Changed tone

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Cantonese changed tones (also called pinjam;[1] traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: biànyīn; Jyutping: bin3jam1; Cantonese Yale: binyàm) occur when a word's tone becomes a different tone due to a particular context or meaning. A "changed" tone is the tone of the word when it is read in a particular lexical or grammatical context, while the base (or underlying) tone is usually the tone of the word when read in citation.[2] In its most common form, it occurs on the final syllable of either a compound word, a reduplicated word, or certain vocative examples, especially in direct address to people such as family members.[2]

A changed tone usually takes the form of a non-high level, non-mid rising tone (i.e. tones 3, 4, 5, and 6 in Jyutping and Yale; see Cantonese phonology for further information on the tones in Cantonese) transforming into a mid-rising tone (tone 2); for some speakers, this changed tone is slightly lower than the citation mid-rising tone. For speakers with the high falling tone, this may also become the high level tone via the same process.[1] In many speakers, another form of a changed tone used in specific vocatives that may also result in a high level tone (tone 1), rather than in a mid-level tone.[3] It is distinct from tone sandhi, which are automatic modifications of tone created by their phonetic environment, without regard to meaning.

Two words that are commonly associated with changed tone are inflection and intonation. Inflection, is a modification of a word that expresses different grammatical categories like tense, grammatical mood and voice, gender, etc. The inflection of verbs is known as conjugation, and the inflection of nouns and adjectives is called declension. Intonation is the change in pitch or tone of one's voice. In essence, intonation is the variance in pitch of someone's voice, which is NOT used to distinguish words.[4]


  1. ^ a b (Yu 2007)
  2. ^ a b (Yip and Matthews 2000)
  3. ^ Alan C. L. Yu (publ. pending) "Tonal Mapping in Cantonese Vocative Reduplication", Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society. Available online, accessed 4th November, 2011
  4. ^