[Lingtyp] Multidimensional transcription of tones

Ian Maddieson ianm at berkeley.edu
Mon Sep 27 20:47:54 UTC 2021

I think there is a very fundamental reason why segmental and tone transcriptions may appear to be different.

A consonant must necessarily include place, manner and voicing specifications. A tone, on the other hand,
has only necessarily some pitch specification but may also entail — in a minority of tone languages and 
depending on analytical choices — some other features such as duration or voice quality. 

> On Sep 26, 2021, at 20:38, JOO, Ian [Student] <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk> 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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Ian Maddieson

Department of Linguistics
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131-0001

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