The Ju-Sheng Tone in Pekingese

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The Ju-Sheng Tone in Pekingese

China is a land full of dialects and different languages; the most widely spoken in Mandarin Chinese, followed by the Wu and Cantonese dialects. Pekingese is another highly spoken dialect. It is the form of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Peking, otherwise known as Beijing, the capital of China.

Chinese, in any of its spoken dialects, can be very difficult for westerners and over the years linguistic scholars have studied each carefully. In 1912, the scholar H. Maspero attempted to create some order to the unpredictable repartition of the old ju-sheng tones among the four tones of Pekingese. Maspero noted that words in “plosive initials (including aspirated plosives), and in nasal or liquid initials, tend to be found in the departing tone (tone IV), and to a less extent in the upper even (tone I); while those with other initials gravitate towards the old lower even (tone II)”.

In 1925, Dr. Liu Fu also studied the issue of the ju-sheng tones. He noted that 55% of all the old ju-sheng words occurred during the falling tones (tone IV). He claimed that there was a special relationship between the fourth tone and the ju-sheng, that “ju-sheng words being already, in those dialects which still possess them as a special class, uttered with an incipient fall in intonation, the removal of the final consonant, which had acted as a check on the lengthening of the vowel, enabled the fall to be prolonged and so to coincide with the Pekingese falling tone, IV”.

Scholars went on over the decades to study this tone, the ju-sheng being a tantalising issue for linguists. They were able to see no similar difference of tonal behaviour between the literary and the many popular words occurring from the old lower ju-sheng. They concluded that this was in fact due to the history of the language.

In around 1280 CE when the Mongols invaded and conquered China, they made Peking their capital. The literati who stayed the new court did not abandon the dialect they had spoken under the Sung at K’ai-feng and at Hangchow; instead it is their language which is in the ancestor to modern Pekingese which, in turn, is the basis of modern Mandarin Chinese.

In standard Mandarin, the upper and lower ju-sheng tone was the same in pitch and cadence; in contrast, in Pekingese kept the lower and upper ju-sheng separate and thus developed differently.


Forrest, R. A. D. (1950),

 The Ju-Shêng Tone in Pekingese,

 Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London,

 Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies.


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