LING-712 Seminar: Tone
Spring for 2017-2018
Though well over half the world’s languages are tonal (using differences in pitch in order to signal lexical or inflectional contrasts between words), and though the study of tone has played an important role in the historical development of phonological theory, tone remains a relatively under-studied topic in modern phonology. This is a real shame, since tonal phenomena present problems that are as interesting, as challenging, and as beautiful as any others in phonology. In this course, we’ll take a look at some of these problems, and consider what they can teach us about modern phonological theory.
The course will proceed in two parallel threads. On the one hand, we’ll be looking at particular tonal phenomena from a broad typological perspective. For example, we’ll consider processes such as tone spreading (e.g. ??? ? ????) and tone shift (??? ? ???) in a wide variety of languages, and we’ll try to arrive at general answers to questions like
• What motivates tone spread and shift, and what is the synchronic relationship between the two (if any?)
• Why do tones sometimes spread/shift in a bounded domain (within two or three syllables) while others spread/ shift unboundedly over any number of syllables?
• What positions within a word attract (or repel) spreading or shifting tones?
• What factors act to block spread/shift?
• In languages where spread/shift is asymmetrical (e.g. where a H tone spreads or shifts but L does not), what is the source of this asymmetry?
Some other topics that we’ll consider from a broad typological perspective include the representation of tonal contrasts, the potentially variable representation of contour tones, the relationship between tone and segmental properties (especially the laryngeal properties of consonants), and tonal assimilation and dissimilation.
On the other hand, we’ll be looking closely at a wide range of individual languages (e.g. Mazatec, Akan, Hausa, Zulu, Kikuyu, Thai, Cantonese) to see how different tonal processes interact with one another within them, and how our grammar must be structured in order to adequately account for these interactions. We’ll pay particularly close attention to real and apparent instances of tonal opacity, which intuitively seem to require elaborate multi-stage derivations. These cases are abundant within tonal phonology, and are one of the main reasons why phonologists working on tone have been reluctant to adopt surface-based theories of phonology like Optimality Theory. There’s no consensus opinion right now on how these cases should be handled – we’ll seek to arrive at our own consensus over the course of the semester.
Other academic years
There is information about this course number in other academic years: