Tone in Chinese Languages by Prof. Lian-Hee Wee

Date & Time

Nov 3, 2020 12:00 PM


Trainee Centre Online


This talk offers a review of what tone is in Chinese languages and how they may be studied, either acoustically, phonologically, dialectologically, or historically. The concept of tone has normally been understood as modulation of pitch corresponding to lexical contrasts. In the context of Chinese languages, these are often studied at the level of the syllable. Acoustically, it can be shown that pitch modulation is not the only cue relevant for tone perception. Phonologically, tone has been discovered to be composite and made up features that describe the melodic contour as well as the register (pitch range) within with a melodic contour unfolds. Dialectologically, the concept “Chinese” has often been taken for granted, although it is one that may not be necessarily linguistically coherent. Defining what is Chinese predicated on Han ethnicity is arguably racist one way or another, not to say also that this ethnic group itself may have only had a very short politically motivated history. The annals of history nonetheless provides documentation of this elusive “Chinese” thread from which one may discern how tone for each Chinese language may have evolved over time.


Lian-Hee Wee is Professor of Linguistics at the Hong Kong Baptist University and a Guqin maker/player. His research focus mainly on phonologically-related issues of Hong Kong and Singapore Englishes as well as tonal patterns in various Chinese languages. His recent notable publications include “Hong Kong Food Runes” in World Literature Today (Spring 2019), Phonological Tone (Cambridge University Press, 2019), and Cultural Conflict in Hong Kong: Angles on a Coherent Imaginary (eds.) (Palgrave, 2018)”. His poetry sometimes makes it into Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine.