Get Started with Tonology
bantu tones


Tonology is something quite exciting in Bantu studies. The accent or the tones exist in a large majority of languages in that area. As you can see with the following examples, it is important to include prosody in the study of bantu languages.

C.36 Lingala
R.11 Umbundu
koluka
onjila
(to look for)
(path)
~
~
 
 
 
 
kolka
onjla
(to row)
(bird)

They are tonal minimal pairs. The problem in tonology is to find out what happens in a given language, ho many times, when, how, why not always... A system of equations, with hopefully not more unknowns than equations, and that the tonologist should solve. With all the different tonal phenomenons that one may encounter, languages present several melodies for a word of the same origin! Here is an example:

  Proto-Bantu C.61 Mongo C.71 Tetela L.62 Nkoya
(arm, hand) -*bk loko kboko jibko

Furthermore, those melodies may change according to the context. See for instance R.11 Umbundu:

(bird) onjla => onjl => onjl => njīlā

This is what happens when the word for "bird" is in isolation. It is too long to give details in a few lines, but well-known processes in Bantu tonology are Tonal copy, retraction, displacement, loss, insertion, lowering, rising, downstep, bridge, Meeussen's rule... In fact, sometimes, it's only the way you explain what happens that leads you to differents names for a same process. That's why, along with Autosegmental Theory, we find now another kind of tonal analysis which is called Optimality.

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