[Lingtyp] Multidimensional transcription of tones

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Mon Sep 27 12:45:28 UTC 2021

Dear Ian,

A fragment of the kind of "multidimensional" notational system that you 
seek is actually provided by the standard orthography of Vietnamese, 
where the diacritics over the vowels, representing the 6 tones of 
Vietnamese, contain information involving not only pitch but also 
phonation.  Of course, as things stand, the notation is 
language-specific: what you are asking for is for it to be adopted 
cross-linguistically, e.g. for a V with a dot under it to denote low 
tone with creakiness not only in Vietnamese but for any other language 
that has a similar clustering of pitch and creakiness.

However, for purely practical reasons, I suspect that the best way to 
represent, say, low pitch plus creakiness, in a cross-linguistically 
standardized  fashion, would still be compositionally, with a symbol for 
low tone plus another symbol for creakiness.   You would of course still 
be free to think of the juxtaposition of the two symbols as a kind of 
"suprasegmental digraph".


On 27/09/2021 05:38, JOO, Ian [Student] wrote:
> 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,
> Ian
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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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