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Re: THEORY: Tonogenesis

From:Roger Mills <romilly@...>
Date:Wednesday, September 11, 2002, 4:23
Lukasz K. wrote:
>I need some help. I'm considering for some time a monosylabic conlang and I >think tones would be very suitable for it, but... > >Tones are a very exotic thing for me and I have rather vague idea of >uttering them and almost no idea of their possible origin. How can tones >come into being? Are there any general rules or tendencies? I assume that >monosyllabic morphemes of my language are results of reduction of >polisyllabic words. How can such a reduction affect tones? > >Are there any tonal languages with well known tonogenesis or evolution of >tones? I expect Tibetan to be quite interesting, but I don't have any
>on it and I havn't found anything in the net.
There are a number of interesting refs. on google (search "tonogenesis"), but nothing very specific. Check jounals devoted to Sino-Tibetan for articles by James Matisoff, who IIRC is responsible for coining the term. Years ago I sat in on a course of his, but didn't alas pay much attention, and don't have any notes. Languages in the Austro-Asiatic family (Mon-Khmer, Vietnamese) would seem to be a good place to start; some of them have developed tones, others have not (yet); Khmer itself is sometimes said to be "in process" of developing them with its two-register system (normal vs. breathy vowels). One might think that Vietnamese developed tones due to extensive contact with Chinese, but IIRC Matisoff claimed it was an independent development. This applies I think, to tone languages of the Chinese sort; African languages seem to have different systems. Mayan languages are also tonal, but I know next to nothing about them..... But among the things I remember are: initial voiced stops (especially) tend to produce low tones; then if, in addition, the stops devoice you get contrasting **pá (high tone) < *p-, **pà (low) < *b-. Also, it seems, there are tendencies final -h > high, final -? > low. And I'd assume that stress placement on bi- or polysyllabic forms would produce different tones. I have the same problem with my Gwr language, but the details aren't worked out yet. So far it appears that, given a CVCVC proto-form, with variable stress-- some of it morphologically conditioned-- almost every possible sequence of V and C can produce a great many tone patterns and vowel changes (from a 3-vowel system to 9). Keep us posted on your progress!!


Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>