I'm searching for languages which use a lot of different tones. The one with the most tones I found was Thai which has 5 tones. Are their tonal languages with use more distinct tones than thai?

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    you'll find such languages without much effort in mexico, central africa, and southeast asia. have a look at this paper for starters.
    – user483
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 2:29
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    By "tones" you mean "tonal contours" or "tone levels"? E.g. most Chinese languages have just 5 tone levels, but use much more "tones" by having the tone go raising, falling, up-down-up, etc.etc.
    – Joe Pineda
    Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 11:45

6 Answers 6


Depending on how you analyze it, Trique may have as many as 15 tones, built from 5 pitch levels.


Vietnamese has six tones.Cantonese has nine.

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    Do you think you could expand this answer by adding information on what tones they have? Very short answers are discouraged by the SE guidelines ;)
    – robert
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 0:26
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    That depends on how they're transcribed and what tonal theory is being used for the tonemics. Tones are not just pulled from a bag; they're very complex. Anyone who's looking for the tones can go to the source.
    – jlawler
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 1:07
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    Vietnamese quốc ngữ script reflects Hanoi dialect as it was spoken in the early 17th century and the spelling has not changed significantly since 1651 (Alexandre de Rhodes’ “Dictionarium Annamiticum”). It does not attempt to represent any other dialect. Quốc ngữ distinguishes 6 tones, as does modern Hanoiese, but most Southern dialects have only 5 tones.
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 13:10
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    Cantonese can be analyzed as having only six tones; three of the tones in the nine-tone analysis only appear on the so-called "checked" syllables, and they are in complementary distribution with their equivalents on open syllables. Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 15:45
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    I understand. In Vietnamese too you can distinguish the checked and non-checked versions of the sắc and nặng tones, in which case you will an eight-tone system.
    – fdb
    Commented Nov 28, 2013 at 16:05

Lao has five tones (like Thai) in the south.

But Lao has six tones in the north.

... In the capital, Vientiane, which is supposed to set the standard for the Lao language, there has been an ongoing debate about whether the local spoken variety has five or six tones. I encountered teaching materials bluntly stating five, others bluntly stating six, and others mentioning the debate before arbitrarily choosing one analysis or the other before continuing.

  • That's interesting. Doesn't written Lao distinguish 6 tones, given how the system with consonant classes works? I thought Lao had 6 tones (high, mid, low, rising, high falling, low falling). Do you happen to know which of these is missing in the 5 tone version?
    – neubau
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 7:12
  • I don't know off-hand. When I was in Laos I read many web pages and PDFs on the topic that I found via Google. But now I've just crossed from China to Mongolia. The Lao script has the same tone marks as Thai script but I'm definitely not an expert and could be wrong. We do have a Thai/Lao expert on the site though, if you ask a question about it I'm sure he'll answer. Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 13:45
  • In any case, I would bet these varieties of Lao are mutually intelligible, as speakers would be able to adjust for the slight discrepancy in the tones. I'll be in Hanoi next week - another exotic linguistic destination :)
    – neubau
    Commented Nov 29, 2013 at 7:14

Lanna ( northern thai ) has six tones as well


Most dialects of Wú have 7 or 8 tones, however some such as those around Wujiang have up to 12 or 15 tones, depending on which topolect.

Ultimately, 5 tones is a pretty small inventory. Shanghainese has the lowest number of tones in Wú with 5.


The Hmong language has 8 tones.

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    I didn't downvote, but just a note: you could specify that Dananshan has 8, while Hmong Daw and Mong Njua have 7.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 9:09

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