[Lingtyp] Inherently toneless morphemes in tone languages

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Tue Aug 24 15:52:28 UTC 2021

Dear Ratanon and all,

Oddly, some non-tonal languages of Southeast Asia seem to exhibit a 
mirror-image pattern to the one you describe; there it seems as though 
the sentence-final particles are the only forms that ARE tonal, though 
whether this is really lexical tone as opposed to intonation remains an 
open question. This has been argued for Singlish (colloquial Singaporean 
English), and I think could plausibly also be argued for some varieties 
of Malay.

I suspect that some languages of the Sough Halmahera West New Guinea 
subgroup of Austronesian might also fit the bill, albeit in different 
ways.  For Moor, David Kamholz has argued that lexical tone only shows 
up on the final syllable of the phonological phrase, all other syllables 
remaining toneless.  And for Roon, I have described a tonal distinction 
in a single inflectional paradigm involving inalienable possession, 
while all the rest of the language, way over 99% of it, lacks lexical tone.

All of the above examples are thus perhaps more appropriately described 
as "inherently tonal morphemes in non-tone languages" ...


On 24/08/2021 15:39, Ratanon Jiamsundutsadee wrote:
> Dear all,
> Is anyone familiar with tone languages which are analyzed to have 
> "toneless" morphemes, i.e. not specified for tone in the underlying 
> representation?
> For example, some final particles in Thai have been analyzed to be 
> inherently toneless, exhibiting their surface pitch contour only due 
> to their linkage to intonational-phrase-final boundary tones.
> (1) rāw  cʰɔ̂ɔp  tàw kʰa-L%
>      1SG like     turtle  FP
>      'I like turtles.' (/kʰa/ = formal, female speaking)
> (2) nâarák máj   kʰa-H%
>       cute     FP    FP
>      'Aren't they cute?' (/máj/ = neutral interrogative; /kʰa/ = 
> formal, female speaking)
> Traditionally, /kʰá/ and /kʰâ~kʰà/ would be treated as fully 
> specified for tone and distinct from each other. So far, I have 
> encountered somewhat similar accounts (of certain morphemes, 
> particularly final particles, which are said to be tonally 
> unspecified) in Mandarin and Cantonese.
> Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!
> Kind regards,
> Ratanon Jiamsundutsadee
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David Gil

Senior Scientist (Associate)
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig, 04103, Germany

Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81344082091

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