When intonation overrides tone, part 5

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There are three ways to say "Monday" in Mandarin:

zhōu yī 週一
lǐbài yī 禮拜一 (you can also say this in the shortened form bài yī 拜一)
xīngqí yī / xīngqīyī 星期一

As usual with my classes at Penn, most of my students are from mainland China.  I asked one of them to pronounce those three ways of saying "Monday".  A student from Shangdong who speaks beautiful Mandarin read them this way:

zhōu yī 週一
lǐbài yī 禮拜一
xīngqīyì 星期一

It was immediately obvious that she pronounced the final syllable of xīngqīyī 星期一 with a falling intonation, hence xīngqīyì 星期一.  I asked her to repeat xīngqīyī 星期一 a couple more times, and each time she did it the same way, very consistently, xīngqīyì 星期一.  I asked why she pronounced xīngqīyī 星期一 with a falling intonation on the last syllable, and she seemed completely oblivious to the fact that she was pronouncing it that way, but everyone else in the class could hear clearly that she was pronouncing with a falling intonation.


Selected reading


  1. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    September 25, 2020 @ 4:01 pm

    From Wiedenhof's Mandarin,

    Nà děi shi Zhōngwén xì de le ba ‘That’ll be from the Chinese Department, I guess.’
    After the fourth tone in xì ‘department’, each of the particles de, le and ba are
    pronounced at pitch level 1 (low). Subsequent neutral tones may display a drop in intonation due to the prosody of the sentence.
    The intonation pattern of the sentence is independent of the shape of individual
    tones, but rather defines the range within which these tones are pronounced.

    Since pauses are used to mark boundaries between sentences and clauses, the occurrence of shì before pauses can be analyzed as an intonational fall at the end of the sentence rather than a phonemic fourth tone. This prosodic pattern is characteristic for statements (§ 2.10): “Declarative sentences have a falling intonation toward the end, with a marked drop on the last syllable” (Henne et al. 1977: 7).

  2. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    September 25, 2020 @ 5:18 pm

    In the image, the gray area represents the dynamics of pitch, duration and voice range for the sentence as a whole. https://i.imgur.com/DsXsrFI.jpeg

  3. Chao Han said,

    September 25, 2020 @ 8:07 pm

    It's idiosyncratic. As a native speaker, I never heard someone pronounce the last syllable of xīngqīyī 星期一 with a falling intonation.

  4. Bathrobe said,

    September 27, 2020 @ 5:47 pm

    If she were from Tianjin maybe it would be less remarkable.

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