On reconstructing tone in Proto-Niger-Congo


In this paper I trace tonal correspondences between the widely accepted reconstructed tones of Proto-Bantu lexical morphemes (Meeussen 1980, Bantu Lexical Reconstructions 3) outside of Narrow Bantu proper. From the reconstructions of Proto-Grassfields Bantu (Hyman 1979, Elias et al 1984) we know that that the tones of noun stems and verb roots largely correspond (but with some differences), and we suspect that this may be true in other subgroups within Bantoid. The question which we propose to address in this paper is: How far out from Bantu and Bantoid do these tones reliably correspond? This is a timely question as we now have access to both data and analyses of numerous Bantoid and Benue-Congo languages. I start by identifying a set of reconstructed Proto-Bantu noun and verb forms that are known to have widespread cognates elsewhere in Niger-Congo, e.g. from Mukarovsky’s (1966-7) Proto-Nigritic. We will then compare these reconstructed tones with selected Bantoid languages and subgroups (Grassfields, Ekoid, Mambiloid, Tivoid etc.). After this I venture outside Bantoid to other Benue-Congo, especially Cross-River. Depending on how this goes, we will venture further out. While we have already begun some preliminary examination of limited data, and have contacted a couple of colleagues to get their input and try to determine what is known about proto tone in different groups, the bulk of the study will take place in late spring and over the summer. As part of the introduction of the problem, I highlight methodological issues that arise, particularly in interpreting the data.

Larry M. Hyman
Publication date: 
January 1, 2020
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Hyman, L. M. (2020). On Reconstructing Tone in Proto-Niger-Congo. In V. Vydrin & A. Lyakhovich (Eds.), In the hot yellow Africa, 175-191. St. Petersburg: Nestor-Istoria.