Studying Tonal Complexity, with a special reference to Mande languages

Konoshenko, Maria
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University of Hawai'i Press
Linguists tend to believe that total complexity of human languages is invariable. In order to test this hypothesis empirically, we need to calculate the complexity in different domains of language structure: phonology, morphology, syntax, etc. In this paper I provide some guidelines for documenting tonal systems and evaluating their complexity. I then apply my methodology to the Mande languages of West Africa and test a tonal equi-complexity hypothesis which says that languages with more tonal contrasts tend to have fewer tonal rules and vice versa. The data presented do not support such a concept of tonal equi-complexity in the domain of phonology, but there is a strong positive correlation between the number of tonal contrasts and the number of tonal morphemes. My explanation is that tonal contrasts and tonal morphemes tend to appear as a result of segmental loss, so the two phenomena are likely to co-occur. *This paper is in the series How to Study a Tone Language, edited by Steven Bird and Larry Hyman
Konoshenko, Maria. 2014. Studying Tonal Complexity, with a special reference to Mande languages. Language Documentation & Conservation 8: 563—586
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