This morning I had a conversation with my Vilani friend on the way to work.
I asked him about the canonical "six tones" of Vilani and how they worked.

"You Solomani," he sneered.  "Always think you have the galaxy bottled up."

I asked him what he meant.

"I will tell you," he said, with a sly smile I have come to distrust.  "Solomani
linguists from the Rule of Man, they talk to a barbarian they captured.  He is
from, how do you say, the backwaters of the Ziru Sirka.  They ask him about
the Vilani language."

"Do you mean the researcher from Barnard's Star?  The one with that old
university on Kaggushus?" I asked.

"Well, I do not quite remember those details," he replied curtly.  "He was,
perhaps, but maybe stretching the truth also."  He took a breath.

"Anyway," he continued, "I will tell you the real difference between the
Vilani language and your Anglic.  Vilani has dimension, it has depth.  There
are three ways of talking to people in Vilani."

"I knew that," I replied.  "Three sub-languages within Vilani, based on
whether you're talking to equals, to superiors, or to inferiors."

"Niiku," he said, "you know that already.  But you need to know that the tones
define these sub-languages."

"In what way?  I thought there were separate vocabularies for each sub-language?"

"In that you are only partially correct," he said.  "It is true that there are some
words that are different in each mode of speaking.  For instance, the words for
'yes' and 'no' are divided so.  But most words are not so divided.  They are
divided by how they are pronounced.  Pay attention.

"If to you I speak, and we are equals, then I say things without any particular
tone.  Prefixes and suffixes I will add to my words to convey shades of meaning.
I say /u-ga-le-lish/ to mean 'he becomes a hunter'.  This is how Solomani
learn Vilani, right?"

"Right.  But there are no tones here!"

"Exactly.  This is a language between peers, there is less need for raising your
voice to chide a youngster, or please the ears of your grandfather.  There are no

"But, were you my son, I would say /u.le'lish./, 'he becomes a hunter'.  When
speaking to him, I use a pattern of pitch accents to keep his attention.  This
makes the words slightly shorter, again to keep his attention.  When
I speak to him, I am teaching him, whether I am ordering him to his duties,
helping him with his homework, or responding to his questions.  You see?"

"Well, no, I don't understand.  Pitch-accents are only two tones, high and low.
Aren't there supposed to be six?"

"Very well, we proceed to the upward register.  When I speak to my grandfather,
I have great respect for him.  To him I talk as I would at a debate, or public
speaking, or to the Emperor himself.  And see, I would tell him 'ulelish'".

My Vilani friend actually sang the word /u le lish/ with one tone for each syllable,
the middle syllable higher than the other two.

"I have studied ancient Terran Anglic history, and the four tones used in
our upwards speech register most closely resemble the four tones used
by the Terran public clock known as Big Ben.  The high tones in a formal
word correspond to the high pitch accents of the downward speech register,
and both patterns correspond to a few prefixes and suffixes in peer-
register speech.  So you see, two pitch tones plus four melodic tones
equals six tones in the Vilani language, and define three modes of speech."

So then, formal speech in Vilani may actually resemble Gregorian chant.

I wondered if he was pulling my leg.

What do you think?