Morphology and Tone
- Irina MonichIrina MonichSurrey Morphology Group, University of Surrey
Tone is indispensable for understanding many morphological systems of the world. Tonal phenomena may serve the morphological needs of a language in a variety of ways: segmental affixes may be specified for tone just like roots are; affixes may have purely tonal exponents that associate to segmental material provided by other morphemes; affixes may consist of tonal melodies, or “templates”; and tonal processes may apply in a way that is sensitive to morphosyntactic boundaries, delineating word-internal structure.
Two behaviors set tonal morphemes apart from other kinds of affixes: their mobility and their ability to apply phrasally (i.e., beyond the limits of the word). Both floating tones and tonal templates can apply to words that are either phonologically grouped with the word containing the tonal morpheme or syntactically dependent on it.
Problems generally associated with featural morphology are even more acute in regard to tonal morphology because of the vast diversity of tonal phenomena and the versatility with which the human language faculty puts pitch to use. The ambiguity associated with assigning a proper role to tone in a given morphological system necessitates placing further constraints on our theory of grammar. Perhaps more than any other morphological phenomena, grammatical tone exposes an inadequacy in our understanding both of the relationship between phonological and morphological modules of grammar and of the way that phonology may reference morphological information.