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According to pleco 杆 in the third tone means shaft or arm, while in the first tone it means pole or staff. 扶杆 is in one of our exercises. It is not contained in any of the pleco dictionaries I own (PLC, CC, TL, UNI) and seems to mean armrest. I guess it is the third tone.

enter image description here

The transcript of the relevant snippet reads:

坐地铁对我来说也有问题,地铁的扶杆太低,⋯

  • 1
    The OP meant the free Pleco dictionary PLC that's included with the app, not paid dictionaries Pleco maintainer licensed from other sources. Next you'll say 汉语大词典 is a Pleco dictionary :D – Vitaly Osipov Jun 12 '18 at 3:48
  • @user3306356 mind sharing what it says in those dictionaries or write an answer? I don't have those dictionaries to check, and we don't need an accepted answer that's incorrect. – droooze Jun 12 '18 at 5:18
  • @VitalyOsipov The wording, "[i]t is not contained in [P]leco," doesn't explicitly refer to PLC itself, it could be understood in multiple different ways. I often use almost exactly the same wording to mean that none of Pleco's add-ons contain certain words. – user3306356 Jun 12 '18 at 6:31
  • @user3306356 I edited to include the list of my pleco dictionaries – Ludi Jun 12 '18 at 7:19
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    @FrenzyLi Done! – Ludi Jun 12 '18 at 13:09
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Let's talk in terms of Traditional Chinese here, which I feel is going to be much clearer.

  • 「杆」is not pronounced gǎn. The valid pronunciations listed in dictionaries are gàn and gān.
  • 「杆」pronounced gān means pole or rod.
  • 「桿」is only pronounced gǎn, and is a synonym of「杆」when it is pronounced gān, in the sense that「桿」can mean pole or rod.
  • 「桿」(gǎn) also means lever or handle.

This is not hard to remember if you consider that「干」is never pronounced in the third tone, and the other common character which uses「旱」as a phonetic component,「趕」(gǎn), is also pronounced in the third tone.

Simplified Chinese merged「杆」and「桿」into one character.


enter image description here

The「杆」mentioned in the text is the horizontal bar referenced in the image above (扶手橫桿/扶手横杆), which should be pronounced gǎn. From Panlex:

  • Searching héng gǎn or hénggǎn results in 横杆 with definitions cross-bar, rail, overarm

  • Searching héng gān turns up no results

  • Searching hénggān results in 横竿

(You can check Panlex's dictionary sources here by filtering with the key 'cmn'.)

  • @dan this might be a bit contentious. No dictionaries (Mainland, Taiwan, HK) I can find lists 扶杆 or 扶桿 as an actual word, which means that it literally means a "gan" that is for support purposes. It's plausible to interpret 杆 in 扶杆 as a shortened version of 欄杆, but without a prescribed reference, 杆 by itself just means pole (in traditional Chinese). People have written both 扶杆 and 扶桿, meaning the there's no such set word, and it's up for interpretation, and the most direct interpretation to me is that gān means pole and gǎn means handle. – droooze Jun 11 '18 at 15:41
  • interestingly enough. I posted this in my We Chat's moments. By now, two people think it's gān, and so far no one votes for gan3. – dan Jun 11 '18 at 15:47
  • @dan this is going to be one of those situations where the most popular support is going to eventually define the pronunciation, as 扶杆 is not actually a word (yet). – droooze Jun 11 '18 at 15:53
  • This is really a moot point. Another point is gan1 is something very long, while gan3 is shorter like 笔杆,枪杆. I think the pole in 地铁 is pretty long, it seems that gan1 make more sense from this perspective. – dan Jun 11 '18 at 15:58
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    To me, I take the short one as gan3, the long one as gan1. Anyways, this is all opinion based. – dan Jun 11 '18 at 17:07
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According to the definition of zdic dictionary:

gān  

 ◎ 较长的棍:~子(a.长棍;b.方言,指揭竿而起的人;c.指结伙抢劫的土匪)。旗~。桅~。电线~。

gǎn    1. 器物上 像棍子的细长部分:~秤(区别于台秤等)。笔~儿。~菌。  2. 量词,用于有杆的器物:一~笔。一~步枪。

As we can see, when 杆(gǎn ) means a rod, it should be part of something, like 笔杆,枪杆, etc. Well, 杆(gān )itself means a long rod.

So, I think both hénggǎn and hénggān are possible pronunciations for 横杆, depending on contexts.

In this particular context quoted by OP, I tend to believe that 杆 in 扶杆 should be pronounced as gān because:

  1. it's very long bar that is used within the Metro train.
  2. people tend to make a reference to the word: 栏杆 lan2gan1.
  3. after checking around, all of my friends(including myself), so far, think it's gān.

Also, here is a news broadcast. The anchor did pronounce it as gān.

Technically, I'm not 100% sure whether it's gǎn or gān, because no dictionary official put the definition of 扶杆. But in practice, gān indeed is the common sense for 地铁扶杆 within the mainland at least.

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Some words, such as 一 and 不 change their tone, depending on what tone follows, although when I look in the dictionary, I see only one tone. Maybe this also works in reverse, the word following may 'change its spots' according to the preceding tone. It is strange that the pronunciation is not certain.

In the bus they repeat endlessly: 站稳扶好 to do that we need the 扶杆。

My quick survey of 3 people: all say 扶杆fú gān 扶手横杆fúshǒuhénggān

Baidu has a lot of pretty pictures of 扶杆 here so Baidu certainly knows 扶杆 as a word or phrase.

(hand) rail, railing, : a (generally) horizontal or slanting pole
post: vertical pole
bar: either horizontal or vertical pole
banister: 楼梯的扶手,栏杆(lángān) 的支柱

zdic: 杆gān:较长的棍
杆gǎn:器物上像棍子的细长部分

我很幸运,苗条如杆,也从不饥饿。
Wǒ hěn xìngyùn, miáotiao rú gǎn, yě cóngbù jī'è.
I was lucky, thin as a rail and never hungry.

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扶杆 is in three Pleco offered dictionaries. One Chinese to English: KEY. Two Chinese to French: KEY French and Grand Ricci. They all note the same pronunciation:

fú gān

KEY defines it as:

handrail

Grand Ricci as:

Poignée

and KEY French as:

rampe

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