Lexical and Grammatical Tone


Mumuye is partly a tonal language. We distinguish between lexical tone and grammatical tone. This means that the same word can be pronounced on a high or on a low tone level and it means a completely different thing.

la = wood
la = sun

The only difference between these two words is the tone height. This is why it must be expressed in writing somehow.

l = wood      (high)
l = sun          (low)

The grammatical ton can be treated in a similar way.

n da kasuwa = I am going to the market
n da kasuwa = I have been to the market

Without marking the tone it is rather unclear what the meaning of this sentence is, unless it is apparent from the context. The sentences marked with tone would look like this:

Grammatical tone

(Low - High)

In order to verify our findings we decided to check the relevant words and sentences in the phonetic laboratory.

David Jackson developed a special circuit. With this device it was possible to visualize tone height together with the sound waves. For each track another microphone was used. The result was that we could distinguish not only between 3 main tone levels in Mumuye, but also make visible gliding tones.

The waves and tone height diagrams were printed out with one of the first ink-jet printers available.

The diagram shows 4 different tone levels of which 3 are relevant.

n zi sng bang means: I see a big basket.

Gliding tone at the end of a sentence
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