Lexical vs. Grammatical Tone: Sorting out the Differences

Larry Hyman

Researchers of tone are largely influenced by the properties of the language(s) on which they work. Since tone has an almost exclusively lexical function in East and Southeast Asian languages, researchers of these languages focus primarily on how languages and speakers distinguish tone on lexical morphemes. Languages such Thai, Vietnamese and the wide range within Chinese lead one to posit a particular typology of lexical, monosyllabic tones which may interact with each other or be influenced by the syntax, but which rarely function as direct exponents of grammar. At the other extreme are languages from other parts of the world where tone is primarily grammatical. Languages such as Somali and Chimwiini treat their (sparse) tones syntagmatically, where the grammar determines where a H tone will be realized on a word or phrase, thereby encouraging many to feel they in fact represent a different typology altogether, often identified as “pitch accent”. In between these two endpoints are the majority of languages whose tones exhibit both a lexical and grammatical function. In this paper I suggest that there is in principle no difference in the range of phenomena found in lexical vs. grammatical tonology.

DOI: 10.21437/TAL.2016-2

Cite as

Hyman, L. (2016) Lexical vs. Grammatical Tone: Sorting out the Differences. Proc. Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016, 6-11.

author={Larry Hyman},
title={Lexical vs. Grammatical Tone: Sorting out the Differences},
booktitle={Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016},