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Disentangling tone, intonation and register in selected Bantu tone languages

Chapter in book
Authors Laura J. Downing
Published in Kawauso: Simmanden in Språkströmmen. Festskrift till professor Yasuko Nagano-Madsen / Misuzu Shimotori och Fusae Ivarsson (red.)
Pages 13-33
ISBN 978-91-984450-0-8
Publisher Göteborgs universitet
Place of publication Göteborg
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 13-33
Language en
Keywords tone, intonation, register lowering, depressor consonnants
Subject categories African languages, Bantu languages, Phonetics, Linguistics


The foundations of autosegmental theory were laid by linguists analyzing African tonal systems (e.g., Leben 1973, Goldsmith 1976). Perhaps because of the successes of the autosegmental approach to lexical tone, other factors that influence pitch realization – like intonation and register – have tended, until recently, to be analyzed as purely tonal processes. This paper discusses two pitch lowering phenomena which have been analyzed in lexical tonal terms: depressor effects and Final Lowering. Section 2 of the talk discusses depressor effects in Xhosa and Zulu to illustrate the choice between analyzing depressor effects as a depressor tone or depressor register. In sections 3 and 4, data from other Bantu languages will be presented to illustrate phrase-final pitch lowering phenomena that have been variously analyzed as due to the introduction of a lexical Low tone or an intonational Low tone. For each case study in sections 2-4, I first give a brief introduction to the tonal system of the representative language and the relevant data. Then I argue that the pitch lowering phenomena are best analyzed in terms of register lowering, not in terms of introduction of a Low tone. In section 5, representational issues raised by these pitch lowering phenomena will be discussed. Section 6 concludes.

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