The IPA uses the 5 tone-letters ˥,˦,˧,˨,˩. Unicode also has reversed (꜒,꜓,꜔,꜕,꜖) and dotted tone bars (꜈,꜉,꜊,꜋,꜌; ꜍,꜎,꜏,꜐,꜑). What are these characters used for?

  • 1
    Google won't search for them, and Wikipedia doesn't seem to have redirects for them. – Mechanical snail May 22 '12 at 1:21

Dotted tone letters*: Dotted tone letters are used in Chinese linguistics to indicate tones in certain weakly-stressed syllables having a less-distinct quality—there is little or no pitch variation, and the duration is short. These are often referred to in Chinese linguistics as “neutral tones” Although we call it a "neutral" tone (in Chinese it is called a "light" tone). It takes very little time to say, and does not hold or change its pitch. We use the voice-range stem (|) plus a dot to show where one's neutral tone should be.

*-Based on the document "Comments on N2626, Proposal on IPA Extensions & Combining > Diacritic Marks for ISO/IEC 10646 in BMP" - Peter Constable, Microsoft

With further material from Chinese Primer: Lessons

Reversed tone letters: In the same Comments on Proposal document, the author suggest using the left-stemmed tone bars in combination with the right-stemmed tone bars to indicate contours. I am not certain if this was a mere suggestion or was based on previous usage (Document is from 2003).

  • You mean that it's used for characters like 的,子, etc? – Alenanno May 24 '12 at 8:31
  • @Nausher: the Google Docs link is giving the error "Sorry, we were unable to find the document at the original source". – Mechanical snail May 24 '12 at 23:49
  • @Mechanicalsnail - Yes strange that I can't access it now either, but I found a HTML only cache - webcache.googleusercontent.com/… – Nausher May 25 '12 at 4:04
  • @Alenanno - I don't know Chinese(Mandarin) so can't comment. That explanation was from the document and the book that I linked to. – Nausher May 25 '12 at 4:06

The first series is explained in this scheme available on the wikipedia page for IPA, and, as you said, they are tone letters:

˥ = Top
˦ = High
˧ = Mid
˨ = Low
˩ = Bottom

The reversed and reversed dotted tone letters are referred to as Modifier Tone Letters too, the only difference is that they're called "left-stem". I think that considering the lack of info and references, we can simply consider them variations. Someone let me know if you find something, I've explored here and there but it really seems they have no particular use, concerning IPA.

  • I've seen Chao tone articles that use the left stem forms. I suspect that it may have started in earlier times when people constructed their own tone letters (as graphics) as they didn't have a font that includes them. This could have been what led to them being included in Unicode. – Gaston Ümlaut Jun 6 '12 at 8:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.