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Tonal language

Tonal language

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Template:Dispute Template:Citations missing A tonal language is a language that uses tone to distinguish words. Tone is a phonological trait common to many languages around the world (though rare in Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Pacific). Chinese is perhaps the most well-known of such languages.


Geography of tonality

In Europe, Norwegian, Swedish, Lithuanian, Basque, Limburgish (a Franconian language), Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, some dialects of Slovenian and, in some cases, French and Romanian possess elements of tonality, but this is in most cases better understood as a pitch accent. Another Indo-European tonal language, spoken in the Indian subcontinent, is Punjabi.

Most languages of sub-Saharan Africa (notably excepting Swahili in the East, and Wolof and Fulani in the West) are tonal. Hausa is tonal, although it is a distant relative of the Semitic languages, which are not.

There are numerous tonal languages in East Asia, including all the Chinese dialects, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, and Burmese (but not Mongolian, Cambodian, Malay, standard Japanese or standard Korean). In Tibet, the Central and Eastern dialects of Tibetan (including that of the capital Lhasa) are tonal, while the dialects of the West are not.

Many of the languages of New Guinea are tonal, such as those of the Eastern Highlands and the Sko and Lakes Plain families.

Some of the native languages of North and South America possess tonality, especially the Na-Dené languages of Alaska and the American Southwest (including Navajo), and the Oto-Manguean languages of Mexico. Among the Mayan languages, which are mostly non-tonal, Yucatec (with the largest number of speakers), Uspantek and one dialect of Tzotzil, have developed tones.

Patterns of tonality

Tonal patterns vary widely across languages. In English, one or more syllables are given an accent, which can consist of a loud stress, a lengthened vowel, and a high pitch, or any combination of these. In tonal languages, the pitch accent must be present, but the others are optional. For example, in Czech and Hungarian, the first syllable of each word is stressed, but any syllable may be lengthened, and pitch is not used. In French, no syllable is stressed or lengthened, but the final or penultimate syllable has higher pitch. Turkish similarly has high pitch on the last syllable, but also possesses length and possibly stress. None of these languages are considered tonal, and there is much discussion about how much prominence pitch must have in order to label a language tonal.

Many sub-Saharan languages (such as Hausa) have a scheme in which individual syllables in a word have a fixed pitch. High and low pitch are always permissible, and sometimes a middle level of pitch occurs as well. However, some are more complex. In Yoruba there are three pitches (high, low, and middle) and the meaning of a word is determined by the pitch on the vowels. For example, the word "owo" in Yoruba could mean "broom", "hand", or "respect" depending on how the vowels are pitched. Also, "you" (singular) in Yoruba is o in a middle pitch, while the word for "he, she, it" is o in a high pitch. Change of pitch is used in some African languages (such as Luo) for grammatical purposes, such as marking past tense.

Ancient Greek had a tonal pattern wherein, in isolated words, exactly one mora was high, and the others low. A short vowel formed a single mora, and therefore had only high or low tone, whereas a long vowel comprised two morae, and could therefore be low, or rising (from low to high), or falling (from high to low). Note that the scheme was more complex when words were grouped together, as they could form accentuation units with proclitic words at the start and enclitic words at the end, and such accentuation units could have multiple accents. By the start of the Middle Ages, this tonal accent system had been simplified to a stress accent system, but remained recorded in written Greek until the 1970's.

In the Japanese of Tokyo, tonal patterns are adapted to multi-syllable words. Every word must contain a single continuous chain of high pitched moras, beginning with either the first or second mora. Moras preceding and following this chain, if any, must be low. E.g., the city name Kyōto has tone KYOoto, with the pitch pattern high-low-low. The words for "chopstick", "edge" and "bridge" all have the consonant-vowel structure hashi, but the first has the pitch pattern high-low, the second low-high, while the third is also low-high but is followed by an obligatory low in the next word.

Tonal contours (rising, falling, or even more elaborate ones) are present in many languages, such as Thai, Vietnamese and the many Chinese dialects. In Standard Thai, every word has one of five associated contours: high even, middle even, low even, rising, or falling. Mandarin has four tones, similar to Thai's without the middle tone. Cantonese has at least 8 tonal contours: high even, high falling (which is becoming obsolete, and changing to high even), high rising, middle even, middle rising, low even, low falling and low rising. Two of them (high even and middle rising) are often superimposed upon words with other tone contours to indicate emotional closeness or familiarity, in a manner parallel to the diminutive suffixes of many Romance and Slavic languages.

Theories of tonogenesis

Because languages can both acquire tonality (like Hausa or Yucatec Maya) and lose it (like Korean and Ancient Greek), linguists have speculated on its origin. From comparison of the Tibetan dialects with and without tone, and of both with the spelling of Ancient Tibetan, it appears that initial voiced consonants are associated with a low pitch register, while unvoiced ones associate with high. Even though the voicing of the consonants has been lost, the pitch register remains. Also, the loss of final consonants in Central Tibetan (which are preserved in spelling and in the atonal dialects) suggests that such loss gives rise to tonal contours. In addition to Tibetan, both Chinese and Vietnamese are believed to have been atonal within the past two millennia Template:Fact, and to have developed their modern tonal systems in such a fashion.

More recently, a statistical analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh highlighted a correlation between the microcephaly genes MCPH1 and ASPM with the tonality of language [1].

Notational systems

Main articles: Tone (linguistics)#Notational systems, and [[{{{2}}}]], and [[{{{3}}}]], and [[{{{4}}}]], and [[{{{5}}}]]

Because the transcriptions of tonal languages in the Latin alphabet were often devised by untrained Europeans, who were largely unfamiliar with the phenomenon, most official spellings of such languages today simply omit all indication of tonality. Even Pinyin, the current official Romanization system for Mandarin Chinese, is commonly printed in most publications without tone marks. This makes the Chinese words much harder to identify correctly; a similar situation would arise if photographs of birds in birdwatching handbooks were printed in black and white instead of full color.

On the other hand, Vietnamese is written with quốc ngữ, a Latin-based alphabet that denotes tones using diacritical marks above or below the base vowels; this was possibly inspired by a similar system used to write Ancient Greek. So too, Yoruba, almost alone among the tonal languages of Africa, is often written with tonal marks. The tonal marking of Navajo is especially simple, as only a single diacritic is needed to mark high, low, rising and falling tones.

However, the undermarking of tonality is just part of the inadequacy of all spelling systems. For example, most languages of the Semitic family (e.g., the Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic alphabets) are written with most of the vowels left unexpressed; this tendency is found as far back as Ancient Egyptian. And stress is not indicated in languages as different as English, Russian and Tagalog, even though stressing different syllables can indicate different words. For example in English, convict (a person who is convicted) vs. convict (the verb), present (the time) vs. present (the verb), or content (that which is contained) vs. content (happy). Sometimes the stress distinguished words have different spelling, as in dessert (after dinner treat) vs. desert (a very dry place), although most English speakers would be unaware of the nature of the actual spoken difference. Examples in other languages are muka "torment" vs. muka "flour" in Russian and aso "dog" vs. aso "smoke" in Tagalog.


Pronouncing tonality

The difficulty of pronouncing and of recognizing tonal patterns in words is greatly exaggerated.Template:Fact Like any other unfamiliar linguistic feature, such as aspiration, retroflexion or velarization, it can be taught and learned. Initially, tonal patterns can be sung like musical passages; then, the extreme range of pitch can be narrowed into that of ordinary speech. Since tonal languages often have long and short vowels, the analogy to teaching music, with both pitch and rhythm, is especially close.

Left-Brained and Right-Brained Dominance in Tonal Language Processing

The left hemisphere has been thought since the 19th century to be dominant in speech perception[2]. In English, pitch is used for determining sentence type (note the rise in pitch in: "is this a question"?) but in general pitch is prosodic. However, Chinese uses pitch to make critical distinctions between words. Language researchers have argued about whether the defining qualities of tonal languages implied notable right-brained activity, or substantial bi-lateral brain activity (that is, using both sides of the brain), and different research techniques seemed to arrive at different conclusions. In 2006, researchers ([3] and [4]) demonstrated that the tonal qualities of tonal languages as spoken by native speakers of the tonal language generate more right-brain activity as would be expected for "non speech" sounds with pitch but only for 200 milliseconds. After 200 milliseconds, the left brain hemisphere becomes dominant like other speech information. There are two implications of their research. First, there does appear to be some low-level specialized processing for pitch in the right-hemisphere with respect to sounds that could be speech, which explains some prior research that noted the increased activity in the right-brain in tonal language processing. However, this research suggests that after the brain tags the tonal information as content-level (meaning-level) information for Chinese native speakers, the information is dominantly processed in the left brain. Both sides are used throughout all steps of language processing, but the activity on one side or the other does appear, starting with right brain only briefly, followed by a much longer time with left hemisphere dominance.



See also

cs:Tónový jazyk de:Tonsprache es:Lengua tonal fr:Langue à tons ko:성조 id:Bahasa bernada it:Lingua tonale lt:Toninė kalba ms:Bahasa berasaskan nada nl:Toontaal ja:声調 no:Tonespråk nn:Fonologisk tone pl:Język tonalny pt:Língua tonal simple:Tone language fi:Tooni sv:Ordton zh-yue:聲調語言 zh:聲調

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