tone in cushitic n.
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Tone in Cushitic. Maarten Mous Leiden University. Stress languages. [-tone, +stress] Highland East Cushitic: K’abeena, Sidamo. K’abeena. ultimate or penultimate syllable has stress (depending on final vowel whispered or not) correlation between stress/whispered final vowel and word class

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tone in cushitic

Tone in Cushitic

Maarten MousLeiden University

stress languages
Stress languages
  • [-tone, +stress]
  • Highland East Cushitic: K’abeena, Sidamo
k abeena
  • ultimate or penultimate syllable has stress (depending on final vowel whispered or not)
  • correlation between stress/whispered final vowel and word class
  • linked to case, converb vs imperative, polar questions
  • no distinctive function at lexical level

Underlying accent system with tonal realisation Banti (1988)

Absolutive on the ultimate or penultimate mora: underlying accent.

Genitive: accentual pattern of ultimate accent

Nominative allomorphs involving adding an (empty) mora to the end.


Accent language underlyingly

Realised as tone with downdrift

(Pillinger 1989)


Domain of high tone is phrase.

High tone on one syllable in first word of NP

High tone on one last 3 syllables of that word.

H on accented syllable of that word (only minority of words have an accent); if there is no accented syllable H on final (default)

Hayward (1991).

  • Joswig, Andreas. The phonology of Awngi. Ms
  • Awngi Phonology.pdf

Banti Two Cushitic systems.pdf

characteristics of cushitic tone
Characteristics of Cushitic Tone
  • no lexical function
  • marked at the right edge
  • at most one pitch movement in a word
  • sometimes two in morphological complex words
  • grammatical function of tone
lexical function
Lexical function

Tonal minimal lexical pairs through name giving strategy in Iraqw.

konkomo ‘rooster’

konkomó ‘insect species’

hlooro ‘foam’

hlooró ‘locust species’


doomu ‘rainy season’

doomú personal name

axweeso ‘evening’

axweesó personal name

lexical function1
Lexical function

Gender distinction through tone in the Sam languages: Rendille (Oomen 1981: 43-44)

ínam (m) ‘boy’ inám (f) ‘girl’

áram (m) ‘husband’ arám (f) ‘wife’

árab (m) ‘elephant’ aráb (f) ‘elephants’

láhhaw (m) ‘stick’ lahháw (f) ‘stick’

Final high tone is a relic of a feminine suffix –et which cause the penultimate tone to move:

ínam-et > inámet > ináme > inám ‘girl’.

right edge
Right edge

Somali accentual patterns or melodies Saeed (1999: 42):

  • High on the last mora and Low elsewhere
  • High on the penultimate mora and Low elsewhere
  • Low on all moras

Cushitic in general: High tones on bare nouns are on ultimate or penultimate tone bearing unit.

toneless roots
Toneless roots
  • Iraqw: most nominal roots have no high tones; those that have a high tone on the ultimate are mostly Datooga loans ending in long vowel plus t or k. Tone on verbs is determined by conjugation.
  • Arbore Hayward (1984: 98): large number of nouns have no high tones.
tone in function words
Tone in function words


hín focus marker hin negation marker


Adpositional particles have high tone: lá ‘with’, kú ‘in’

but adverbial clitics are toneless: wada ‘together’ and kala ‘apart’

tone on suffixes
Tone on suffixes

Iraqw demonstrative and possessive suffixes are high; specific indefinite suffixes toneless; personal pronouns high.

Series of high tones:

gajéér-’éé-dá-r ‘isawork-my-that-of yesterday

‘that work of mine of yesterday’.

not more than 1 pitch movement
not more than 1 pitch movement

if more than 1 high than in morphological complex word

Occasionally two movements:

Somali: gúrigíi ‘the house (remote)’ (Saeed 1999: 43). Penultimate high plus high tones definite suffix.

Arbore: Arbore lúkku-t-ásut ‘his hens’ (Hayward 1984: 99). Penultimate high plus high tone possessive suffix.

grammatical function of tone
Grammatical function of tone
  • high toned word classes
  • high toned suffixes
  • double high tone suffixes
  • high tone in verb conjugation
  • tone as grammatical morpheme
  • right tone shift as grammatical morpheme
double high toned suffixes
Double high toned suffixes

Oromo (Owens 1985: 93-95)

magalaa-´‑léemagaláalée ‘markets’

booll-ání ‘holes’

k’ot-am-  k’ot-ám-áa ‘cultivated’(m)

k’ot-am-  k’ot-ám-túu ‘cultivated’(f)

high tone in verb conjugation
High tone in verb conjugation
  • Past tense is marked by high tone on final syllable of the verb in Iraqw
tone as grammatical morpheme
Tone as grammatical morpheme

Beja first-singular possessive is only a low tone and the third-person possessive only a high tone in the underlying form (Appleyard 1991: 7, based on Hudson 1976).

tone shift
Tone shift
  • Somali genitive is shift of tone; nominative is erasion of high tone (Saeed 1999: 44).
  • díbi ‘bull absolutive’ dibi ‘bull masculine nominative’ dibí ‘bull genitive’
  • bisád ‘cat absolutive’bisadi ‘cat feminine nominative’bisád ‘cat genitive’
culminative behaviour of tone
Culminative behaviour of tone
  • lowering previous high tones
  • lowering following high
lowering previous high tones
Lowering previous high tones

Beja (Hudson 1976: 101-102)

  • tam-a-n-ee-´k ‘if I ate’,


  • tam-a-´n ‘I ate’.

Somali (Saeed 1999: 43).

  • gúri-kéegurigéehouse-which?:m ‘which house’
lowering following high tone
Lowering following high tone

Beja (Hudson 1976: 101-102):

high tone of the root suppresses the accent of the past tense suffix ‑`a

tonal phonetics
Tonal phonetics
  • Pillinger’s analysis of Rendille.
absence of common tone rules
Absence of common tone rules
  • no high tone spread
  • no tone assimilation
  • downdrift but no downstep
  • no final lowering
tone or accent
Tone or Accent
  • Tone: phonemic function for pitch at word level
  • Accent: distribution of prominence at word level. At least one stressed syllable.
  • Cushitic languages: pitch but not all words have a “stressed” syllable.
  • + tone –stress in Hyman’s (2006) typology.
tone bearing unit is mora
Tone bearing unit is mora
  • Somali: (Banti 1988: 13; Saeed 1999: 41)
  • Dhaasanac: (Tosco 2001: 36)
  • Rendille: máàr ‘bullock’ vs màár ‘heiffer’ (Pillinger 1989)
tone and intonation
Tone and intonation
  • Polar question intonation
  • No general question intonation
  • Sentence backgrounding by intonation
stress nd tone
Stress ánd tone
  • Awngi stress independent of tone.
  • Stress falls on the penultimate and is accompanied by a slight rise in pitch.
  • Four tones: High, Mid, Low, High-Mid Hetzron (1997: 483). Reanalysed as High & Low by Joswig (2006)
  • Iraqw has stress realised by length, independent of tone
historical developments
Historical developments
  • tone > stress in Highland East Cushitic under influence from Semitic according to Tosco.
  • gender by tone in proto East Cushitic according to Appleyard (1991) but see Oomen’s proposal for Rendille above.
  • emergence of some tonal oppositions in South Cushitic according to Kiessling (2002)