Perception of Tonal Contours in Medʉmba

Kathryn Franich

This paper explores cues to contour tone perception in Medʉmba, a Grassfields Bantu language of Cameroon. Like many Bantu languages, Medʉmba contrasts only level high (H) and low (L) tones, but contour tones can result where H and L tones associate to a single syllable. Here, we examine the relative influence of vowel duration and tonal slope in Medʉmba speakers’ perception of contour tones, as well as the influence of a following downstep on contour tone perception. Results of a tone identification task indicate that duration, rather than tonal slope, was the primary cue to contour perception. At longer vowel durations, tonal slope also played a role in contour perception, but only when the the context following the contour tone was not downstepped. We explain this finding in terms of an f0-related auditory masking effect and suggest that such effects may be partially responsible for the relatively more common occurrence of downstep in languages with level tone inventories over those with mixed contour and level tone inventories.

DOI: 10.21437/TAL.2016-17

Cite as

Franich, K. (2016) Perception of Tonal Contours in Medʉmba. Proc. Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016, 80-83.

author={Kathryn Franich},
title={Perception of Tonal Contours in Medʉmba},
booktitle={Tonal Aspects of Languages 2016},