Phoneme inventory arguments and tone

Søren Wichmann wichmann at EVA.MPG.DE
Wed Jun 1 19:19:28 UTC 2011

For what it's worth, WALS has a chapter on tones which Atkinson also 
uses, and UPSID also includes information about tone, although tones do 
not contribute to the count of segments. I haven't checked how 
systematic the informantion is in UPSID, though. Søren.

Don Killian wrote:
> Dear typologists,
> I apologize for the potentially controversial email, but I was wondering 
> one thing about the recent arguments with phoneme inventory sizes, and 
> would like some thoughts.
> Many of the arguments lately have been based off of databases such as 
> WALS or UPSID, which mention inventory sizes of consonants and vowels. 
> However, databases which include tones in phoneme inventories are 
> lacking, and I really am wondering how much this is affecting these 
> arguments.  My current thought is that almost every single study which 
> has ignored tones in phoneme inventory questions has flawed enough 
> methodology that the conclusions are invalid, irrelevant of whether they 
> end up being true or not.
> Why are tones rarely included anywhere, neither in phoneme databases nor 
> arguments?  I can't imagine almost any modern linguist would argue that 
> they are insignificant, but I also find that simply not mentioning tone 
> at all, or the fact that the databases are heavily biased in favor of 
> non-tonal languages, somewhat frustrating. If ka and ke are significant, 
> why not ká and kà?  Adding tones to inventory sizes would radically 
> change the number of phonemes in quite many languages.
> I sent an email to Søren about his own article in particular, but I'd 
> love to hear other comments or responses.
> Best Regards,
> Don

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