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What is grammatical tone?

 

Definition
 

Grammatical tone is the distinctive pitch level which marks contrasts in grammatical features such as tense, aspect, and case.

Discussion
 

In many African languages, tone has a much heavier functional load in the grammar than in the lexicon. In most tone languages, tone functions in the verb system to mark certain verb tenses or aspects only by tone.

Examples: Ngiti (Central-Sudanic, Zaire)
 
Note:

Tone is marked as follows:

  • The acute accent |á| means high tone
  • The grave accent |à| means low tone
  • The unmarked |a| means mid tone
  • The wedge |ǎ| means rising tone
 

These are examples of grammatical tone in the verb system:

 
  • ma màkpěnà ‘I whistled’ (recent past)
  • ma mákpěná ‘I whistled’ (intermediate past)
  • ma makpéna ‘I will whistle’ (near future)
  • ma makpénà ‘I used to whistle’ (past habitual)
  • ma mbhi ‘I walk’ (present perfective)
  • ma mubhi ‘I walked’ (distant past)
  • ma mubhi ‘I walked’ (narrative past)
 
See:

Kutsch Lojenga 1994 247, 249

Examples: Mashi (Bantu, Zaire)
 
Note:

Tone is marked as follows:

  • The acute accent |á| means high tone
  • The unmarked |a| means low tone
 

These are examples of grammatical tone in the narrative past and future: Low and high tone on the subject prefix :

 
  • nagánja ‘I counted’
  • nágánja ‘I will count’
 

These are examples of grammatical tone in the recent past and distant past: Low and high tone on the subject prefix :

 
  • rhwalángaga ‘we kept (it) well’ (recent past)
  • rhwálángaga ‘we had kept (it) well’ (distant past)
 
See:

Kutsch Lojenga 1993 11

Examples: Rendille (Cushitic, Kenya)
 
Note:

Tone is marked as follows:

  • The acute accent |á| means high tone
  • The unmarked |a| means low tone
 

These are examples where tone distinguishes between subject and object case:

 
  • ínam ‘boy’ (isolation, object case)
  • inam ‘boy’ (subject case)
  • inám ‘girl’ (isolation, object case)
  • iname ‘girl’ (subject case)
  • iname ínam á agarte ‘the girl (subject) saw the boy (object)’
  • inam inám á arge ‘the boy (subject) saw the girl (object)’
 
See:

Kutsch Lojenga 1993 6

Generic
 

A grammatical tone is a kind of

 

tone

See also
 

Context for this page:

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