Pronunciation: third tone + neutral tone

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by chajadan, May 21, 2013.

  1. chajadan Senior Member


    When 3rd tone is followed by neutral, I am taught to do a half 3rd tone, followed by a high neutral tone, but sometimes I hear it pronounced like a 2nd tone followed by a a half 3rd. Certain words seem to prefer one over the other, but I found a case where I am given both:喜欢/#zh

    Are there any general rules about which form is encountered where or when? Is this phenomenon something you are familiar with, or are you used to 3rd+neutral sounding the same in all instances?

    I ask because I currently feel that I would always have to consult a native, or special dictionary like forvo, in order to know which to choose. Is one or both always considered accurate? My guess is that either would be understood, but I'm looking for clarification into this whole point.

    : tone
  2. tarlou Senior Member

    To me, both sounds are a third tone (喜) followed by a first tone (欢). (The only difference is the sound from Shandong province is si3 huan1 rather than xi3 huan1. This is because s and x were merged in 普通话 but not in some Shandong dialects.)

    I don't think there is a 2nd tone in the samples. Maybe one of 喜s is a half third tone while the other is a full third tone. But I can't really figure out the difference between the tones of the two samples. You know people may get used to some sounds and hear what they expect to hear. So maybe you can figure out the difference, but I can't.
  3. chajadan Senior Member

    Yes, I know what you mean about hearing what you expect. Plus I should have picked a better example since the one is kinda cut off. But here's one that I hear a lot:小姐/#zh This is for Miss, and it's obviously 2nd+half 3rd. The thing is, yellow bridge dictionary says that in Taiwan it's normal to say xiao3jie3, and not xiao3jie5, so with tone sandhi you would expect a 2nd+3rd in Taiwan. But at least one of the two people listed at that forvo link say they are from Beijing, and neither said Taiwan. Chair is said at this link:椅子/#ja You can hear in the one example that the neutral tone is definitely not high, though the first tone doesn't sound 2nd there either, more like 1st. Apparently that guy works at a language school, so either he's good, or Chinese is not his native language.

    I think that maybe what I'm hearing is words that have two third tones together, where the second has become neutral, like xiao3jie, jie5jie, sometimes being spoken like two full third tones. I could have sworn I encountered this in Pimsleur a lot. But as I look into this it seems to be much more often how you say, always a half third follow by a high neutral. I'll have to get those pimsleur tapes from the library again and make sure I wasn't just hearing things.

  4. tarlou Senior Member

    I'm confused... 小姐 is considered xiao3jie3 and pronounced as xiao2jie3 everywhere (both Beijing and Taiwan). This word can't be pronounced or considered as xiao3jie5 even in Beijing. Do you mean you hear jie is pronounced as a half third tone in the sample? I don't think so, both links are full third tone to me.
    The sound of 椅子 by witenglish is wrong. To me, it's clearly by a foreigner or something happened during the recording... The sound by fromsilence is right.

    Edit: I found it difficult for me to figure out the difference between half third tone and full third tone. I think the sound of xiaojie by witenglish is a full third tone, but not sure about the sound by daan3721... It's beyond me to help if you are studying linguistic... But if you are just learning Chinese, pronounce it arbitrarily. People (at least me) can't distinguish a full third tone and a half third tone.

    BTW, I'm a bit confused about what you are expecting to hear. xiaojie and yizi are different. Without tone sandhi, xiaojie should be xiao3jie3 while yizi should be yi3zi. If you are considering the case that the second character is neutral, jiejie (considered to be jie3jie if without tone sandhi) may be better.
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  5. YangMuye

    YangMuye Senior Member

    精霊語, Chinese - Mandarin
    When the last syllable lost its tone, the tone of its proceeding syllable is sometimes unpredictable.
    指甲 zhi2 jia/zhi3 jia (jia3 -> jia)
    指头 zhi2 tou (tou2 -> tou)
    主意 zhu2 yi (yi4->yi)

    s and x are merged in Mandarin, but the original consonant of 喜 is widely accepted to be h(IPA: /x/) rather than s.
    By the way,
    I say xi3 huan more often than xi3 huan1.
    I say both xiao2 jie and xiao2 jie3.
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  6. chajadan Senior Member

    Yay! So I get some confirmation that 3rd + neutral can be variable from at least one native chinese speaker.

    As for the comment that xiao3jie? is always xiao3jie3 and never xiao3jie5, that may be the case as I'm a non-advanced learner, but the dictionary I use most (which can obviously be wrong) says otherwise:指甲&search=Go&dialect=M Another popular dictionary says the same thing:

    So my last question is, if I went around pronouncing xiao3jie5 just like all other 3rd+neutrals seems to generally go, kind of like xiao21jie4, would that be misunderstood ever? Or just make me sound funny? Because at the moment, I feel like I am guessing at the right way to say 3rd+neutral, but all other pinyin feels very comfortable to me without guessing.

    thanks =)
  7. tarlou Senior Member

    You are right. 没查字典,见笑了!

    I think different people have different accents from their own dialects. The fact is Putonghua is not the native language to most Chinese. A few miles from Beijing there would be a completely different system of tones (and every city has a different one)... Even in Beijing people may not speak the standard Putonghua in daily life (they may say zhi2jia instead of zhi3jia for example...). Many things are variable among different "native" speakers.

    For xiaojie, the sound xiao2jie (in the post of Yangmuye) is also OK to me. But I believe that is xiao3jie3==>(tone sandhi) xiao2jie3==>(neutralized) xiao2jie. The first character is still pronounced as the 2nd tone. If you do xiao21jie (I assume it means the sound of xiao3jie after tone sandhi and 21 means a half 3rd tone), that may sound funny...

    It can be xiao3jie in some dialects (e.g. my hometown...) But in my dialect the tones are completely different. When we are speaking Putonghua, it is always xiao3jie3. I don't quite agree with the dictionaries.
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  8. YangMuye

    YangMuye Senior Member

    精霊語, Chinese - Mandarin
    If you want to know if your pronunciation is right or not, you can just ask a native speaker if he can understand you. Don't ask him what tone it is.

    For more complicated questions, most native speakers (including me) without professional training can not explain our native language correctly and well.

    For example, distinguishing the 4th tone form the neutral tone is so hard even for phonology professors. They usually need to reach their conclusion by experiments. (I remember I posted a research about if the tone of the 个 in 一 is neutral in this forum several years ago)

    And almost all dictionaries published in China will not record 儿化, 异读 and irregular cases of tone change at all (or correctly). So don't trust dictionaries too much.
  9. zhg Senior Member

    Hi charlie

    Having read your posts I guess I somehow more or less start to understand what you are aksing.

    As far as I am concerned the rule you wrote in post#1 is correct,when a 3rd tone combines a nuetral tone, you'd better pronounce it as a half3rd,otherwise it would be like pronoucing 喜“一”欢,指“日”甲 ,小"奥"姐,which all sound quite awkward. But I'm not sure if the nuetral becomes higher.

    Edit: It may sound like a 2nd tone to you but actually it's not, it's just an incomplete 3rd tone with its latter part dropped.I believe that is the reason why it's named half3rd tone.

    By the way the links you provided just show you how to pronouce 喜欢 seperately not as a unity, no one will pronouce them that way in his own speech.
    Last edited: May 21, 2013
  10. baosheng Senior Member

    Canada, English
    I would be curious to see if the famous Chinese dictionaries (paper-based) mention "xiao3jie5" at all. I imagine they probably would not. It looks like a dialect pronunciation/pronunciation trying to approximate the "half third tone" (but which is not notated correctly) which has made its way into CEDict/金山词霸-like dictionaries. Many of the Chinese wiki dictionaries/dictionaries based on wikis/CEDict (which make up the majority online that I've seen) have the odd mistake, many more than one would expect from a paper-based one. (although I still use them almost exclusively since they are so convenient!) This may just be my experience though... I tend to use Lingoes dictionaries which are all based on early CEDict, I think (which has been thoroughly edited since).
  11. stellari Senior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    For me, when I show the pronunciation of xiaojie to a Mandarin learner, I would pronounce them clearly as 'xiao2jie3' (as 'wtenglish' did, a full third tone); when I speak to my friends, I say 'xiao2jie3' but jie is pronouced with a half third tone (as 'daan' did; there is little or no rising phase); I only say 'xiao2jie5' (neutral jie) when I refer to a 'hooker'. Notice that xiao is always pronounced as if it is xiao2, and is not a third tone or half third tone.

    As for chair, I always pronounce it as 'yi3zi5', with yi3 being a half third tone, and zi a (somewhat) high neutral. 'yi3zi1' would sound a little ... Southern... to me. BTW, You can ignore the pronunciation of this word by wtenglish because it doesn't sound native to me, although he did a good job for xiaojie.

    Then it struck me: maybe I never pronounced a full third tone when I talk to other native speakers... I need to find out.
  12. HYCHIN Junior Member

    My Putonghua teacher said:"when you call a lady/ Miss, 小姐 should read xiao3jie. 姐 jie is in neutral tone. BUT If you pronounce a full 3rd tone jie3, it will probably be perceived as if you'd referred to a prostitute or a 陪酒卖笑的."
  13. stellari Senior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    My perception is just the opposite to what your teacher described. When I address a 'lady/miss', I always use xiao2 + full or half jie 3. When I refer to a prostitute, I would pronounce xiao2 + jie5 (a very short neutral tone). You would never hear anyone say 'zhewei shi chen xiao2jie5' when they mean 'This is Ms. Chen'; they always say 'zhewei shi chen xiao2jie3'. Also 'ta shige xiao2jie5' (long xiao and short, neutral jie) is very common for 'she is a prostitute'.
    As a rule of thumb, pronouncing a word with full (or half) tones indicate 'formality','respect' and 'seriousness' while neutral tones may sound 'casual', 'flippant', 'relaxed' . However, the half third tone may sound a lot like a neutral in some circumstances. Maybe that's why your teacher got confused.
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
  14. chajadan Senior Member

    Well, my take away at this point is that I will generally pronounce things like yi3zi5 (or any 3rd+neutral), generally as a half third followed by the higher neutral. I will rely on this as default assumption. I will expect for some words in this form where the second term naturally has a 3rd tone, like jie3jie5, to maybe induce tone sandhi and result in jie2jie3, but if the second term is not naturally a 3rd, I will assume it will never do such a thing. With two 3rd tones, like xiao3jie3 or jie3jie3, even if represented xiao3jie5 and jie3jie5, I will not be 100% certain of whether it's 2+half3rd or half3rd+neutral high, but I will assume half3rd+neutral high, which seems to be much more dominant.

    any corrections you'd like to add to that?

  15. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    English (UK)
    Hi Charlie,

    I didn't reply yet to your question because I sensed that confusion was comming :D
    This is not really because the paticipants are wrong or something like that, but is due mainly to the fact that we use very different languages to discuss the question. For example, when I see your "xiao3jie5", I can't be sure whether you mean to say "xiao3jie5" or "xiao2jie5", as these two can be understood as representing the same or different pronunciations.

    So, before I reply, let's agree on these conventions:
    -When xiao3 is pronounced as a 3rd tone, I'll write it as xiao3.
    -When xiao3 has undergone a change and is pronounced as a 2nd tone, I'll write it as xiao2.
    With the above conventions, I think it's unlikely that 小姐 will be pronounced as "xiao3jie5". It should either be "xiao2jie5" or "xiao2jie3".
    For 姐姐,椅子, etc, the pattern is jie3jie5, yi3zi5, etc. Remember that this is very different from the patern for 小姐 above.
  16. chajadan Senior Member

    The way you describe, xiaolijie, is exactly how I meant.

    How it's written: jie3jie5 How it's said: jie3jie5 (half3rd+high neutral)
    How it's written: xiao3jie5 How it's said: xiao2jie(3or5)

    My original question was because when I see xxx3xxx5, I now have to guess. All other times I know for certain. When I say that written jie3jie5 is pronounced jie3jie5, it's because I've decided a default answer to my question: that xxx3xxx5 is half-third tone, high neutral. Mind you, this is news to me. I've been pronouncing ~all~ xxx3xxx5 words as xxx2xxx5 (lower neutral). this is because xiao3jie5 is one of the first words of this form I encountered, and I didn't know it would vary. So I've been saying yi3zi5 as yi2zi5(somewhat low neutral). and so on. I have gathered that that is much more the exception than the rule, but does apply to xiao3jie5->xiao2jie(3or5)

  17. tarlou Senior Member

    The rule is:
    When you see xxx3xxx5, you should pronounce it as xxx3xxx5
    When you see xxx3xxx3, you should pronounce it as xxx2xxx3
    There is nothing to guess.

    xiaojie is a very special word. It is an abuse of notation to use xiao3jie5 to mean xiao2jie5 (since there is no other way to write it...). This is very special and can't be generalized. This is the first time in my life to see such an example.
  18. chajadan Senior Member

    As you state it tarlou is how I described my future intentions.

    As for xiaojie, I accept your comment as meaningful, and I know a dictionary is not always accurate, but I have two sources that give xiaojie as xiao3jie5:

    The Oxford Chinese Dictionary 2003 978-0-19-596459-2 / 0-19-596459-4

    I would hope the paper copy I bought would be more accurate, but perhaps in general it is. It is this one case, where all speakers have unanimously assured me that it's pronounced xiao2jie3 or xiao2jie5 that throws me into doubt. I will, for the moment, just assume it as you say tarlou --> the dictionaries, online, cedict, or otherwise, adopted an inaccurate pinyin for xiaojie and it lives on. That's not a first to me. It's like look, they insist to this day of teaching the third tone as always whole, like when pronounced in isolation, with a rise, but that seems to never ever happen in real life, and yet it's predominately the ~only~ way mention in any reference book. Yay to the internet, update more quickly, that I even have any clue about 3rd being almost exclusively half-3rd without rise. So yes, errors live and get perpetuated. I will assume that xiao2jie5 is not worth throwing into doubt ~all~ xxx3xxx5 instances, and is rather a single mistake with the rest quite specific. Your comment about the alternative being abusive is quite helpful in this respect tarlou =), along with the unanimous acceptance of xiao2jie5


  19. zhg Senior Member

    Honestly I don't see anything wrong in xiao3jie5 pronounced with a half third plus a nuetral high. I sense that when you read it fast in tone sandhi it eventually becomes a sencond tone.
  20. tarlou Senior Member

    No, if you read 小姐 with the same tone as 小子 or 椅子, it's definitely wrong and not understandable.
    There is no such tone sandhi turns xxx3xxx5 into xxx2xxx5.

    In a correct dictionary such as 现代汉语词典, xiaojie is marked as xiao3jie3.
    The word xiao2jie5 (prostitute) is mostly a slang appeared in some dialects.
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
  21. chajadan Senior Member

    since both tarlou and zhg list their native languages as Chinese, I assume zhg is speaking truthfully as a native. I am used to languages varying by region, and China is huge with many dialects. I doubt zhg is accidentally misusing tone numbers.

    Hey zhg, when you sense xiaojie approaching a seond tone, does the neutral still sound high? Or does it move low as xiao becomes 2nd tone? Just wondering.

    And, at least zhg's description matches my dictionary and my now default assumed rule about xxx3xxx5 when I see it.

  22. zhg Senior Member

    I get confused why many natives insist on xiao3 in xiao3jie3 should be pronouced ONLY in 2nd not 3rd nor half 3rd, even though the dictionary that I have consulted suggests a 3rd tone.

    As for the jie part,after comparing it to jie3jie with the latter jie in true nuetral, I think I made a mistake in the case of xiao3jie3, and I would go with what the dictionary suggests that is to pronouce it in 3rd tone , but with a lighter,quicker sound.

    According to the dictionary,xiaojie doesn't seem to belong your 3rd+nuetral case, and should be listed sperately as a 3rd+3rd category alongside with 小雨 etc.Which I believe 2nd or 3rd + half 3rd are all acceptable.
  23. chajadan Senior Member

    What's potentially confusing zhg is that you say xiaojie is 3rd+3rd without a neutral, but you don't apply tone sandhi to the first 3rd tone to get a 2nd, which violates one of the common "rules" that everyone seems to have told you they expect, even other natives. Do you pronounce xiaojie with a half-3rd, followed by a lower less emphatic half-3rd close to the neutral in yi4si5? Kind of like yi4si5 starting lower and a smoother drop? Just curious.

  24. zhg Senior Member

    Yes,I do pronounce xiaojie as you described. And I don't consider 3rd,half 3rd as wrong pronouciations, though the differences between them blur.

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