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Re: Lots of Questions About Tones

From:David McCann <david@...>
Date:Wednesday, July 9, 2008, 22:48
On Tue, 2008-07-08, Eldin Raigmore wrote:

> If I correctly gather which theories about tonogenesis are most widely- or well- > -accepted; and if I understand them to the right degree; I don't understand > why any language has more than three tones. To wit, a rising tone, a falling > tone, and a level tone: with no distinction between two different rises, nor > two different falls, nor two different level tones; and also, with no contour > tones.
Different processes generate tones cumulatively over the years. According to Maspéro, Vietnamese first developed three tones, and then split them to give the present six. Similarly, Thai split its tones in the late Middle Ages. Of the present level tones, the low was tone B (what ever that was!) with an unvoiced initial, the mid was tone A with an unaspirated initial, and the high was tone C with a voiced initial. Imagine a language with /bas/ and /bat/. If the contrast between /p/ and /b/ is lost, /ba-/ is likely to acquire a high or rising tone in becoming /pa-/. If the /-t/ is lost, that may may give a low or falling tone, whilst loss of the /-s/ can give a high or rising tone if it lengthens the vowel, a low or falling one if it goes via /-h/. If all these changes take place at different times, their interaction will produce complicated results.
> How do languages come to have more than one level tone? And which ones > do?
Experiments show that the most level tones you can reliably recognise is five; there may be a couple of Mesoamerican languages with that many, but only four are definitely attested: e.g. in Mǐn Chinese and some West African languages.
> How do languages come to have more than one rising tone? And which ones > do? > How do languages come to have more than one falling tone? And which ones > do?
The limit seems to be three as in Tlapanec, which has three of each.
> … complex-contour tones … > Do any have more than one peak? Which?
In Chinese, Chángzhi Jìnyǔ has two concave tones (fall and rise). I can't find any other cases of multiples. The champion tonal language seems to be Tlapanec (Otomanguean). It has three level, three rising, three falling, one convex. I've always been tempted by a tonal conlang, but I don't think I'd ever manage to pronounce it. The test is to be able to say sìshísì ge shí shīzi (44 stone lions)!