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LINGUIST List 25.486

Wed Jan 29 2014

Qs: Tone marking in a 4-level tone language

Editor for this issue: Alex Isotalo <alxlinguistlist.org>

Date: 28-Jan-2014
From: Marieke Martin <marieke.martingmail.com>
Subject: Tone marking in a 4-level tone language
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Dear fellow scholars

I have been working on Wawa, a Mambiloid language of Cameroon for a few years and am getting my grammar ready to be published. However, I have never been able to find a satisfactory system of tone marking in the transcriptions. The language has 4 level tones and all combinations of 2 tones except 1-3, 2-3 and 3-1 (1 is the highest, 4 the lowest tone) exist. All contour tones are phonemic.

Using the extra high or extra low diacritics does not work very well, as they don't combine with other diacritics. I have been using a short mark, i.e. ''ă'', to mark the lower mid tone (3), as this tone does not come up in contours as often as all other tones. Marking contours such as 3-2 (very common) looks quite awkward, e.g. ''ă ̄''.

One possibility is to use numbers, but I feel it makes the transcriptions harder to read.

The language has vowel length distinction and I transcribe long vowels by doubling them, which helps with contours on them, but there are also many short vowels with contours. Marking one tone on the following consonant doesn't work either, as some words end in a syllabic trill that carries tone, and I distinguish between these tone-bearing trills and non-syllabic final trills by marking/not marking tone.

I would very much appreciate any ideas you might have about a system of tone marking that doesn't lose tonal contrasts.

Thanks very much,

Kind regards

Marieke Martin
University of Cape Town

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
                            General Linguistics
                            Language Documentation
                            Writing Systems
Language Family(ies): Afroasiatic

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