Phonetic and phonological properties of tones in Shanghai Chinese

Jiayin Gao, Pierre Hallé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates the relations between tone, voicing, and voice quality in modern Shanghai Chinese. In low tone syllables, word-initial obstruent onsets are traditionally described as voiceless and breathy, and sonorant onsets as voiced and breathy.

Our study is based on acoustic and electroglottographic (EGG) data from speakers of two age groups (20–30 vs. 60–80 years). Our results are globally in line with previous studies, but with notable differences. In low tone syllables, while word-initial stops are phonetically voiceless most of the time, fricatives are quite often phonetically voiced. While low tone obstruent onsets are followed by breathier vowels than high tone onsets, this pattern is not clear-cut for nasal onsets. Furthermore, our transversal data show that low tone breathiness is more systematically produced by elderly – especially male – speakers, rather than young speakers, suggesting an on-going change towards the loss of breathiness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-31
JournalCahiers de linguistique Asie Orientale
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jan 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jan 2017


  • phonetics
  • phonology
  • Shanghai Chinese
  • tone
  • voicing
  • breathy voice
  • electroglottography
  • phonétique
  • phonologie
  • Shanghaïen
  • ton
  • voisement
  • voix soufflée
  • electroglottographie

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