LINGUIST List 16.845

Sun Mar 20 2005

Sum: Unmarked Contour Tone

Editor for this issue: Jessica Boynton <>

To post to LINGUIST, use our convenient web form at


        1.    Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho, Unmarked Contour Tone

Message 1: Unmarked Contour Tone

Date: 20-Mar-2005
From: Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho <>
Subject: Unmarked Contour Tone

Query for this summary posted in LINGUIST Issue: 16.588

Regarding query:

Two weeks ago, I posted a summary of the six responses I had received

Since then, four replies were added to the list. Thanks to:

John E. Koontz
Andrea Osburne
Roland Hemmauer
Yi Xu

* John E. Koontz adds to his first reply that Dakotan dialects - Teton or Lakota
and Santee-Sisseton or Dakota are the best known Siouan languages - [which have
H, L and a falling contour] are not generally described as having pitch accent,
and no description of any Siouan language from before the 1970s or so mentions
pitch accent, though essentially all Siouan languages other than Dakotan
accessible to modern investigation are now reported to have them. He would not
be surprised if Dakotan could be analyzed in these terms, too, but no one has
done so.

* Andrea Osburne reports an apparent counterexample to the point (1) above :
Zahao Laizo, a Tibeto-Burman language of Chin State, Burma, has three tones on
both short and long syllables : H, L, and rising.


Osburne, Andrea 1975: A Transformational Analysis of Tone in the Verb System of
Zahao (Laizo) Chin. Doctoral diss., UMI.

Osburne, Andrea 1979: Segmental, suprasegmental, autosegmental : Contour tones.
Linguistic Analysis 5, pp. 183-193.

* Roland Hemmauer mentions the opposite case of an African language, Kanuri
(Nilo-Saharian), that seems to obey the regularity in (1) which is usually more
clearly attested by esatern Asian languages. Kanuri has a H, L and falling tone.
There is also a morphologically-restricted class of examples that show a rising
intonation. However, while the latter can easily be analyzed as a L-H sequence,
this is not always the case of the falling tone, which can be found in
particular on final short vowels. The Nilo-Saharian family might contain other
similar cases.


Cyffer, Norbert 1998: A sketch of Kanuri. Köln: Köppe.

Lukas, Johannes 1967 (reprint from 1937): A Study of the Kanuri language.
Grammar and Vocabulary. Oxford: University Press.

* Finally, Yi Xu suggests to consider phonetic factors related to contour tones,
which might be useful to explain the putative universal in (1).


Xu, Yi (to appear). Understanding tone from the perspective of production and
perception. Language and Linguistics.

Once again, thank you very much for your useful comments.

Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho

Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue