Michigan State University

Tone Perfect: Multimodal Database for Mandarin Chinese

Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language: The same sound can hold entirely different meanings depending on the tone used to pronounce it, a fundamental difference from how intonation is used in English.

For example, in Mandarin the sound “ma” (English sound equivalent) can mean “mother,” “hemp,” “horse,” or “scold” depending on the tonal inflection used. However, not all sounds carry an actual meaning in each of the four tones. Those without any meaning are referred to as "lexical gaps." This collection includes spoken examples of these lexical gaps (a total of 2,382 samples).

The Tone Perfect collection includes the full catalog of monosyllabic sounds in Mandarin Chinese (410 in total) in all four tones (410 x 4 = 1,640). Spoken by six native Mandarin speakers (three female and three male), the collection is comprised of 9,860 audio files (6 sets of 1,640).

Browse through the collection, experience the sounds, and sharpen your tonal perception! You can learn more about what sounds exist in Mandarin by exploring the Mandarin Sound Table.

mā by FV1

ma1 / mā / 媽 / 妈 / "mother"

"High level tone"

má by FV2

ma2 / má / 麻 / "hemp"

"Rising tone"

mǎ by MV3

ma3 / mǎ / 馬 / 马 / "horse"

"Dipping tone"

mà by MV2

ma4 / mà / 罵 / 骂 / "scold"

"Falling tone"

Learn More about Tone Perfect

Watch these video overviews for an introduction to Tone Perfect.

Search the Database

You can search by speaker's gender, tone, and sound.

  • To search for a particular speaker, use one of the following terms: FV1, FV2, FV3, MV1, MV2, MV3. FV1 = "Female Voice 1" and MV2 = "Male Voice 2".
  • Search by sound ("ma"), tone (1-4), or the whole syllable ("ma2" or "má").

Awards

  • Recipient of the Open Scholarship Award (2019), for open scholarship carried out by scholars, librarians, citizen scholars, research professionals, and administrators. Award sponsored by the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute and its partners.
  • Recipient of the 2018 Esperanto "Access to Language Education” Award, presented by CALICO, the Esperantic Studies Foundation, and Lernu.net.