Chinese tone has played an important role in the development of phonological theory from distinctive features and autosegmental phonology to Optimality Theory and its various adaptations. This article reviews some past and current issues in the analysis of Chinese tone and points out how the development of theoretical phonology has shaped the highs and lows of this research enterprise. To fruitfully proceed into the future, I plead to phonologists working in this area to cultivate a new respect for empirical data based on well-designed phonetic and psycholinguistic studies. This is necessitated by the observations that speakers’ knowledge of tone and tone sandhi may not be identical to their patterns in the lexicon, and impressionistic transcriptions, no matter how careful, can be inaccurate. Moreover, patterns of tone in Chinese are rich in variation, gradience, and exceptions due to dialectal contact and the influence from the dominant Standard Chinese, and existing research has shown that the productivity of Chinese tone sandhi patterns is influenced by both categorical factors such as phonological opacity and gradient factors such as the phonetic nature and the frequency of usage of the sandhi. An empirical basis built around these issues will allow the study of Chinese tone to make continued contributions to the development of phonological theory and our understanding of speakers’ phonological knowledge.
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