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CONLANG  March 2002, Week 3

CONLANG March 2002, Week 3

Subject:

Re: Random Questions #1: Tone Languages

From:

Roger Mills <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Constructed Languages List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 20 Mar 2002 12:30:17 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Paul Edson wrote:


>I just received my copy of the Handbook of the IPA
>yesterday, and in reading through the "Introduction to the
>IPA" chapter, I came across the following few sentences in
>the discussion on tone markers: "Another domain of pitch
>variation is the word or syllable, and such pitch variation
>serves to distinguish words in much the same way as their
>segmental make-up does. Languages in which pitch has this
>function are called tone languages, and are thought to form
>a majority of the languages of the world."
>
>The question, part 1: Are there really more tone languages
>than non-tone languages? It's always seemed to me in my
>casual browsing through the Fields of Lex that tone
>languages seemed to be an exception, but the browsing has
>been casual at best...

Considering that the total number of languages is not, and probably cannot
be, precisely known, it's a little speculative, isn't it? (And note too,
that hedging "...are thought to form....") OT1H there are lots and lots of
Sino-Tibetan and Thai languages, of wide distribution, almost all tonal;
OT2H lots and lots of Austronesian langs., almost none of them tonal; and a
comparatively small number of Indo-Eur. langs. with wide distribution,
almost none of them tonal. OT3H there are numerous languages in all families
that are called tonal, but that aren't tonal in the same way as, say,
Chinese. OT4H there are language families of unknown size that are described
as tonal-- Mayan & some African families.  My guess would be that the
"majority", if it exists, is on the order of 51%, which isn't terribly
significant.
(Even if, perchance, they meant "a majority of the world's peoples speak
tone languages", I'd still bet on 51% or so, even allowing for the Chinese
being about 1/6 or 16% of the total population.)
>
>The question, part 2: If so, is the tonal::non-tonal ratio
>similar in known ConLangs? I'd think not, again based on
>cursory observation.
>
>The question, part 3: How many here have used tone for their
>languages, and in what ways?


As to Part 2, I suspect you're correct; my examination is cursory too.
Part 3:  I have a tonal language sitting on the back-burner; the problem is,
one doesn't want to create a clone, or worse, a parody, of Chinese.

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