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Summary Details

Query:   Unmarked Contour Tone
Author:  Joaquim Brandao de Carvalho
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonology

Summary:   Regarding query:

Two weeks ago, I posted the 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

LL Issue: 16.845
Date Posted: 20-Mar-2005
Original Query: Read original query


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