languages can be classified into two distinct groups: one without tonal multiplicity that we can call the Monotonic Group (單調漢語方言系統), which includes Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka, and one with tonal multiplicity that we can call the Stereotonic Group (雙調漢語方言系統), which includes the Hoklo, Min-Dong and the Wu dialects. Within the stereotonic group, Hoklo has kept the pristene stereotonic structure, and generally avoided other tone-sandhi features. On the contrary, the northern languages of this group, like Min-Dong and Wu, have developed additional sandhi features. In the extreme case of modern Shanghainese, the evolution of tone sandhi features is still an on-going process. Today's Shanghainese tones have almost degenerated into a pitch-accent system. (See Wikipedia

Here is an example a Hoklo tone table that shows its stereotones properly:

Tainan Tones
  平 Ping 上 Shang 去 Qu 入 Ru
 陰 Yin   33-55 55-51 51-21 53-32
 陽 Yang 33-24 … 21-33 21-53

That is all. There is no need for any sandhi diagram. No need to memorize which tone number changes into which tone number. Each tone category is indicated by its stereotone value pairs. In Hoklo, the order of the stereotones must be: running followed by standing, because this is exactly the way how reduplicated syllables would be pronounced, like 燒燒 (sio'sio) or 紅紅 (aang'aang). (Again, unfortunately, in many existing books or research articles, this order is reversed, making its mnemonic all but impossible.) 

Within a Hoklo tonal phrase, all syllables use the running tone, except for the very last syllable, which uses the standing tone. Tadpolenese explicitly marks out the tonal phrase structure by using additional punctuation marks.

Similar stereotone tables can be given to other Hoklo dialects. The following is the stereotone table for Teochew dialect (source:

Teochew Tones
  平 Ping 上 Shang 去 Qu 入 Ru
 陰 Yin   23-3323-53 31-213 3-1
 陽 Yang 213-5521-35 213-11 1-5

Teochew has some minor tone sandhi effects. Those tone categories marked in blue will raise their pitch slightly when followed by high-pitched standing tones (namely, Yin-Shang, Yang-Ping, Yang-Ru). The category marked in purple will lower its pitch slightly when preceeded by high-pitched running tones (namely, Yin-Shang, Yin-Qu, and Yin-Ru). See details at: This tendency seems to be consistent with the interpretation that Hoklo running tones are more assimilative, while Hoklo standing tones tend to be more contrastive.

As for specific examples of syllables/words that carry each of the 8 tones, we can follow the numerical example that is often used for Cantonese. Tadpolenese for Mainstream Hoklo and Teochew Hoklo are given.

Examples of Tones
  平 Ping 上 Shang 去 Qu 入 Ru
 陰 Yin   三三
 陽 Yang 零零

(* Note: unfortunately, many Teochew subdialects tend to use Yang-Shang tone for 二 [norl], so the numerical examples may not be perfect. However, even in those subdialects, the alternative pronunciation 二 [rir] seem to be valid, anyway. Teochew's unique [Yang-Qu --> Yang-Shang] shift is a well-known phenomenon in this dialect. See Quanzhou Yin-Shang Teochew Yang-Shang 泉州陽去,潮州陽上.)

The following is a rustic stereotony mnemonic in two variations:

 西瓜 冷冷 送去 隔壁
 王梨 重重 慢慢 直食
    Sigue. lelng'lelng. sankkyc gehbiah,
    oonglaai. darlng'darlng. marn'marn. did jiaq;

 西瓜 冷冷 送去 隔壁
 媒婆 有伴 戇戇 直食
    Sigue. lelng'lelng. sankkyc gehbiah,
    mueeboo. url pnuarl. qorng'qorng. did jiaq;