Tone Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tone Languages


languages with phonologically significant tones that differentiate lexical or grammatical meanings.

Tone languages are spoken in Southeast Asia (Chinese, Vietnamese, Lao, Burmese), Africa (Nilotic, Kwa, Bantu), and North America (Mixtecan, Mazatec, Trique). In some tone languages, such as the Sino-Tibetan languages, tones have a primarily lexical significance. In other tone languages, tones may also express such grammatical distinctions as number or gender of nouns, tense, and negation. Examples in Duala (a Bantu language) are à màbòlà (“he gives”) and à mábòlà (“he gave”), and in Dinka (a Nilotic language), pány (“wall”) and pàny (“walls”).

In many tone languages, it is not certain whether there is a relationship between tones and word stress; in others, there are no reliable data on the presence and function of stress. Tone languages in which tone is an obligatory prosodic feature of the syllable are in contrast to intonation languages. In the latter, voiced distinctions of pitch are an element of intonation patterns. Such distinctions are not assigned to specific syllables and are not associated with lexical and grammatical meanings.


Pike, K. L. Tone Languages, 5th ed. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1961.
Welmers, W. E. African Language Structures. Berkeley–Los Angeles–London, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
As a tonal language, the recognition of tones contributes significantly to Mandarin recognition because the tonality of a monosyllable is lexically meaningful [20, 21, 34].
These and other measures produced by the pitch-tracking analysis reveal that the FFR is malleable and experience dependent, with better pitch tracking in individuals who have heard changing vowel contours or frequency sweeps in meaningful contexts, such as in tonal languages or music [24, 31].
In tonal languages such as most Nigerian languages, the variation in pitch is used to contrast the meaning of individual words while in intonational languages such as English, it is a feature of the word group.
In particular, tonal languages such as Vietnamese can be a major challenge for speakers of English.
Unlike English, Navajo is a tonal language, which means that just a slight change in the -- of a vowel can completely change a word's meaning.
The ensemble, under their director Morris Davies, showed just how adaptable they are, performing the perfect counterpoint of Palestrina and then quickly adapting to the complex tonal language of Gesualdo.
(2) With Adams's music, however, the tonal language is not as neatly defined and predictable as that of common-practice tonality, so our expectations for tonal closure are not as strong, or even nonexistent.
Chinese is also a tonal language that is phonetically represented by a single syllable, with each syllable having a tone mark.
Vietnamese is a tonal language belonging to the Mon-Khmer family.
It is clear that, even if Sumerian is a tonal language (A.