Syllables Starting With Vowels

Focusing more heavily on Hoisanwa lately, I’ve been having trouble distinguishing word boundaries. Maybe it is just a lack of practice, or because I still haven’t made much progress in the lessons. But I have another theory related to the differences between Cantonese and Hoisanwa, specifically syllables starting with vowels.

In Cantonese all syllables start with consonants. I think after 4 years of learning Cantonese, I have subconsciously been conditioned to only hear syllable boundaries when the syllable starts with a consonant.

The only exception to that are a few words that could just as easily start with “ng”, and the “ng” is left off, such as:
歐 au1
我 o23
屋 uk55

To my knowledge, the vowels “e”, “eu”, “i” never begin a syllable in Cantonese.

But in Hoisanwa, syllables can start with any of the vowels. A lot of the syllables that start with a “d” in Cantonese drop that “d” when spoken in Hoisanwa:
dak55 | aak52 | 得
dei11 | i52 | 地
deui33 | ooi33 | 對
dung55 | ung52 | 東
duk11 | uk52 | 讀

NOTE: I think I got some of those Hoisanwa tones wrong, and too tired at the moment to look them up, but you get the idea …

I’m not sure if I really had a point, except that there is a lot more variety to the syllable boundaries in Hoisanwa than in Cantonese. And I think that’s possibly why I’ve had trouble noticing the start of a new syllable sometimes? Any one else feel similarly?

P/T/K Endings and Tones

Most learners are taught that Cantonese has 6 tones:
high-level, mid-rising, mid-level, low-falling, low-rising, low-level

In Cantonese, any syllables ending in p/t/k will always be a level pitch countour.
high-level: 執笠、不、北
mid-level: 鴨、押、百
low-level: 習、沒、樂

The only exception is one of those syllables undergoing tone change to mid-rising, for example as the second syllable in a word.

When some people count the # of tones, they only account for the pitch contours, so 6 tones in Cantonese. The more Chinese way of thinking of tones is to consider p/t/k syllable endings as a separate tone from those other syllables that have the same pitch contour but do not end in p/t/k.

Since Cantonese only has p/t/k syllables in the 3 level contours, they will say that Cantonese has 9 tones.

However, the main point of this post is that in Hoisanwa – although I still haven’t made much progress – I did notice that the “you plural” syllable is “niak” with a high-falling tone. I wonder how many tones there are in Hoisanwa then, if counting syllables ending in p/t/k as a separate syllable?

And I vaguely remember learning somewhere that syllables ending in p/t/k can only ever be level tones … but I guess that must have been a Cantonese-specific rule?

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