query: syntax and tone in W Africa
gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Sat Sep 3 19:43:11 UTC 2005
This query is about isolating SVO West African languages such as Twi,
Ewe, Yoruba, Igbo and their like. (I have tried unsuccessfully to
figure things out from reference grammars: either they're not written
clearly or I'm not good at reading them. Or maybe the facts are messy.)
In the prototypical SVO isolating language, thematic roles such as agent
and patient are distinguished by word order, as shown diagrammatically
in (1) and (2) below (using upper-case English words to represent the
corresponding words in West African languages):
(1) DOG BITE CAT [dog is agent, cat is patient]
(2) CAT BITE DOG [cat is agent, dog is patient]
What I am trying to ascertain is to what extent this holds true in
isolating West African languages. In particular, I am interested in the
possible role of tonal variations in reflecting syntactic structures.
Many of the grammars I consulted contain long sections on tonal
variations which seem to suggest that they may be involved in
distinguishing thematic roles such as agent and patient, grammatical
relations such as subject and object, or linear positions such as
preverbal and postverbal. But I haven't been able to figure out how
this works, if indeed this is the case at all.
My questions are as follows:
(A) a very specific question for linguists/speakers familiar with one or
more isolating West African languages: In the language(s) you are
familiar with, are there any tonal differences between (1) and (2)
above? For example: (a) does the tonal marking on DOG (or on CAT)
differ between (1) and (2)? or (a) does the tonal marking on BITE
differ between (1) and (2) in accordance with the tonal properties of
CAT and DOG. Note: I would be equally appreciative of negative
responses ("none of this happens in language X") as I would of positive
(B) can anybody recommend references to such phenomena?
(C) can anybody contribute general insights into the phenomena in question?
(D) are there any native speakers of West African languages on the
LINGTYP list who would be willing to answer some more specific questions
about their language?
Some responses would perhaps be more appropriately sent to me
individually than to the list as a whole. However will post a summary
if the responses warrant it.
Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
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