[Lingtyp] Multidimensional transcription of tones

Killian, Don J donald.killian at helsinki.fi
Mon Sep 27 06:54:06 UTC 2021

Dear Ian,

I suspect it's largely because the cross-linguistic study of tone in general is not in a good state. Aside from Moira Yip's book, it's primarily Larry Hyman doing most of the work (who I'm sure will respond as well, probably with better details and information than what I can give! Aside from all of Larry's work, there are lots of very good individual tone studies, even some studies with an areal approach, but very few studies at the level needed to come up with different features across the world.

You might find Larry's LSA address from 2018  interesting: http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/%7Ehyman/papers/2018-hyman-presidential-address-slides2.pdf

And if you are inspired, feel free to fill in the gap! But you get tone languages all around the world, and it's not easy to find everything. Some of the most complex tonal systems I've ever seen are in Central America (Otomanguean) and Papua New Guinea (Lakes Plain languages such as Iau).

Incidentally, the Burmese example you give is rather specific to SEA.

From the following source which you might find useful:


"Many Southeast Asian languages employ one or more contrastive laryngeal properties that we term tonation (following Bradley 1982). This includes not only the use of pitch but alsoproperties such as vowel quality, voice quality, intensity, and/or duration."

If I compare this to Nilotic for instance, which can also get creaky, breathy, etc. voices, such features appear independently of tone, either as their own phonemic contrast like in Dinka, or as a result of ATR vowel differences like in Kalenjin.

I think for much of the world, tone doesn't correlate as much with other features than pitch, compared to SEA, where correlations such as you suggest are ubiquitious across numerous families. But again, I might be wrong here, and I'd be happy to be corrected.


Prosodic systems: Mainland Southeast Asia<https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01617182/document>
To appear in: The Oxford Handbook of Language Prosody, edited by Carlos Gussenhoven and Aoju Chen, Oxford University Press. Prosodic Systems: Mainland Southeast Asia Marc Brunelle, James Kirby, Alexis Michaud, Justin Watkins Abstract: Mainland Southeast Asia is often viewed as a linguistic area where five different language

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of JOO, Ian [Student] <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk>
Sent: Monday, September 27, 2021 5:38
To: LINGTYP <lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org>
Subject: [Lingtyp] Multidimensional transcription of tones

Dear typologists,

I was wondering why there isn’t a multidimensional way of transcribing tones, like how we transcribe segmental phonemes.
For example, the transcription of the voiced bilabial stop (/b/) is based on multiple dimensions of phonological features, such as [+voiced, +labial, -nasal].
But why are tones transcribed based on pitch only, such as Chao numbers (35), tone letters (˦˥), tone diacritics (´`¯ˆˇ), or capital letters (HMLRF), and not encoding other cues, like creakiness, length, tenseness, and intensity, when these cues may be just as distinctive as pitch is?
In other words, why is there no such cross-linguistically unified symbol as to describe the [-long, +creaky, +loud, +high, +falling, +tense] tone of Burmese, when there is a cross-linguistically unified symbol to describe the [+voiced, +labial, -nasal] consonant of Burmese?
I would like to know why this is the case.

From Hong Kong,


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