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Entering tone

Entering tone

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Entering tone (Template:Zh-stp) is one of four syllable types in the phonology in Middle Chinese which are commonly translated as "tone". However, it is not a tone in the phonetic sense, but rather describes a syllable which ends in a stop consonant, such as p, t, k, or glottal stop. Due to the origin of tone in Chinese, the number of tones found in such syllables is smaller than the number of tones in other syllables, and in Chinese phonetics they have traditionally been counted separately. For instance, in Cantonese, there are 6 tones in syllables which do not end in stops, but only three in syllables which do; therefore, although Cantonese only has 6 tones in the sense of 6 contrasting variations in pitch, it is often said to have 9.

Final stops, and therefore the entering "tone", have disappeared from most of Mandarin dialects (a large dialect chain spoken in northern and southwestern China), but remain preserved in southeastern Chinese languages such as Cantonese, Min, and Hakka.

Tones are an indispensable part of Chinese literature, as characters in poetry and prose were chosen according to tones and rhymes for their euphony. This use of language helps in reconstructing the pronunciation of Old Chinese and Middle Chinese, since the Chinese writing system is logographic.



From a phonetic perspective, the entering tone is simply a syllable ending with a voiceless plosive [p], [t], or [k]. In some variants of Chinese, the final plosive has become the glottal stop Template:IPA.


It is now generally believed that the voiceless plosives that typify the entering tone have existed since Book of Songs in the Zhou Dynasty (1027–771 BC). In addition, there is a hypothesis that before the mid-Han dynasty, there were two kinds of entering tones, a long entering tone (which end in clusters like [ps], [ts], and [ks]) and a short entering tone. The long entering tone became the departing tone after the final consonant cluster was lost, while the short entering tone remained the entering tone.

The first Chinese philologists began to describe the phonology of Chinese during the Northern and Southern Dynasties, between 400 to 600, under the influence of Buddhism and the Sanskrit language that arrived along with it. There were several unsuccessful attempts to classify the tones of Chinese, before the establishment of the traditional four-tone description between 483 and 493. It is based on the Vedic theory of three intonations (聲明論). The middle intonation, Udātta, maps to the level tone (平聲); the upwards intonation, Svarita, to the rising tone (上聲); the downward intonation, Anudātta, to the departing tone (去聲). The distinctive sound of syllables ending with a plosive did not fit the three intonations and was categorised as the entering tone (入聲). The use of four-tone system flourished in the Sui and Tang dynasties. An important rime dictionary, Qieyun was written in this period.

It has been hypothesized that the entering tone was lost due to the influence of invading northern nomads such as the Mongol Yuan dynasty (12791368). The Zhongyuan Yinyun, a rime book of 1324, already shows signs of the disappearance of the entering tone and the emergence of the modern Mandarin tone system in its place. The precise time at which the entering tone was lost is unknown, though it was likely gone by the time of the Qing Dynasty.


Middle Chinese
(Minnan Language)
Classical Japanese
(On'yomi, or Chinese reading)
Standard Mandarin
(no entering tone)
Main meaning
(in English)
[[[Template:IPA]]] hap8 hap6
gafu, kafu
ガフ, カフ
hợp he2 (hé)
union; close
[[[Template:IPA]]] sip8, chap8 sap6
jifu, shifu
ジフ, シフ
thập shi2 (shí)
[[[Template:IPA]]] hut8, put8 fat6
butsu, futsu
ブツ, フツ
phật fo2 (fó)
[[[Template:IPA]]] pat4, peh4 baat3
hachi, hatsu
ハチ, ハツ
bát ba1 (bā)
[[[Template:IPA]]] ek8, iah8 yik6
yaku, eki
ヤク, エキ
dịch yi4 (yì)
change and exchange. The meaning as “easy” is pronounced as yi6 in Cantonese
[[[Template:IPA]]] khek4, kheh4 haak3
kyaku, kaku
キャク, カク
khách ke4 (kè)

Entering tone in Chinese


The entering tone is extant in only one dialect of Mandarin, Yangtze Mandarin. In other dialects, the entering tone has been lost, and words that had the tone have been distributed into the four modern tonal categories, depending on the initial consonant of each word. The chart below summarizes the distribution in the different dialects.

  Voiceless Nasal Voiced
Peninsular Mandarin 3 4 2
Northeastern Mandarin 1, 2, 3, 4 (mostly 3) 4 2
Beijing Mandarin 1, 2, 3, 4 4 2
Northcentral Mandarin 1 4 2
Central Plains Mandarin 1 2
Northwestern Mandarin 4 2
Southwestern Mandarin 2
Yangtze Mandarin (entering tone preserved)


Like most other variants of Chinese, Cantonese has changed initial voiced plosives, affricates and fricatives of Middle Chinese to their voiceless counterparts. To compensate for the lost of this difference, Cantonese has split each of the Middle Chinese tones into two, one for Middle Chinese voiced initial consonants (Yang) and one for Middle Chinese voiceless initial consonant (Yin). In addition, Cantonese has split the Yin-Entering tone into two, with a higher tone for short vowels and a lower tone for long vowels. As a result, Cantonese now has three entering tones:

  • Upper (Short Yin, 陰入)
  • Middle (Long Yin, 中入), was derived from Upper (陰入)
  • Lower (Yang, 陽入)

The entering tone in Cantonese has retained its short and sharp character.



Southern Min (Min Nan or Taiwanese Language) has two entering tones:

  • Upper (Yin, 陰入), tone number marked as 4
  • Lower (Yang, 陽入), tone number marked as 8

Words with entering tones end with either a glottal stop, [-p], [-t] or [-k] (all unaspirated). There are many words that have different finals in their literary and colloquial forms.

Entering tone in Sino-Xenic

Many Chinese words were borrowed into Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese during the Middle Chinese period, so these languages preserve the entering tone to varying degrees.


Because Japanese does not allow a syllable to end with a consonant, the endings -k, -p, -t were rendered as separate syllables -ku or -ki, -pu, and -ti (-chi) or -tu (-tsu) respectively. Later phonological changes further altered some of the endings:

  • In some cases where the ending is immediately followed by an unvoiced consonant in a compound, the ending is lost, and the consonant becomes geminate.
    • Examples: gaku + kou becomes gakkou (school), and shitsu + hai becomes shippai (failure)
  • The -pu ending changes into -u. (pu>fu>hu>u)
    • Example: jipu (ten) becomes

It is possible to recover the original ending by examining the historical kana used in spelling a word.


Korean keeps the -k and -p endings, while the -t ending has changed into -l.

Reconstruction of the entering tone from Mandarin

Although it is hard to distinguish words of entering tone origin based on Mandarin pronunciation only, it is possible to do so to an extent with the help of the phonetic component of each Chinese character. For example, if one already knows that 白 (white) is of the entering tone, then one can conjecture that 拍 (beat), 柏 (fir), 帛 (white cloth), 迫 (urgent) are also of entering tone. Although this method is not completely accurate, it is a quick way to identify characters of the entering tone.


See also

External links

ko:입성 ja:入声 zh:入聲

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