Quantifying written ambiguities in tone languages: A comparative study of Elip, Mbelime, and Eastern Dan

dc.contributor.author Roberts, David
dc.contributor.author Boyd, Ginger
dc.contributor.author Merz, Johannes
dc.contributor.author Vydrin, Valentin
dc.date.accessioned 2020-02-11T07:41:19Z
dc.date.available 2020-02-11T07:41:19Z
dc.date.issued 2020-02
dc.description.abstract Whether tone should be represented in writing, and if so how much, is one of the most formidable challenges facing those developing orthographies for tone languages. Various researchers have attempted to quantify the level of written ambiguity in a language if tone is not marked, but these contributions are not easily comparable because they use different measurement criteria. This article presents a first attempt to develop a standardized instrument and evaluate its potential. The method is exemplified using four narrative texts translated into Elip, Mbelime, and Eastern Dan. It lists all distinct written word forms that are homographs if tone is not marked, discarding repeated words, homophony, and polysemy, as well as pairs that never share the same syntactic slot. It treats lexical and grammatical tone separately, while acknowledging that these two functions often coincide. The results show that the level of written ambiguity in Elip is weighted towards the grammar, while in Mbelime many ambiguities occur at the point where lexical and grammatical tone coincide. As for Eastern Dan, with its profusion of nominal and verbal minimal pairs, not to mention pronouns, case markers, predicative markers, and other parts of speech, the level of written ambiguity if tone is not marked is by far the highest of the three languages. The article ends with some suggestions of how the methodology might be refined, by reporting some experimental data that provide only limited proof of the need to mark tone fully, and by describing how full tone marking has survived recent spelling reforms in all three languages. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship National Foreign Language Research Center en_US
dc.format.extent 31 pages en_US
dc.identifier.citation Roberts, David, Ginger Boyd, Johannes Merz, & Valentin Vydrin. 2020. Quantifying written ambiguities in tone languages: A comparative study of Elip, Mbelime, and Eastern Dan. Language Documentation & Conservation 14: 108-138. en_US
dc.identifier.issn 1934-5275
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10125/24915
dc.language.iso en-US en_US
dc.publisher University of Hawaii Press en_US
dc.rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International en_US
dc.rights Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 United States *
dc.rights.uri http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/ *
dc.subject tone en_US
dc.subject orthography en_US
dc.subject Niger-Congo en_US
dc.subject written ambiguity en_US
dc.title Quantifying written ambiguities in tone languages: A comparative study of Elip, Mbelime, and Eastern Dan en_US
dc.type Article en_US
dc.type.dcmi Text en_US
prism.endingpage 138 en_US
prism.publicationname Language Documentation & Conservation en_US
prism.startingpage 108 en_US
prism.volume 14 en_US
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