Tone Letter - Chao Tone Letters (IPA)

Chao Tone Letters (IPA)

A series of iconic tone letters based on a musical staff was invented by Yuen Ren Chao and adopted into the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Combinations of these tone letters are schematics of the pitch contour of a tone, mapping the pitch in the letter space and ending in a vertical bar. For example, represents the mid-dipping pitch contour of the Chinese word for horse, 马 . Single tone letters differentiate up to five pitch levels: ˥ 'extra high' or 'top', ˦ 'high', ˧ 'mid', ˨ 'low', and ˩ 'extra low' or 'bottom'. With the possible exception of the Omotic languages of Ethiopia, no language is known to depend on more than five levels of pitch.

These letters are most commonly written at the end of a syllable. For example, Standard Chinese has the following four tones in syllables spoken in isolation:

Tone
name
Tone
letter
Chao tone
numerals
Tone
number
Chinese Gloss
High level ma˥ ma55 ma1 mother
Mid rising ma˧˥ ma35 ma2 hemp
Low dipping ma˨˩˦ ma214 ma3 horse
High falling ma˥˩ ma51 ma4 scold

However, they are sometimes written before the syllable, in accordance with writing stress and downstep before the syllable. For example, the following passage transcribes the prosody of Portuguese using tone letters alongside stress, upstep, and downstep in the same position before the syllable:

O ventu norte começou a soprar com muita fúria, mas quanto mais soprava, mais o viajante se aconchegava à sua capa, até que o ventu morte desistiu.

Diacritics may also be used to transcribe tone in the IPA. For example, tone 3 in Mandarin is a low tone between other syllables, and can be represented as such phonemically. The four Mandarin tones can therefore also be transcribed . (Note that these conflict with the convention of Pinyin, and so in this case IPA diacritics may be confusing.)

Read more about this topic:  Tone Letter

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