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Bert Remijsen

When the phonological form of a morpheme—a unit of meaning that cannot be decomposed further into smaller units of meaning—involves a particular melodic pattern as part of its sound shape, this morpheme is specified for tone. In view of this definition, phrase- and utterance-level melodies—also known as intonation—are not to be interpreted as instances of tone. That is, whereas the question “Tomorrow?” may be uttered with a rising melody, this melody is not tone, because it is not a part of the lexical specification of the morpheme tomorrow. A language that presents morphemes that are specified with specific melodies is called a tone language. It is not the case that in a tone language every morpheme, content word, or syllable would be specified for tone. Tonal specification can be highly restricted within the lexicon. Examples of such sparsely specified tone languages include Swedish, Japanese, and Ekagi (a language spoken in the Indonesian part of New Guinea); in these languages, only some syllables in some words are specified for tone. There are also tone languages where each and every syllable of each and every word has a specification. Vietnamese and Shilluk (a language spoken in South Sudan) illustrate this configuration. Tone languages also vary greatly in terms of the inventory of phonological tone forms. The smallest possible inventory contrasts one specification with the absence of specification. But there are also tone languages with eight or more distinctive tone categories. The physical (acoustic) realization of the tone categories is primarily fundamental frequency (F0), which is perceived as pitch. However, often other phonetic correlates are also involved, in particular voice quality. Tone plays a prominent role in the study of phonology because of its structural complexity. That is, in many languages, the way a tone surfaces is conditioned by factors such as the segmental composition of the morpheme, the tonal specifications of surrounding constituents, morphosyntax, and intonation. On top of this, tone is diachronically unstable. This means that, when a language has tone, we can expect to find considerable variation between dialects, and more of it than in relation to other parts of the sound system.


Irina Monich

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.


Rosemary G. Beam de Azcona

Zapotecan languages belong to the Otomanguean stock and consist of two major subgroups: Zapotec and Chatino. They are primarily spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico, and elsewhere in diaspora, particularly in California but also in other parts of the United States and Mexico. Zapotecan languages are spoken in a contiguous area and although all are related genetically, many languages exist in regional diffusion zones such that new changes spread areally. Similarly, individual Zapotecan “languages” often consist of dialect continua. Zapotecan languages are tonal and also have contrastive phonation types, such as a contrast between modal (V), checked (VɁ), and rearticulated (VɁV) vowels. Some Valley Zapotec languages also have breathy voice, partially due to contact with Mixe. Vowel nasalization is a prominent feature of Chatino and a marginal feature of some Zapotec languages. Consonants usually fall into two contrastive series in Zapotec, commonly termed “fortis” and “lenis,” though the phonetic realizations of these vary from language to language. The historical loss of unstressed vowels is common in many Zapotecan languages, though there are individual Zapotec and Chatino languages that retain them. A stress shift from the final syllable (retained in Chatino) to the first (usually penultimate) syllable of the root (in Zapotec) makes the languages with vowel loss more dissimilar from each other, since a different syllable survives in Chatino versus Zapotec. Zapotecan languages are head-initial languages with VSO order and are typically head-marking. Common morphology includes pre-posed TAM markers and post-posed person markers on the verb, and derivational prefixes on nouns. An emergent class of prepositions is developing out of what were historically relational nouns. Stative forms of verbs are more common than true adjectives, while numerals have many verbal properties. Like other Meso-American languages, Zapotecan languages are currently experiencing both a golden age and a moment of unprecedented peril. There is an ever-increasing number of linguists who are native speakers of these languages, and the community of language activists, including students and educators, is growing stronger in Oaxaca and Mexico at large, and indeed worldwide, including where Zapotecan languages are spoken by immigrants. At the same time, the intense political and socioeconomic pressure on communities to shift to Spanish is greater than ever before, and the number of communities where children speak Zapotecan languages is ever shrinking. Children in communities where children speak Zapotecan languages at home are often chastised for doing so in school, which poses a continual threat. Zapotecan languages historically have been in contact with other Meso-American languages such as Nahuatl, Mixtec, Chontal, Mixe, Huave and Chinantec, among others. Today the vast majority of speakers of Zapotecan languages are at least bilingual in their language and Spanish, and many also speak English and/or other Meso-American languages. Zapotecan languages mostly show lexical borrowings from these other languages, and occasional grammatical borrowings. Regional varieties of Spanish show a Zapotecan substrate with numerous calques and interference on every level of the language from phonetics to pragmatics.


William R. Leben

Autosegments were introduced by John Goldsmith in his 1976 M.I.T. dissertation to represent tone and other suprasegmental phenomena. Goldsmith’s intuition, embodied in the term he created, was that autosegments constituted an independent, conceptually equal tier of phonological representation, with both tiers realized simultaneously like the separate voices in a musical score. The analysis of suprasegmentals came late to generative phonology, even though it had been tackled in American structuralism with the long components of Harris’s 1944 article, “Simultaneous components in phonology” and despite being a particular focus of Firthian prosodic analysis. The standard version of generative phonology of the era (Chomsky and Halle’s The Sound Pattern of English) made no special provision for phenomena that had been labeled suprasegmental or prosodic by earlier traditions. An early sign that tones required a separate tier of representation was the phenomenon of tonal stability. In many tone languages, when vowels are lost historically or synchronically, their tones remain. The behavior of contour tones in many languages also falls into place when the contours are broken down into sequences of level tones on an independent level or representation. The autosegmental framework captured this naturally, since a sequence of elements on one tier can be connected to a single element on another. But the single most compelling aspect of the early autosegmental model was a natural account of tone spreading, a very common process that was only awkwardly captured by rules of whatever sort. Goldsmith’s autosegmental solution was the Well-Formedness Condition, requiring, among other things, that every tone on the tonal tier be associated with some segment on the segmental tier, and vice versa. Tones thus spread more or less automatically to segments lacking them. The Well-Formedness Condition, at the very core of the autosegmental framework, was a rare constraint, posited nearly two decades before Optimality Theory. One-to-many associations and spreading onto adjacent elements are characteristic of tone but not confined to it. Similar behaviors are widespread in long-distance phenomena, including intonation, vowel harmony, and nasal prosodies, as well as more locally with partial or full assimilation across adjacent segments. The early autosegmental notion of tiers of representation that were distinct but conceptually equal soon gave way to a model with one basic tier connected to tiers for particular kinds of articulation, including tone and intonation, nasality, vowel features, and others. This has led to hierarchical representations of phonological features in current models of feature geometry, replacing the unordered distinctive feature matrices of early generative phonology. Autosegmental representations and processes also provide a means of representing non-concatenative morphology, notably the complex interweaving of roots and patterns in Semitic languages. Later work modified many of the key properties of the autosegmental model. Optimality Theory has led to a radical rethinking of autosegmental mapping, delinking, and spreading as they were formulated under the earlier derivational paradigm.


Alexis Michaud and Bonny Sands

Tonogenesis is the development of distinctive tone from earlier non-tonal contrasts. A well-understood case is Vietnamese (similar in its essentials to that of Chinese and many languages of the Tai-Kadai and Hmong-Mien language families), where the loss of final laryngeal consonants led to the creation of three tones, and the tones later multiplied as voicing oppositions on initial consonants waned. This is by no means the only attested diachronic scenario, however. Besides well-known cases of tonogenesis in East Asia, this survey includes discussions of less well-known cases of tonogenesis from language families including Athabaskan, Chadic, Khoe and Niger-Congo. There is tonogenetic potential in various series of phonemes: glottalized versus plain consonants, unvoiced versus voiced, aspirated versus unaspirated, geminates versus simple (and, more generally, tense versus lax), and even among vowels, whose intrinsic fundamental frequency can transphonologize to tone. We draw attention to tonogenetic triggers that are not so well-known, such as [+ATR] vowels, aspirates and morphotonological alternations. The ways in which these common phonetic precursors to tone play out in a given language depend on phonological factors, as well as on other dimensions of a language’s structure and on patterns of language contact, resulting in a great diversity of evolutionary paths in tone systems. In some language families (such as Niger-Congo and Khoe), recent tonal developments are increasingly well understood, but working out the origin of the earliest tonal contrasts (which are likely to date back thousands of years earlier than tonogenesis among Sino-Tibetan languages, for instance) remains a mid- to long-term research goal for comparative-historical research.


Daniel Harbour

The Kiowa-Tanoan family is a small group of Native American languages of the Plains and pueblo Southwest. It comprises Kiowa, of the eponymous Plains tribe, and the pueblo-based Tanoan languages, Jemez (Towa), Tewa, and Northern and Southern Tiwa. These free-word-order languages display a number of typologically unusual characteristics that have rightly attracted attention within a range of subdisciplines and theories. One word of Taos (my construction based on Kontak and Kunkel’s work) illustrates. In tóm-múlu-wia ‘I gave him/her a drum,’ the verb wia ‘gave’ obligatorily incorporates its object, múlu ‘drum.’ The agreement prefix tóm encodes not only object number, but identities of agent and recipient as first and third singular, respectively, and this all in a single syllable. Moreover, the object number here is not singular, but “inverse”: singular for some nouns, plural for others (tóm-músi-wia only has the plural object reading ‘I gave him/her cats’). This article presents a comparative overview of the three areas just illustrated: from morphosemantics, inverse marking and noun class; from morphosyntax, super-rich fusional agreement; and from syntax, incorporation. The second of these also touches on aspects of morphophonology, the family’s three-tone system and its unusually heavy grammatical burden, and on further syntax, obligatory passives. Together, these provide a wide window on the grammatical wealth of this fascinating family.


Philip Rubin

Arthur Seymour Abramson (1925–2017) was an American linguist who was prominent in the international experimental phonetics research community. He was best known for his pioneering work, with Leigh Lisker, on voice onset time (VOT), and for his many years spent studying tone and voice quality in languages such as Thai. Born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, Abramson served several years in the Army during World War II. Upon his return to civilian life, he attended Columbia University (BA, 1950; PhD, 1960). There he met Franklin Cooper, an adjunct who taught acoustic phonetics while also working for Haskins Laboratories. Abramson started working on a part-time basis at Haskins and remained affiliated with the institution until his death. For his doctoral dissertation (1962), he studied the vowels and tones of the Thai language, which would sit at the heart of his research and travels for the rest of his life. He would expand his investigations to include various languages and dialects, such as Pattani Malay and the Kuai dialect of Suai, a Mon-Khmer language. Abramson began his collaboration with University Pennsylvania linguist Leigh Lisker at Haskins Laboratories in the 1960s. Using their unique VOT technique, a sensitive measure of the articulatory timing between an occlusion in the vocal tract and the beginning of phonation (characterized by the onset of vibration of the vocal folds), they studied the voicing distinctions of various languages. Their long standing collaboration continued until Lisker’s death in 2006. Abramson and colleagues often made innovative use of state-of-art tools and technologies in their work, including transillumination of the larynx in running speech, X-ray movies of speakers in several languages/dialects, electroglottography, and articulatory speech synthesis. Abramson’s career was also notable for the academic and scientific service roles that he assumed, including membership on the council of the International Phonetic Association (IPA), and as a coordinator of the effort to revise the International Phonetic Alphabet at the IPA’s 1989 Kiel Convention. He was also editor of the journal Language and Speech, and took on leadership roles at the Linguistic Society of America and the Acoustical Society of America. He was the founding Chair of the Linguistics Department at the University of Connecticut, which became a hotbed for research in experimental phonetics in the 1970s and 1980s because of its many affiliations with Haskins Laboratories. He also served for many years as a board member at Haskins, and Secretary of both the Board and the Haskins Corporation, where he was a friend and mentor to many.