Word prosody II: Tone systems.


This chapter aims to capture the diversity of tone languages by presenting the various canonical types of behavior of tone systems along with some known deviations from what is considered the norm. Tone systems have many interesting properties beyond the commonly cited ones (number of contrastive tone heights, presence or absence of contour tones, nature of the tone-bearing unit—syllable, mora etc.). For example, many languages of East Asia and Southeast Asia have what we are calling “tone packages”: these include not only a tone (i.e. based on pitch) but accompanying phonation gestures (breathiness, creakiness), distinct timing properties, and possibly other characteristics. In contradistinction to this is the simple tonal autosegment widespread outside the “Sinosphere”, with only a pitch element or pitch features to carry the phonological contrast. Wildly different among languages are the sets of domains over which a single tone can extend, often with a variety of domains in a single language and substantial differences even among languages that are genetically close. The diversity of tonal systems thus presents a challenge to tonal typology. In this chapter we examine existing typologies of tonal systems and point to possible solutions in areas of controversy to consider what we should consider as “tone” and “tone system”, including the varied interfaces with accent, stress, and intonation, all of which frequently call on Hs and Ls for their realization.

William R. Leben
Publication date: 
January 1, 2021
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Hyman, L. M. & Leben, W. R. (2021). World prosody II: Tone systems. In C. Gussenhoven & A. Chen (eds), Handbook of Prosody, pp.45-65. Oxford: Oxford University Press.