Laura Downing on Tone, Accent, and Intonation

Our CASTLFISH professor II Laura Downing is holding a minicourse again this term, this time on tone, accent and intonation, which will take place on Wednesday the 19th (2-4) and Thursday the 20th (10-12 and 2-4):

  • 19.04. 14.15-16.00 in room E1004 and
  • 20.04. 10.15-12.00 and 14.15-16.00 in C1006.

Here is what Laura promises:

Typological Issues in Tone and Accent

The course will be divided into 3 parts: Tone (why it’s different), Tonal Accent, and Intonation.

1. Tone- why it’s different

As Hyman (2011) has argued, tone can do everything that other features can do — and more. This part of the course will survey the autosegmental properties of tone highlighted in Hyman (2011) and other recent work, like Downing (2005, 2006) and Gordon (2016, chapter 7). The lecture will focus on tonal mobility, tonal inflections and tonal morphemes, the autosegmental properties that seem to be the most tone-specific and most understudied by non tone specialists.

2. Tonal Accent

Traditionally, prosodic systems have been divided into 3 categories: stress, tone and pitch accent (or tonal accent). However, Hyman has written a number of papers arguing that tonal accent is not a coherent, canonical prosodic category. To understand his point of view, we will critically discuss two recent papers of his: Hyman (2012, 2014).

3. Intonation

Very little work has been done on the typology of intonation, as noted in Zerbian (2010). We will survey this topic from an Africanist perspective, highlighting what recent work on intonation in African languages (like Downing & Rialland  2017 and Rialland & Aborobongui 2017) contributes to our understanding of how — or whether — intonation reliably signals sentence type (affirmative vs. declarative), syntactic structure (both XPs and clauses) and focus.


– Downing, Laura J. 2005. The Emergence of the Marked: Tone in some African reduplicative systems. In Bernhard Hurch, ed. (in collaboration with Veronika Mattes). Studies on Reduplication. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 87-108.

– Downing, Laura J. 2006. Compounding and tonal non-transfer in Bantu languages. Phonology 20, 1-42.- Downing, Laura J. and Annie Rialland. 2017. Introduction. LJ Downing & A Rialland (eds), Intonation in African Tone Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

– Gordon, Matthew. 2014. Disentangling stress and pitch-accent: a typology of prominence at different prosodic levels. In Harry van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and Typological Issues. Cambridge University Press, 83-118.

– Gordon, Matthew. 2016. Phonological Typology. Oxford: OUP. – chapter 7 only

– Hyman, Larry M. 2011. Tone: is it different? In the 2nd edition of the Handbook of Phonological Theory.

Prepublication version available at this link:

– Hyman, Larry M. 2012. In defense of Prosodic Typology. Linguistic Typology 16, 341–385.

– Hyman, Larry M. 2014. Do all languages have word accent? In Harry van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and Typological Issues. Cambridge University Press, 56-82.

– Rialland, Annie & Martial Embanga Aborobongui. 2017. How intonation interacts with tone in Embosi. In Downing & Rialland. Intonation in African Tone Languages.

– Zerbian, Sabine. 2010. Developments in the study of intonation typology. Language and Linguistics Compass 4/9, 874-889.


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