The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 4/13 - Patrick Jones

Speaker: Patrick Jones (Harvard)
Title: Underlying falling tones in Interlacustrine Bantu, and their implications for Meeussen’s rule
Date: Monday, April 13th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831

In this talk, I argue that in a number of Bantu languages spoken near Lake Victoria – namely Luganda, Shi, Kinande, Haya, and Runyankore – the basic underlying tone contrast is between a falling tone and no tone (i.e. H͡L vs. Ø), rather than the H vs. Ø contrast normally posited for other Bantu languages. Evidence for this comes from a range of different phenomena which require the presence of a L tone following a H tone. These include surface falling tones (Luganda, Shi, Kinande, Haya, Runyankore), downstep (Luganda, Shi), leftward H tone shift (Kinande), and the blocking of intonational H tones (Luganda, Kinande). All of these phenomena, I argue, may be viewed as consequences of different repairs of underlying H͡L.

Positing underlying H͡L requires that certain well known tonal processes be re-examined. In particular, Meeussen’s Rule – normally described as a process by which H lowers to L (or deletes entirely) after another H tone (H-H → H-L) – must be recast as a rule in which a falling tone simplifies to L either following another falling tone (H͡L-H͡L → H͡L-L) or simply following a L tone (L-H͡L → L-L) (Hyman and Katamba, 1993). I argue that this latter reformulation, rather than being an unwarranted complication of Meeussne’s Rule, actually produces a number of positive results, allowing us to explain cases of tonal lowering which are otherwise entirely mysterious. These results, which are entirely independent of the original motivations for underlying HL, provide strong additional support for it.