Tibetan alphabet is a kind of abugida where glyphs may combine into new different forms, taking different positions in their combinations according to their types (see H.B. Hannah, pp. 16- 45).

Each glyph has an initial tone, either high or low, which, in turn, may be changed depending on an subjoining glyph, thus making from three to five or four tones altogether.

Moreover, the thirty initial glyhps are grouped, according to classical Tibetan grammar, into five genders: Masculine, Common, Feminine, Very Feminine, Barren and Neuter (see H. B. Hannah).

While classical Tibetan grammar is more or less unanimous, the dialects of Tibetan vary to a great extent and may even have no tone distinction (as it is the case with the dialect of Amdo).

Hence, the questions are:

  1. Do Tibetan tones also have gender properties, or is this a property of the glyphs only?

  2. Do the gender property of the tones and/or that of the glyhps change under tone sandhi they undergo when (sub)joined with other glyphs?

(For the tone sandhi, please see the data by Sun Kuo-ming and Sun Duanmu as generously provided by Gaston Ümlaut)

  • 1
    What do you mean by the "gender properties" of tone? That division of letters into "genders" is just a matter of classifying consonant sounds, it has nothing to do with tone. Besides, how can the 2 Tibetan tones correlate with the 5 "genders"?
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 29, 2013 at 13:34
  • @Yellow Sky Have you read the question?
    – Manjusri
    Nov 30, 2013 at 6:27
  • Surely I have, Ogunowicz.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 30, 2013 at 11:07
  • Judging by your question, you have not. What is 'Ogunowicz'?
    – Manjusri
    Nov 30, 2013 at 12:25

1 Answer 1


As Classical Tibetan was toneless, just as modern Amdo Tibetan is, the classification into masculine / feminine / neuter (= common) [sorry to all those who are used to Scandinavian / Dutch noun gender] / very feminine / sub-feminine (barren) / nameless (= neuter) is based not on tone, but on the original type of consonant.

Masculine = unaspirated voiceless

Neuter/Common = aspirated voiceless

Feminine = voiced (but not nasal or liquid)

Very feminine = nasal

Sub-feminine = liquid, h, vowel

Genderless/Neuter = semivowel

The status of the sibilants ཤ /ʃa/ and ས /sa/ is disputed; some say feminine, some say neuter/common.

Although this is not directly correlated to tone, the tone of the letter is easy predicted from the original type. However, there are further gradations. This is the most basic (and oldest)

Masculine = high

Neuter/Common = mid

(all the) feminine = low

The more modern (where mid has more or less vanished, becoming merged with high)

unaspirated voiceless = Masculine = high

aspirated voiceless = Neuter/Common = high

voiced (not liquid or nasal) = (Simple) Feminine = low

nasal = Very feminine = low

liquid = Sub-feminine = low

sibilants = (Simple) feminine or Neuter/Common = high

h = Sub-feminine = high

vowel = Sub-feminine = high

semivowel = Genderless/Neutral = low

As for tone sandhi, again there is no direct correlation between the two.

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