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I can't tell the difference between Cantonese tone 4 and 6.


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These two combinations of tones: 5/6 and 5/4 sound exactly the same to me.

For example: 我係 and 我唔係.


Also the 唔 and 係's tones sound exactly the same to me when they are combined to make 唔係.

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Well, 6 is a low flat tone, and 4 is either a lower flat tone, or a slightly falling tone. But you probably know this already.


I wouldn't worry too much about not being able to hear the difference. It's not a big deal. Try to make sure that you are distinguishing your own pronunciation, and that native speakers can understand you, and that's probably good enough. You'll be confused by words read out in isolation, or minimal pairs that only distinguish tone 4 and tone 6 basically forever, but it won't be the end of the world, and this is a really hard problem to fix.


A better cue for tone 4 rather than pitch 90% of the time is creaky voice. If it sounds creaky or slightly creaky, it basically must be tone 4, while if it's not creaky, it's likely tone 6. Most Cantonese speakers will use some creaky voice for tone 4 and tone 4 only, but not 100% of people will do this, so ymmv.

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On 5/10/2021 at 12:56 PM, Takeshi said:

A better cue for tone 4 rather than pitch 90% of the time is creaky voice.


A 2014 academic study: The role of creaky voice in Cantonese tonal perception, which kind of agrees.


Confusion of tone 4 and tone 6 was reported in 2020 amongst young heritage speakers of Cantonese in Vancouver. 

Interestingly, an asymmetric merger was reported amongst HK adults in a 2019 paper:

  • tone 2 and tone 5 have been merged in both perception and production;
  • tone 3 and tone 6 are partially merging in production only
  • tone 4 and tone 6 are partially merging mostly in perception.


Image from the paper:


[That's probably quite tiny; apologies.]


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