Audio language

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As tonal language , Tonalsprache or tonal language refers to a language, in which with a change in pitch of a change in the importance of the corresponding word (or a syllable or in Tonverlaufs usually morpheme is accompanied). Tonal languages ​​are the most common of all languages ​​spoken around the world today, but do not comprise the majority of all speakers. Tonal languages ​​include a. the following languages:

Languages ​​that only use the sentence melody to emphasize grammatical structures or parts of sentences (for example raising the voice at the end of a questioning sentence in German) are not tonal languages; however, this feature can also occur in tonal languages. In tonal languages, the tone is an integral part of the word (or morpheme) and there are words with very different meanings that only differ in terms of the tone course or pitch. Depending on the language, tone also plays a more or less important role in grammar.

There are basically two or three types of tonal languages:

  • Register languages , with constant pitches, e.g. B. consistently high or consistently low,
  • Contour tone languages , with different pitch courses, e.g. B. increasing,
  • Tonal accent languages ​​(improper tonal languages) in which words (or morphemes) are differentiated by different types of emphasis, but the emphasis is not (or not only) realized by a pressure accent , but by a different pitch or a different tone course.

There are also combinations of these basic types. The tonal languages ​​of Europe belong to the tone accent languages ​​and use both tonal and non-tonal syllables.

Sounds in standard Chinese

The high Chinese ( "Mandarin" Pǔtōnghuà) is one of the Konturtonsprachen. It distinguishes four or five tones; the fifth is often not counted as a tone on its own, but this is a relatively arbitrary determination:

The four tones of standard Chinese
  • First tone ( Chinese   陰平  /  阴平 , Pinyin yīn píng  - " Yin level"): The pitch of the high tone is constant and high, the tone almost sounds sung instead of spoken.
  • Second tone ( Chinese  陽平  /  阳平 , Pinyin yáng píng  - " Yang level"): The pitch of the rising tone rises from the lower to the middle to the high pitch, similar to the intonation of a question in German.
  • Third tone ( Chinese  上聲  /  上声 , Pinyin shǎng shēng  - “rising tone”): With the falling-rising tone , the pitch sinks from the middle level down and usually rises again to the middle level. Exceptions occur here due to clay sandhis (see below).
  • Fourth tone ( Chinese  去聲  /  去声 , Pinyin qù shēng  - "falling tone"): The pitch falls sharply downward, the syllable is pronounced shorter and with more affect, comparable to the German accentuation of a command (e.g. Geh ! ).

The neutral fifth tone is usually not counted:

  • Neutral tone ( Chinese  輕聲  /  轻声 , Pinyin qīng shēng  - "light tone"): The neutral tone sounds short and light and is therefore often not regarded as a separate tone.

The neutral tone often occurs with polysyllabic words where the second syllable is pronounced less strongly than the first. So 妈妈 is spoken as māma , with the neutral tone appearing in the second syllable, although both stand for the same character.

Sounds can also  interact with one another - in a so-called clay sandhi . In spoken standard Chinese, two syllables with a third tone never follow one another. If two syllables with a third tone collide, the first syllable is pronounced in the second tone. Some other languages ​​have much more complex rules of interaction.

Since this concerns interactions in certain sound environments, the “fifth tone” cannot be regarded as an independent tonal phoneme (tonem) like the other four tones. So it is an allotone .

See also


  • Peter Auer, Peter Gilles, Helmut Spiekermann: syllable cuts and tone accents. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2002, ISBN 3-484-30463-4 .
  • Jostein Budal: Fem tonar. Unipub, Oslo 2002, ISBN 82-996588-0-2 .
  • Victoria A. Fromkin (Ed.): Tone. A linguistic survey. Academic Press, New York 1978, ISBN 0-12-267350-6 .
  • Jürgen E. Schmidt: The Middle Franconian tone accents. Rhenish accentuation (=  Mainz studies on language and folk research 8). Steiner, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-515-04803-0 .
  • Alfons Weidert: Tonology. Results, analyzes, assumptions. Narr, Tübingen 1981, ISBN 3-484-30105-8 .
  • Moira Yip: Tone. Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-77445-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Tonal language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Københavns Universitet: Dialekttræk ( Memento from May 9, 2010 in the Internet Archive )