Talking like singing

To learn speaking Chinese, especially for foreigners, the most difficult part is the tone. Beijing dialect (Mandarin or Putonghua) has four tones, yet easy to learn, Cantonese even has six tones with nine sounds, it is more difficult without any question, but because of such variety, Cantonese becomes so melodic that it sounds like singing.

This website has several animations, which teaches the tuning techniques of Cantonese, introduces the phonetic symbols, so the learners can speak correct Cantonese gradually.

6 Tones, 9 Sounds

Cantonese has six tones. To recognize these six tones easily, ancient Chinese named three higher tones as Yin(陰), three lower tones as Yang(陽),

Traditional Name

Concept

Example

Yin (陰)

Treble

Yang (陽)

Bass

“Yin(陰) means treble, which is high and sharp;
Yang(陽) means bass, which is low and dull”

Ping(平), Shang(上) and Qu (去) are divided in Yin(陰) and Yang(陽) respectively, there are six tones in total.

Traditional Name

Concept

Example

YinPing (陰平)

Soprano

YinShang (陰上)

Mezzo-Soprano

YinQu (陰去)

Alto

YangQu (陽去)

Tenor

YangShang (陽上)

Baritone

YangPing (陽平)

Bass

“Ping(平) means ‘flat and level’ , so it contains everything, which stays at top and bottom.”
“Shang(上) means ‘up and above’, so it connects Ping(平) and Qu(去), which stays in the middle with no doubt.”
“Qu(去) means ‘to go out’,so it touches the border, which stays next to another group of pals.”

Ru(入) is short and fast, if we still divide it in six, it is difficult to be recognized, so there are only three. Although the tone of ZhongRu(中入) falls into Yin(陰), YinRu(陰入) has already been there, so ZhongRu(中入) is used instead.

Traditional Name

Concept

Example

YinRu (陰入)

Soprano

ZhongRu (中入)

Alto

YangRu (陽入)

Tenor

“Ru(入) is short and fast, six are hard to cast, so three are used at last.”

After Qu(去) is added, there are nine sounds in total, they are: YinPing(陰平), YinShang(陰上), YinQu(陰去), YangPing(陽平), YangShang(陽上), YangQu(陽去), YinRu(陰入), ZhongRu(中入) and YangRu(陽入), but still remains in six tones, that’s why we call Cantonese is “6 Tones, 9 Sounds”.

 

Traditional Name

Concept

Example

YinPing (陰平)

Soprano

YinShang (陰上)

Mezzo-Soprano

YinQu (陰去)

Alto

YangQu (陽去)

Tenor

YangShang (陽上)

Baritone

YangPing (陽平)

Bass

YinRu (陰入)

Soprano

ZhongRu (中入)

Alto

YangRu (陽入)

Tenor

“Six long sounds with three short voices, six plus three is nine in all.”

For the convenience of foreign learners, some people uses Latin alphabets as phonetic symbols to represent the pronunciation of Cantonese, while numbers are used to mark the tones.

Traditional Name

Concept

Tone no.

Example

PinYin

YinPing (陰平)

Soprano

1

fan1

YinShang (陰上)

Mezzo-Soprano

2

fan2

YinQu (陰去)

Alto

3

fan3

YangQu (陽去)

Tenor

6

fan6

YangShang (陽上)

Baritone

5

fan5

YangPing (陽平)

Bass

4

fan4

YinRu (陰入)

Soprano

1

fat1

ZhongRu (中入)

Alto

3

faat3

YangRu (陽入)

Tenor

6

fat6

Romanization system for Cantonese

Choumeizai uses Jyutping* (a romanization system for Cantonese) developed by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong (LSHK), because:
(1) this program is easy to learn and easy to understand;
(2) this program sets the pronunciation of Cantonese in six pitches, which accords with the reality.

*The name Jyutping (itself the Jyutping romanization of the Chinese name 粵拼) is a contraction consisting of the first Chinese characters of the terms Jyut6 jyu5 (粵語, meaning "Yue language") and ping3 jam1 (拼音 "phonetic alphabet").

Cantonese Double Trichord by ChouMeiZai

After slight modification of the above table, which put Yin(陰) and Yang(陽) in black and white background respectively, we got the below table.

Traditional Name

Concept

Tone no.

YinPing (陰平)

Soprano

1

YinShang (陰上)

Mezzo-Soprano

2

YinQu (陰去)

Alto

3

YangQu (陽去)

Tenor

6

YangShang (陽上)

Baritone

5

YangPing (陽平)

Bass

4

YinRu (陰入)

Soprano

1

ZhongRu (中入)

Alto

3

YangRu (陽入)

Tenor

6

However, ChouMeiZai still thinks this table is too complicated, to help you guys easy to understand, ChouMeiZai invented a Double Trichord, its features are as follows:
(1) Accord with physic. The shorter the string, the higher is the pitch, and vice versa.
(2)With respect to Yin(陰) and Yang(陽). White strings with the background in black is Yin(陰), while black strings with white background represents Yang(陽).
(3)Consideration to the tone’s numbers. The two ends of each string marks tone’s number, which is convenient to the learner who uses PinYin.

(圖)廣東話粤語Cantonese

When YinPing(陰平), YinShang(陰上) and YinQu(陰去) is pronounced, the related string will turn yellow.

YinPing(陰平)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

YinShang(陰上)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

YinQu(陰去)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

When YangPing(陽平), YangShang(陽上) and YangQu(陽去) is pronounced, the related string will turn orange.

YangPing(陽平)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

YangShang(陽上)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

YangQu(陽去)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

When YinRu(陰入), ZhongRu(中入) and YangRu(陽入) is pronounced, the related string will turn green.

YinRu(陰入)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

ZhongRu(中入)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

YangRu(陽入)

廣東話粤語Cantonese

 

Back