A basic guide to understanding tones

Paroma Sanyal & Priyankoo Sarmah


Tones are phonological units that can be co-articulated along with sonorous segments (Tone Bearing Units/ TBU) to indicate lexical or grammatical contrasts in natural languages. The first part of the workshop deals with patterning of tones across natural languages and their representation in phonological theory as tonemes, taking examples from Tibeto-Burman and Afroasiatic languages. Can tonemes be described through distinctive features the way phonemes are described, or are they indivisible units that cannot be descriptively broken into definable properties? Finally, we will look at some proposals on how lexical tones can arise from the segmental properties of syllables. 

The second part of the workshop deals with the analysis of tones using acoustic phonetic correlates. This part will discuss the phonetic characteristics of tones in various types of Tibeto-Burman languages- one that have contour tones and also the ones that have only register tones. Identification and phonetic segmentation of tonal TBU and extracting acoustic correlates of tones will be demonstrated. Apart from this, considering speaker-specific effects on tones, tone normalization will be discussed. Extraction of average F0, F0 slope and more fine grained tone contour analysis will be discussed in this part. Interaction of consonants and vowels on tones and means to control such effects will be demonstrated as part of the workshop. The workshop will conclude with a proposal for best practices in analyzing tonal acoustic data.


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