Wenzhou 温州 Right-dominant Disyllabic Tone Sandhi

This page contains examples of the disyllabic tone sandhi of a male speaker from Wēnzhōu 温州, a city near the coast in the southern part of the Chinese province of Zhejiang. You can look at the tone sandhi acoustics at the same time as listening to them. To get the most from this page it is probably best to first orient yourself by listening to the data and having a look at their acoustics here. Before that, If you have not yet done so, it might be better to acquaint yourself with the Wenzhou speaker's eight isolation tones, here. After listening to Wenzhou, you might also like to compare it with data from another Oujiang dialect - Wencheng 文成 - also on this site: click here for Wencheng disyllabic tone sandhi.


Wenzhou belongs to the Ōujiāng 甌江 subgroup of the Wú 吳 dialects. Eponymous with the river Ou bisecting it in a N.W. to S.E. direction (jiāng = river), the Oujiang subgroup is located in the S.E. corner of Zhejiang province, and is approximately congruent with the Wenzhou administrative area. About five million people speak Oujiang varieties, of which Wenzhou is the best known. Click here to view the location of Wenzhou in the Oujiang subgroup.

You can find a characterisation of Oujiang Wu, in Chinese, on pages 18 through 21 of Fù Guótōng et al.’s monograph Wu dialect subgroups of Zhejiang (傅国通, 方松熹, 蔡勇飞, 鲍士杰,傅佐之: 浙江吴语分区) published in 1985 by the Zhejiang Linguistics Society. Information on Oujiang may also be found in Cáo Zhìyún’s 2002 book Studies on the phonetics of Southern Wu dialects (曹志耘: 南部吴语语音研究) published by the Commercial Press, Beijing.


The examples are from recordings of a 34 year old male - Zhū Guóqìng 朱国庆 - made by Prof. William Ballard in April 1988. Zhu Guoqing was born in 1954 in Ruìān 瑞安, a county to the south of Wenzhou, but moved to Wenzhou when 3 years old. His parents came from Wenzhou. Ballard's elicitation text (he used simplified characters) is given together with glosses and phonemic representation. (Some 30 years later, in 2019, Zhu Guoqing, now Professor Emeritus at Wenzhou Normal University, kindly agreed to do some more recordings, including 3- and 4-syllable words! These are now being processed.)


To elicit the data, Ballard chose disyllabic expressions to exemplify all combinations of the eight Middle Chinese tones (yinping, yangping etc.). There were three different expressions for each tonal combination, each repeated three times after Ballard's numerical prompt. Click the following button to listen to Ballard's elicitation of the three items with the same underlying mid falling tone (Yangping Ib) on the word-initial syllable and mid fall-rise tone (Yinru IVa) on the word-final syllable: 牛骨 oxbone, 湖北 Hubei province, 头发 hair (note that the surface tones are different from the underlying tones!) Ballard's elicitation text (he used simplified characters) is given together with glosses and phonemic representation in the table of data below.


Most of the disyllabic expressions Ballard used are compound words with a morphological structure of either synonym e.g. 绸缎 silk goods = {绸 silk } + {缎 satin}, or attribute-head e.g.飞机 aeroplane = {飞 fly } + {机 machine}. ('Synonym' and 'attribute-head' are terms from the sections on morphological constructions in Kratochvil's 1968 book The Chinese Language Today). There are also several verb-object expressions e.g. 坐车 to ride = {坐 sit} + {车 vehicle}.


In the table below I have set out all the disyllabic combinations elicited by Ballard. They are arranged by the etymological (Middle Chinese) tone of the first-syllable morpheme "T1" down the left-hand column, and by the etymological tone of the word-final morpheme "T2" along the top row. You can also click on the Play/pause buttons in the top row to hear examples of the corresponding isolation tone. Ballard's elicitation text is given in the Simplified Chinese characters that he used, together with glosses. The few verb-object constructions in the corpus are shown in green. Normally one would expect them to have different sandhi from the lexical items. Items with anomalous tonal pitch are shown in blue.

I have extracted and plotted the tonal acoustics - F0 as a function of absolute duration - of the first of the three replicates of each expression Ballard elicited. Thin dotted lines show the values of the individual expressions; thick red lines show their mean value. Dashed lines show the F0 on phonemically voiced intervocalic consonants. You can expand the figures for closer examination by clicking on them, where you will also see a provisional segmental phonemic representation to help you with interpreting the acoustics. Clicking again will shrink them. You can also listen to the individual expressions by clicking on the Play/pause separate tokens buttons, and listen to the synthesised mean values by clicking on the Play mean glottal pulses buttons (should work for Chrome; no guarantees for other browsers, sorry). You can hear that the three items in most cells are said with the same tonal pitch.

click on individual figures to expand for inspection; click again to contract





T2= upper-mid level


T2= mid fall


T2= mid rise


T2= delayed low rising


T2= high fall


T2= lower-mid level


T2= mid fall-rise


T2= low fall-rise


T1 = upper-mid level


飞机 airplane

松香 rosin


天堂 paradise

安排 arrange

猪毛 pig bristles

资本 capital

工厂factory (old pron.)


辛苦 tough

安静 quiet

亲近 on initimate terms with

师范 teacher training

书记 secretary

相信 believe

青菜 greens

公事 public matters

山洞 cave

空地 vacant land

猪血pig's blood

方法 method

公式 formula

单独 single

中学 middle school

兵役military service

T1= mid fall


同乡 fellow local

年轻 young

农村 village


人头number of people

平台 platform

皮球 rubber ball

门板 shutter

团长 regimental commander

洪水 deluge

行动 move

形像 image

文件 document

同志 comrade

文化 culture

脾气 mood

绸缎 silk goods

强盗 robber

黄豆 soybean

牛骨 oxbone

湖北 Hubei province

头发 hair

同学 fellow students

红木 red sandlewood

明白 understand

T1= mid rise


表亲 cousin

普通 ordinary

手心 palm

党员 party member

果园 orchard

本能 instinct

底板 baseplate

火腿 leg of ham

稿纸 drafting paper

小米 millet

海马 seafish

处理 manage

考试 (s.w?) examination

讨厌 annoying

打扮 makeup

体面 face

子弹 bullet

扁豆hyacynth bean



粉刷 whitewash

水笔 writing brush

普及 popular

酒席 banquet

坦白 frank

T1= delayed low rising


坐车 ride

上天 ascend to heaven

被窝 quilt

旱灾 drought

户头 account

市场 market

肚皮 stomach

社长 head of staff


雨水 rainwater

舅父 mother's brother


旅社 hostel

罪过 offence

雨布waterproof cloth

动态 trend

被面 facing of a quilt

弟妹 younger brothers & sisters

部队 troops

负责 be responsible for

道德 moral

被褥 bedding (read as alternative for 被窝 IIb+Ia)

动物 animal

静脉 vein

T1= high fall


粪坑 manure pit

屙坑 manure pit (dial.)

快车 express train

酱瓜 pickled cucumber

菜园vegetable garden

太平 peace

菜油 rapeseed oil

对比 contrast

汽水 soda-water

报纸 newspaper

创造 create

器件 machine parts

报社 newspaper office

快件 express letter (read for 快信 IIIa + IIIa)

志气 will

奋斗 struggle

志愿 volunteer

退路 leeway

炸弹 bomb

印刷 to print

快速 speed

汉族 Han nationality

快活 happy

破裂 fracture

T1= lower-mid level


地方 place

上司 boss

外行 layman

地球 earth

病人 patient

外省 other provinces

院长 president

字典 dictionary

附近 nearby

现象 phenomenon

运动 exercise



外快 extra income

饭店 hotel

弹片 shrapnel


外地 other places

寿命 lifespan

命令 order

自在 health

大雪 heavy snow

办法 method

自杀 suicide

闰月 leap month

大麦 barley

事实 fact

T1= mid fall-rise


浙江 Zhejiang province

骨科 orthopedics

北方 northern

发扬 promote

国旗 national flag

色盲 colourblind

all kinds of fruits

出口 export

作品 works

接近 move close to

黑道 underworld

一件 one item

百货 general merchanise

国庆 National Day

折扣 discount

脚步 step

出路 way out

国画 traditional Chinese painting

法则 law

出色 outstanding

铁塔 pylon

骨肉 flesh & blood

吃力 tired

积极 active

T1= low fall-rise


月光 moon

目标 goal

蜜蜂 bee

月台 platform

药丸 pill

石头 stone

白果 ginko

入口 import

日本 Japan

木棒 cudgel

活动 activity

白象 white elephant

物价 commoditiy prices

木器 wooden articles

白布 calico

服务 serve

实现 be realised

白话 vernacular literature

合作 cooperate

白铁 tin

肋骨 rib

毒药 poison

直达 non-stop

特别 special


I have described and analysed aspects of the tone sandhi in these data in the following publications (click to view):

Wenzhou Dialect Disyllabic Lexical Tone Sandhi with First Syllable Entering Tones (2000).

This paper describes the tone sandhi on the subset of combinations with the long fall-rise tones IVa and IVb on the first-syllable morpheme. These are in rows 7 and 8. What basically happens in these combinations is that both underlyingly long tones on the first-syllable morpheme neutralise to a tone with a very short pitch conditioned by word-initial Depression and the pitch of the following tone. Since the first syllable tones are reflexes of Middle Chinese short 'Ru' category tones, it looks as if the short tone in these combinations is actually a preservation of the Middle Chinese tone(s). But the 'short-long' pattern is also found in items with tones other than Middle Chinese Ru - see for example the verb-object examples in IIb+Ia combinations - and so the short realisation may be something more complicated. For more information see 游汝杰 You Rujie's 温州方言两字组连读的音长变化.

Tonal Complexity as Conditioning Factor: More Depressing Wenzhou Dialect Disyllabic Lexical Tone Sandhi (2002)

This paper shows that for the majority of combinations in the data the tone on the first syllable morpheme is either a (Depressed) high falling or (before word-final IVa/IVb tones) a (Depressed) mid rising tone.

Independent depressor and register effects in Wu dialect tonology: Evidence from Wenzhou tone sandhi (2002)

This paper describes the phenomenon of Depression and its interaction with Register in greater detail for the Wenzhou data.

"Defying Explanation"? - Accounting for Tones in Wenzhou Dialect Disyllabic Lexical Tone Sandhi (2004)

This paper describes the sandhi in the two remaining combination types, with underlying tones Ia/Ib + Ia/Ib (ping + ping), and underlying tones Ia/Ib + IIIa/IIIb (ping + qu).