[Lingtyp] Fwd: Multidimensional transcription of tones

Larry M. HYMAN hyman at berkeley.edu
Mon Sep 27 20:50:45 UTC 2021

Whoops. I meant to share with everyone.

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Larry M. HYMAN <hyman at berkeley.edu>
Date: Mon, Sep 27, 2021 at 1:15 PM
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Multidimensional transcription of tones
To: JOO, Ian [Student] <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk>

Dear Ian,

Thanks for your question. Don Killian and David Gil have already offered
valuable responses, but let me add some further thoughts concerning to your
two related questions:

1) Why are tones transcribed based on pitch only?

2)  Why are there no such cross-linguistically unified symbols to describe
tones which have other laryngeal components such as creakiness or

Concerning the first, there are exceptions where transcriptions of tone
have included other indications, as David points out for Vietnamese. As
both he and Don also point out, there is a significant typological
difference in the tone systems of SEA vs. other areas (or to borrow Jim
Matisoff’s terminology, the Sinosphere vs. the world). In a recent handbook
article, Will Leben have a section on two views of “tone” with the §4.1.2
header “Tone as pitch versus tone package”, where the “package” idea (or
“tonation” as Bradley 1982 calls it) is the SEA situation where tones often
have language-specific laryngeal and durational properties--think of the
shortness of the high-low falling tone 4 in Standard Mandarin. (A related
SEA package-related intuition is that tonal contours are indivisible
units.) What this means is that there will be a lot of extra
language-specificity in the tonal categories in such languages vs. “pitch”
as the unifying property in all languages said to have tone.

Your second question contrasts diacritically marked tone packages with
transcriptions such as [p] and [b] which stand for a combination of
features. Of course we could ask the same question about other phonetic
properties such as nasalization: Why does the IPA use a tilde to transcribe
[ã], [i᷉] and [u᷉] rather than inventing new symbols, and similarly for
ATR, RTR and a number of other features? The easy answer is that this would
require a lot of symbols, but maybe there’s more to this.

I am reminded of when I was first introduced to tonal contrasts in an
undergraduate Igbo class (way back when!). In order to underscore the
importance of getting the tones right, our professor Wm. E. Welmers made
the point that a high tone [á] was as different from a low tone [à] as the
vowel [a] it is from another vowel, e.g. [e] (the [+ATR] counterpart of [a]
in Igbo). While perhaps pedagogically useful, the Pike, Welmers, and
autosegmental view of tone is that pitch is quite separate from the
segments, much freer from, say, the vowel features than any vowel features
are from each other. This would include those features like nasality or
ATR/RTR which can harmonize across several syllables, but do not have the
“at a distance” freedom of a high tone, which can shift one or more words
away, as in Giryama (Hyman & Leben 2021:62, based on Volk 2011).

[image: image.png]

Although there may also be other factors, it is not linguistically
surprising that [p, t, k] and [a, e, i, o u] have their own symbols, and
glottalization, breathiness, aspiration and nasalization are transcribed
with an extra diacritic.

Finally, I should point out that there’s a separate question of how
important or useful featural analyses of tone are. There are, of course, a
few cases where the features come in handy (Hyman 2010, McPherson 2017),
but usually the numbers or H, L etc. suffice to define and describe the
properties of the individual tones (Clements et al 2010). While originally
historically motivated, synchronic substitutions of one tonal “package” for
another in Chinese tone sandhi often do not look phonetically natural.

I hope this is useful, although I’m sure inadequate in addressing what
could easily turn into a foundational issue or more (as Adam Tallman points

Best regards, Larry


Bradley, David. 1982. Tonation. *Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics 8*.
Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Clements, G. N., Michaud, Alexis and Patin, Cédric. 2010. Do we need tone
features? In John A. Goldsmith, Elizabeth Hume and Leo Wetzels (eds) *Tones
and features: Phonetic and phonological perspectives*, 3-24. Berlin and
Boston: de Gruyter Mouton.

Hyman, Larry M. 2010. Do tones have features? In John A. Goldsmith,
Elizabeth Hume, and Leo Wetzels (eds) *Tones and features: Phonetic and
phonological perspectives*, 50-80. Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter Mouton.

Hyman, Larry M. & William R. Leben. 2021. Word prosody II: Tone systems. In
Carlos Gussenhoven & Aoju Chen (eds), *Handbook of Prosody,* 45-65. Oxford
University Press.

McPherson, Laura. 2017. Tone features revisited: Evidence from Seenku
(Mande, Burkino Fasso). In D. Payne, S. Pachiarotti, and M. Bosire (eds),
Diversity in African Languages: Selected Proceedings of the 46th Annual
Conference on African Linguistics, 5-21. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Volk, Erez. 2011. Depression as register: Evidence from Mijikenda. *Proceedings
of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society*, 389-398.
Berkeley, CA.

On Sun, Sep 26, 2021 at 7:39 PM JOO, Ian [Student] <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk>

> 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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Larry M. Hyman, Professor of Linguistics & Director, France-Berkeley Fund
University of California, Berkeley

Larry M. Hyman, Professor of Linguistics & Director, France-Berkeley Fund
University of California, Berkeley
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