I was looking at old Kunqu opera the other day and was interested by the fact that the singers seemed to be pronouncing 也 as "yi" instead of "ye", for example in http://www.tudou.com/programs/view/sAj9FgdRmK8:

好天气也 (00:12)
好困人也 (14:50)

Both instances sound like yi, not "ye3" as in Mandarin (it also struck me as such in a different recording, which I can't find online right now). Since the pronunciation in Kunqu is supposed to be based on an old form of Suzhou dialect, I'm curious whether 也 can still be pronounced like "yi" in more modern forms of that dialect, and if so - does Suzhou dialect include some sound like "yi" that happens to be used as a termination particle?

If so, it might be an intriguing case of a supposed signature of Classical Chinese - using 也 to terminate a clause - being present in vernacular Chinese as well. Of course, I might simply not hearing that it's actual "ye3" in the above, in which case apologies.

  • Grand Ricci also has 也 as yě (or yí).
    – Mou某
    Jul 10, 2015 at 0:32
  • 1
    汉语大词典 also has an entry for it listed as yí with this reference 郭沫若 考释 匜, 按《説文·乙部》‘也’。 朱骏声 《通训定声》:‘此字當即匜字, 後人加匚耳。’
    – Mou某
    Jul 10, 2015 at 0:34
  • how interesting... that gives me a way to start investigating further. still curious about whether something like yi2 figures in modern Suzhou dialect and if so how. Jul 10, 2015 at 0:44
  • here's a nother example that 汉语大词典 gives for 也 pronunced as yí: 《两周金文辞大系·鲁大司徒匜铭》 魯 大司徒子 仲白 作其庶女 厲 孟 姬 賸也。 as for Suzhou dialect, 苏州方言词典.pdf is pretty easy to find on 百度
    – Mou某
    Jul 10, 2015 at 0:47
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    thanks for checking - i'm afraid my searching skills have atrophied to the point i'm helpless if i can't Control-F Jul 10, 2015 at 1:32

1 Answer 1


Zhang Jiqing singing Kunqu, always a pleasure to listen to.

The 也 here is the sentence final particle. It's used quite differently in vernacular literature in the Ming-Qing than it is in classical literature, where it's almost like a copula. The references from 漢語大辭典 are talking about the use of 也 as a loan character for 匜, which is pronounced yi. This is common in bronze inscriptions ca. 500 BC or earlier, and has nothing to do with the 也 here.

As for pronunciation, after listening to the 2 examples several times, I'd have to say that it's still diphthongized, just like in standard Mandarin. The Kunqu pronunciation is not actually Suzhou 土話. It's like the pronunciation in Peking opera, in the sense that it preserves older facets of Mandarin, but has a definite southern flavor to it. One part of this flavor is that a number of diphthongs are much less like two vowels and are more like a single vowel with a coda, so that the -e coming after i- is less conspicuous; this is strengthened by the fact that its a sentence final particle. Anyway, I'm sure that its a 也 in these two places. The subtitles are accurate, just copied from the libretto.

  • "it's used quite differently in vernacular literature in Ming-Qing than it is in classical literature" - can you elaborate? I'm noticing similar uses of 也 in 词 (ex "春去也") which makes sense given the shared history of 词 and 曲. Jul 10, 2015 at 9:47
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    Here's a classical example from the Analects: 非其鬼而祭之,諂也。見義不為,無勇也。 Legge translates: "For a man to sacrifice to a spirit which does not belong to him is flattery. To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage." The structure is A, B 也, A is B. This is what I meant by almost like a copula, equating A with B. It's one of the main uses of 也 in the classical period, but is rare in most "vernacular" literature. Compare one of the examples from the opera: 恁般天氣好困人也 This kind of weather is so tiring. Topic-stative predicate + 也 is common in vernacular, rare in classical.
    – wpt
    Jul 10, 2015 at 10:37
  • Thanks for the clarification. I'm not sure whether the formation is "common" in vernacular (even now? examples?) but remain interested in the apparent relationship between the "vernacular" and "classical" forms. Jul 10, 2015 at 19:47

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