Possessive tone in Tswefap (Bamileke): Paradigmatic or derivational?


In this paper, I consider two analyses of the possessive pronoun tonal paradigm in Tswefap, a Bamileke language spoken in Batoufam, Cameroon. As in the case of related languages that have been previously described, Tswefap has a rather complex tone system that involves multiple tone heights, tonal contours, and tone alternations. Although simplified, it also maintains several of the inherited noun class distinctions. In this study attention is on the tones of possessive pronouns and their effects on a preceding modified noun. I first present a paradigmatic account as one might find in a descriptive or pedagogical grammar indicating which possessive pronouns receive which tones. I then turn to a more traditional Bamileke and Grassfields Bantu analysis in terms of underlying representations and floating tones. It is argued that all possessive pronouns are preceded by a floating L tone which affects the mid tone of a preceding noun in one of two ways, depending on the syllable shape of the pronoun: (i) if the pronoun begins with a consonant, the mid of the noun becomes a mid to low contour tone; (ii) if the pronoun consists solely of a vowel, the mid of the noun is raised to a high tone. Although I argue for the latter analysis, I conclude by demonstrating that alternate tonal variations indicate on-going change which may ultimately undermine the more abstract phonological analysis in favor of a considerably simplified paradigmatic tone assignment.

Larry M. Hyman
Publication date: 
January 1, 2020
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Hyman, L. M. (2020), Possessive tone in Tswefap (Bamileke): Paradigmatic or derivational? In E.-A. Urua, F. Egbokhare, O. Adéṣọlá, & H. Adeniyi (eds), African languages in time and space, pp,28-39. Ibadan, Nigeria: Zenith BookHouse Ltd.