> > Pitch accent

Toggle ContentToggle Content .:: Home :: Poems :: Workshop Forums :: Register :: Features ::.
Toggle Content MediaWiki Search

Toggle Content Menu

Toggle Content Paid Membership
Buy a paid membership and get more out of GotPoetry!

Advertise on the GotPoetry Advertising Network.

Pitch accent

Pitch accent

From Poetry Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search


Pitch accent is a linguistic term of convenience for a variety of restricted tone systems that use variations in pitch to give prominence to a syllable or mora within a word. The placement of this tone or the way it is realized can give different meanings to otherwise similar words. Pitch accent is often described as being intermediate between tone and stress, but it is not a concept that is required to describe any language, nor is there a coherent definition for pitch accent.[1]



Pitch accent is not a coherently defined term, but is used to describe a variety of systems that are on the simple side of tone (simpler than Yoruba or Mandarin) and on the complex side of stress (more complex than English or Spanish). The term has been used to describe the Scandinavian languages, Serbo-Croatian, and Japanese, as well as some dialects of Korean and Wu Chinese.

Difference from tone

Firstly, while the primary indication of accent is pitch (tone), there is only one tonic syllable or mora in a word, or at least in simple words, the position of which determines the tonal pattern of the whole word. Pitch accent may also be restricted in distribution, being found for example only on one of the last two syllables. This is unlike the situation in typical tone languages, where the tone of each syllable is independent of the other syllables in the word. For example, comparing two-syllable words like [aba] in a pitch-accented language and in a tonal language, both of which make only a binary distinction, the tonal language has four possible patterns:


  • low-low [àbà],
  • high-high [ábá],
  • high-low [ábà],
  • low-high [àbá].

The pitch-accent language, on the other hand, only has three possibilities:

Pitch accent:

  • accented on the first syllable, [ába],
  • accented on the second syllable, [abá], or
  • no accent [aba].

The combination *[ábá] does not occur.

With longer words, the distinction becomes more apparent: eight distinct tonal trisyllables [ábábá, ábábà, ábàbá, àbábá, ábàbà, àbábà, àbàbá, àbàbà], vs. four distinct pitch-accented trisyllables [ábaba, abába, ababá, ababa].

Difference from stress

Secondly, there may be more than one pitch possible for the tonic syllable. For example, for some languages the pitch may be either high or low. That is, if the stress is on the first syllable, it may be either [ába] or [àba] (or [ábaba] and [àbaba]). In stress-accent systems, on the other hand, there is no such variation: Accented syllables are simply louder. (If there is secondary stress in a stress-accent language, as is sometimes claimed for English, there must always be a primary stress as well; such languages do not contrast [ˈaba] with primary stress only from [ˌaba] with secondary stress only.) In addition, many lexical words may have no tonic syllable at all, whereas normally in stress-accent languages every lexical word must have a stressed syllable; also, whereas non-compound words may have more than one stress-accented syllable, as in English, multiple pitch-accent words are not normally found.

Other usage

In a wider and less common sense of the term, "pitch accent" is sometimes also used to describe intonation, such as methods of conveying surprise, changing a statement into a question, or expressing information flow (topic-focus, contrasting), using variations in pitch. A great number of languages use pitch in this way, including English as well as all other major European languages. They are often called intonation languages.

In Indo-European languages

It is hypothesized that Proto-Indo-European had a pitch accent system. Some well-known ancient Indo-European tongues that have preserved this feature are:

In other Indo-European languages, such as Swedish, Norwegian, Lithuanian, and Serbo-Croatian (from Proto-Slavic), a new pitch accent system evolved that is unrelated to that of Proto-Indo-European.

In Serbo-Croatian

Serbo-Croatian (Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian) has four types of pitch accent: short falling, short rising, long falling and long rising. The long accents are realized by pitch change within the long vowel; the short ones are realized by the pitch difference from the subsequent syllable[2]. Monosyllabic lexical words always have a falling tone. Polysyllabic words may also have a falling tone, but (with the exception of foreign borrowings and interjections) only on the first syllable. However, they may instead have a rising tone, on any syllable but the last. Accent shifts are very frequent in declension and conjugation, both by type and placement in the word.

Proclitics (clitics which latch on to a following word), on the other hand, may "steal" a falling tone (but not a rising tone) from the following mono- or bisyllabic word. This stolen accent is always short, and may end up being either falling or rising on the proclitic. This phenomenon (accent shift to proclitic) is most frequent in Bosnian dialects, in Serbian dialects is more limited (normally, with negation proclitic ne), and almost absent from Croatian[3]. Short rising accent resists such shift better than the falling one (as seen in the example /ʒěli:m/→/ne‿ʒěli:m/)

in isolationwith proclitic
rising Template:IPAI want Template:IPAI don't want
Template:IPAwinter Template:IPA Template:IPAin the winter
Template:IPAimpossibility Template:IPAoutside possibility
falling Template:IPAI see Template:IPAI don't see
Template:IPAtown Template:IPA Template:IPA to town (stays falling)
Template:IPAwood Template:IPA Template:IPA in the wood (becomes rising)

In Norwegian and Swedish

Main articles: Swedish phonology#Stress and pitch, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Most dialects differentiate between two kinds of accents. Often referred to as acute and grave accent, they may also be referred to as accent 1 and accent 2 or tone 1 and tone 2. Hundreds of two-syllable word pairs are differentiated only by their use of either grave or acute accent. Accent 1 is, generally speaking, used for words whose second syllable is the definite article, and for words that in Old Norse were monosyllabic. (Although also some dialects of Danish use tonal word accents, in most Danish dialects so called stød functions to the very same end.)

These are described as tonal word accents by Scandinavian linguists,[4] because there is a set number of tone patterns for polysyllabic words (in this case, two) that is independent of the number of syllables in the word; in more prototypical pitch-accent languages, the number of possible tone patterns is not set but increases in proportion to the number of syllables.

For example in many East Norwegian dialects, the word "bønder" (farmers) is pronounced using tone 1, while "bønner" (beans or prayers) uses tone 2. Though the difference in spelling occasionally allow the words to be distinguished in written language, in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike. A Swedish example would be the word "tomten," which means "Santa Claus" (or "the house gnome") when pronounced using tone 2, and means "the plot of land," "the yard," or "the garden" when pronounced using tone 1. Thus, the sentence "Är det tomten på tomten?" ("Is that Santa Claus out in the yard?") uses both pronunciations right next to each other.

Although most dialects make this distinction, the actual realizations vary and are generally difficult for non-natives to distinguish. In some dialects of Swedish, including those spoken in Finland, this distinction is absent. There are significant variations in the realization of pitch accent between dialects. Thus, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary.

The word accents give Norwegian and Swedish a "singing" quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish them from other languages.

In Korean

Standard Seoul Korean only uses pitch for prosodic purposes. However, several dialects outside Seoul retain a Middle Korean pitch accent system. In the dialect of North Gyeongsang, in southeastern South Korea, any one syllable may have pitch accent in the form of a high tone, as may the initial two syllables. For example, in trisyllabic words, there are four possible tone patterns:[5]

In Japanese

Main articles: Japanese pitch accent, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Japanese is often described as having pitch accent. However, unlike in Serbo-Croatian, it is only found in about 20% of Japanese words; 80% are unaccented. This "accent" may be characterized as a downstep rather than as pitch accent. The pitch of a word rises until it reaches a downstep, then drops abruptly. In a two-syllable word, this results in a contrast between high-low and low-high; accentless words are also low-high, but the pitch of following enclitics differentiates them.

Accent on first mora Accent on second mora Accentless
Template:IPA牡蠣oyster Template:IPAfence Template:IPApersimmon
high-low-low low-high-low low-mid-high

In Shanghainese

The Shanghai dialect of Wu Chinese is marginally tonal, with characteristics of pitch accent.

Not counting closed syllables (those with a final glottal stop), a Shanghainese word of one syllable may carry one of three tones, high, mid, low. (These tones have a contour in isolation, but for our purposes that can be ignored.) However, low always occurs after voiced consonants, and only there. Thus the only tonal distinction is after voiceless consonants and in vowel-initial syllables, and then there is only a two-way distinction between high and mid. In a polysyllabic word, the tone of the first syllable determines the tone of the entire word. If the first tone is high, following syllables are mid; if mid or low, the second syllable is high, and any following syllables are mid. Thus a mark for high tone is all that is needed to write tone in Shanghainese:

Voiced initialzaunheinin上海人low-high-mid"Shanghaier"
No voiced initial
(mid tone)
No voiced initial
(high tone)

See also

External links


Template:Reflistes:Acento tonal it:Accento (linguistica) no:Tonelag nn:Tonelag sv:Ordaccent zh:音高重音

Toggle Content Paid Sponsor

GotPoetry - News for poets. Place to write.

GotPoetry is the most popular network of performance poets and poetry readings on the internet today.

Editors: John, Mamta and a cast of tens of others.
Publisher: John Powers

Content © 1998-2008
GotPoetry LLC. All rights reserved

Engine released under GNU GPL, Code Credits, Privacy Policy, Legal Notices

Search: Web

Forums Search
Gallery Search
Advanced Search

Link to Full Archives
Link to all News Topics

Link for all submission options for this site.

Subscribe - Use an RSS reader to stay up to date with the latest news and posts from GotPoetry.

GotPoetry News RSS Feed

Subscribe with Yahoo!
Subscribe with Google

Other GotPoetry RSS Syndication -  You can syndicate other parts of our site using the following files:

Yesterday's Top News
Yesterday's Top Poems
New Photos
Featured Articles