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Hello! Welcome to Tone!
This page is a language introduction toolkit. Tone Text is the one writing system to learn to master speaking any language on Earth. The goal is to get a few thousand of the key words in every major language, past and present, so you can learn to speak any language without having to learn a complicated linguistics framework or master dozens of writing systems.
It differs from IPA in that it is less complex and more people focused. It is more like an English or Spanish script than something which seems foreign to most like IPA. Though this is not meant to replace IPA, it is basically an IPA for the casual user. It gets you 95% of the way there in terms of accurate pronunciation, leaving the remaining 5% which you can attain through practice with native speakers.Plow through some flash cardsRead the rabbit storyCheck out the 40 languagesStudy the cheat sheet
Here you will find a guide to each important sound and sound sequence for speaking the languages of Planet Earth, written in Tone Text. We have the pronunciation of words written out for 40 languages.
You will also learn to read and write each base glyph, as well as the glyph variants to account for tone, clicks, and other variations of sound. For those who want to see all the words we have, click here.
Note, you can click on some of the glyphs to hear the sound it represents. If you'd like to skip ahead and see all the words for a sound, click on the arrow ▶ above any of the glyphs.
There are 2000 words in total you can potentially practice from. However, some of these words might be archaic, it's not meant to be a source for learning new words necessarily, only for mainly getting pronunciations down.
There are also 286 sound mappings on this page. There are only 36 base glyphs though, which represent the base sounds. Everything else derives off of those. Once you learn the base, and practice a few of the extra sound mappings, you will get the hang of it fast.
Also note there is an ASCII encoding scheme, to make it easy to write Tone Text on a standard computer or phone (shown below each glyph). This is how you would write Tone Text manually, which gets formatted for the font.
Let's get started!
We begin with the 3 base shapes, out of which all base glyphs are created. Click on each letter to hear its sound. These are the 3 key vowels.
Note that the IPA sound range for each glyph is included underneath. A full phonology chart for the consonants is here. A similar vowel phonology chart is here. This should give you a way to map from one system to the other.
By rotating and flipping these 3 shapes, we get a total of 12 shapes, corresponding to the 12 base vowels.
Now, to each of these 12 base square glyphs, we can add tails to 2 of its sides. This gives us the 24 base consonants. Click each to hear its sound.
Note that some of the consonant shapes resemble English letter shapes, such as m mmm, n nnn, d ddd, s sss, etc., as it was largely inspired by the English alphabet. Knowing this gives an aid to your memory.
So we have a total of 36 base glyphs, 12 vowels, and 24 consonants.
Next we will go into the vowel and consonant derivations.
There are 3 more important vowels to learn, beyond the base 12. They are written by adding a dot to a similar sounding base vowel glyph.
You can make all vowels into nasal vowels. Here are a few of those.
Other than tones, which we will get to later on this page, this covers the main vowel sounds.
What follows are a few important consonants which are formed by adding a dot on the tailless side of the character, like @9@9@9 or @0@0@0. Some of these are retroflex sounds, while the rest are just other modifications on the underlying glyph's sound.
These are formed by expressing the consonant with a lot of outward force. They get the outward tilting accent mark, as if it is a mark showing the glyph is being propelled forward, like @4@4@4 or @6@6@6.
There are just a few of these, used quite a bit in some African languages, as well as Vietnamese. They are formed with a back-driving arc, like @5@5@5.
These come at the end of words typically, but can also be in the middle. They are formed with ending your mouth in the shape of the underlying consonant, but not saying the consonant. Lots of languages have this feature, but only really Korean actually has glyphs for it.
These are also a feature of Korean.
These are mainly featured in some African languages like the Bantu and Khosian language groups. They all have a full arc or point on the tailless side.
Then there are a few important glyph sequences, which are divided into two categories.
The first category are sound sequences, which map directly to glyph sequences. We sometimes think of these as individual sounds, but in reality they are composed of parts.
The second category are sounds or sound sequences where the last glyph (on the right) modifies the main sound(s) (on the left).
Here are a few common consonant sequences.
Here are a few vowel and semivowel sequences.
There are more vowel sequences which you will encounter, but this gives you the gist.
Tones are pronounced quickly and are pitched in relation to the rest of the words and sounds you are saying, they are not absolute pitch. These sound clips here slow the tones down and demonstrate their changes in a way you can hear them. You then need to speed this up and make the difference in tone a little more subtle to really nail it in real life.
Tone glyphs are represented by vowels with 1 of 4 possible accent marks on top (plus the non-accented mark, middle tone vowel). The two slashes tilting left (like it is speeding to the right and blown in the wind) are the highest tone, one tilt left is the regular high tone, one tilt right is low tone, and two tilts right ultra low tone. So there are 5 tones possible.
Complex tones, where the tone changes within a vowel or diphthong, are represented on single vowels by repeating the vowel and adding one tone mark to each vowel until all of the contour is delineated. On diphthongs, tone is distributed among the letters, and if it runs out of letters, it repeats the first letter as much as necessary.
Aspiration is very common in Indian languages, and many other languages have it to.
Voicelessness is common in Icelandic, but is also found in a few other languages such as Welsh. It is done by saying the sound without your voice (like a whisper).
These are common in Arabic. They are formed by pressing the back of your tongue up toward the back of your throat, while saying the main consonant.
This is common in Irish. It adds a slight "French r" (growl-ish) sound after the main consonant.
This is common in Russian, and Chinese. It adds a slight y sound after the main consonant.
That gets us through all of the sounds you will encounter in Earth's languages, at least to a rough approximation. This doesn't aim to give you a perfect native accent, as that is impossible to represent in a simplified writing system. Instead, it will give you a good foundation of speaking, which you can hone with real practice in a native environment.
Tone Text is a pronunciation-based script. We would like that each word can have a standard/canonical written form. However this poses a problem: various dialects and slangs can pronounce the same word in various ways.
To solve this problem, we create a standard/canonical pronuncation, based on a specific point in time/history, and allow the actual pronunciation to diverge to allow for using this script without forcing you to be tied to that pronunciation. That is, there is a reference pronunciation, which is how it is written. This is captured during standardization time, which is based on a specific point in history. But then there is the actual pronunciation, which can be more fluid, yet it still writes the word in the canonical form (unless you want to emphasize the slang pronunciation).
If you would like to help write any new words, or record any sounds or words, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.