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Intonation in Chichewa and Tumbuka

Chapter in book
Authors Laura J. Downing
Published in Intonation in African Tone Languages / ed. by Laura J. Downing and Annie Rialland
Pages 365-391
ISBN 978-3-11-048479-3
Publisher Mouton de Gruyter
Place of publication Berlin
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 365-391
Language en
Keywords penult lengthening, penult High tone, pivot tone languages, phonological phrase, intonational phrase, boundary tone, final lowering, topic, focus, emphasis, questions, superposition, register raising
Subject categories Linguistics, Bantu languages


This study compares the tone and intonation systems of two closely related Bantu languages spoken in Malawi, Chichewa and Tumbuka. The lexical tone systems of the two languages are quite different from each other. Chichewa uses tone contrastively and grammatically. In Tumbuka, tone is predictable except in the ideophonic system. Only Tumbuka provides evidence for both a Phonological Phrase and an Intonation Phrase level. It is surprising, then, that the intonation systems of the two languages turn out to be quite similar. Both have penult lengthening and similar intonation patterns for statements and questions. Both use continuation rises following preverbal topics, and have final lowering at the end of declarative utterances. These similarities raise the question of whether intonation might be an areal phenomenon.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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