What tone teaches us about language


In 'Tone: Is it different?' (Hyman 2011a), I suggested that 'tone is like segmental phonology in every way—only more so', emphasizing that there are some things that only tone can do. In this presidential address my focus extends beyond phonology, specifically addressing what tone tells us about the integration (vs. compartmentalization) of grammar. I discuss some rather striking examples that demonstrate problems for the strict separation of phonology, morphology, and syntax, each time posing the question, 'What else is like this outside of tone?'. A particularly interesting property that is strictly limited to tone is what I term syntagmatic relativity. I suggest that the uniqueness of tonal phenomena is due to the versatility of pitch, which can be manipulated with a wide range of linguistic functions. Given this versatility, I end by considering the question, 'Why isn't tone universal?'.

Larry M. Hyman
Publication date: 
September 22, 2018
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
"What tone teaches us about language." Language, vol. 94 no. 3, 2018, pp. 698-709