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Tumbuka prosody : Between tone and stress

Chapter in book
Authors Laura J. Downing
Published in Theory and description in African Linguistics: Selected papers from the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics. March 23-March 26, 2016, Berkeley, Calif. / edited by Emily Clem, Peter Jenks, Hannah Sande
Pages 75-94
ISBN 978-3-96110-206-8
Publisher Language Science Press
Place of publication Berlin
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 75-94
Language en
Keywords predictable tone, diachronic tone, phrasal prosody
Subject categories Linguistics, African languages, Bantu languages


Tumbuka is spoken in the northern Lake Malawi region where it is typical for Bantu languages to have what has been called a restricted tone system: all words must have a High tone. This kind of prosodic system has stress-like properties, and func- tions similar to Kisseberth & Odden (2003). Vail (1972) suggests that Tumbuka is a purely stress language. This paper argues, in contrast, that because Tumbuka High tone realization has tone-like properties, as defined in Hyman (2006; 2009; 2012; 2014), as well as stress-like properties, it cannot be considered a canonical stress language. It is proposed that the synchronic Tumbuka prosodic system evolved from one where contrastive High tone takes a phrasal domain through processes – formalizable as an OT factorial typology – which made phrasal prosody more transparently predictable by eliminating most tonal contrasts.

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