Linguistic Tonal Systems

Nan Xu Rattanasone & Katherine Demuth

In: Encyclopedia of Language Development

Linguistic Tonal Systems

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  • Languages that have tone make use of manipulations in pitch height and pitch contours to change the meanings of words and sentences. Whereas in English, rising and falling pitch contours over a single word are associated with focus, in lexical tone languages, these changes can alter the meaning of the word. In languages with grammatical tone systems, such modifications could entail changing the tense of the sentence from present to past. Tone languages are spoken by a majority of the world's population and include most of the languages in Asia and Africa. Chinese is one of the most well-known lexical tone languages with the largest population of speakers. Despite the pervasiveness of tone languages, relatively little is known about the acquisition of tones compared to ...

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