Thursday, June 21, 2007

sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*--part 1: tones

Sichuanhua Primer


sǐcuáhuǎ rǔmen*

from longleggedfly

by kmm

Part 1 Tones


There are some general rules that can be followed in the conversion of tones from putonghua to sichuanhua, although they are not always consistent. After I publish the first few parts of the primer, I will try to write up a list of exceptions to these rules and add them as an appendix; however, I think the best strategy is just to learn them as best you can, and then make a mental note whenever you hear an exception in actual speech. If you’re not in an area where you’re listening to sichuanhua on a daily basis, then I am both surprised and impressed that you’re reading this, and I’m sorry I can’t provide you with a list of exceptions at present.

Here are the rules for converting Mandarin tones into sichuanhua.

Rule #1: First tone becomes second tone.

Rule #2: Second tone becomes the special Sichuan tone

Rule #3: Third tone becomes fourth tone.

Rule #4: Fourth tone becomes third tone.

Note: The fluctuation in pitch of the putongua third tone is, in sichuanhua, often not as extreme.

The first tone in Mandarin pops up sometimes in sichuanhua. In the appendix I note as many instances as I am aware of.

Again, these rules are not always applicable. My guess is that about 85% of tones can be converted this way.


No doubt if you’ve already studied the tones in mandarin the idea of needing to pick up a new one is rather discouraging, and rightly so. Tones are a pain in the ass, and this one is not distinguished for its ease in replicating.

As noted in the introduction, this tone will be designated by an asterisk placed after the syllable.

What does the special Sichuan tone sound like? The tone that it is most closely resembles to is the fourth tone in Mandarin, as it is a falling tone; however the pitch begins at a much lower level than the Mandarin fourth tone.

Here is a short sound file of the pronunciation of , Mandarin “má” and sichuanhua, “ma*”


Here is a sound file for the Sichuan tone on the word , Mandarin tóng, sichunahua tong*.



Following is a table converting putongua pinyin into my own not-so-cleverly designed sichuanhua pinyin.

There is a sound file attached detailing the differences in tones in putonghua and sichuanhua. I highly recommended you download and listen to begin catching on to the differences.

Figure 1




AUDIO (Mandarin and sichuanhua)

AUDIO (sichuanhua)


As in Mandarin, when you have two syllable with falling/rising tones in a row, the first syllable of the combo will take on a rising tone.

For example, two fourth tone words in Mandarin will be pronounced as “rènshì;” but in sichuanhua, these fourth tone words become third tones, and so will be converted into third tones, like this: “rěnshǐ.”

However, in actual speech the first third tone in a third tone pair will change to a second tone, meaning that in sichuanhua the word should be pronounced as “rénshǐ.”

(Well, actually, to be more accurate, it should be pronounced as “zrénsǐ,” but I won’t get into consonant changes until the next installment of the primer).

This isn’t confusing at all, is it? Don’t worry, it only gets easier.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

when I hear my friend speak Sichuanese, all the tones seemed to have shifted to 2nd (to my poor ears) or at least, all become closer to neutral tone.

2:00 AM  
Blogger 王天 said...

A note on the irregularities in the tone shifting, your general observation is very correct, for characters that fail to follow your rules, they have 入声 (rusheng), a set of tones that are lost in mandarin, but still exist in cantonese, taiwanese, etc. unfortunately, putonghua and sichuanhua maps rusheng tones into different tones. Putonghua may have mapped this rusheng tone to any tone (but 2nd tone is most often), while Sichuanhua almost always maps rusheng tone to the "special sichuan tone" you mentioned.

Examples of rusheng characters:

don't follow the rule
客, 4th in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua
发, 1st in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua
泼,1st in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua
忽,1st in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua

follow the rule
白, 2nd in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua
学, 2nd in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua
达, 2nd in putonghua, sichuan-tone in sichuanhua

12:01 AM  

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