The 4th International Symposium on Tonal Aspects of Languages

Nijmegen, The Netherlands
May 13-16, 2014

Pitch Accents in Uspanteko: A Metrical Approach

Björn Köhnlein

Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Netherlands

Uspanteko, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala, shows a remarkably rich interaction between the location of stress, vowel quality and pitch accent / tone. An elaborate description of the patterns has recently been provided in [1], including a detailed phonological analysis. While acknowledging the elaborate argumentation underlying the analysis, this paper argues that there is one incorrect basic assumption in the approach advertised in [1], viz. that Uspanteko has lexical tone. Instead, I propose that both the tonal contrasts as well as the interactions with vowel quality derive from contrastive foot structure in the underlying representation. One consequence of the approach is that the tonal surface differences derive solely from the mapping of intonational tones, a prominence tone H* and a word-final boundary tone L; no tonal information is stored in the lexicon. As I show, the foot-based approach significantly simplifies the analysis and avoids some problematic assumptions that emerge under the tonal approach. From a broader perspective, the analysis contributes to an ongoing discussion on the phonological nature of tone accent oppositions, e.g. in Franconian and Scandinavian.


  1. Bennett, R. and Henderson, R., "Accent in Uspanteko", Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 31(3):589-645, 2013.

Index Terms: lexical tone, intonation, foot structure, stress

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Köhnlein, Björn (2014): "Pitch accents in Uspanteko: a metrical approach", In TAL-2014, 177-180.