Saturday, November 27, 2010

Watch your tone (Part 2)

So, what did we find out about the Ik tone system? First, we discovered that Ik has four basic tone 'melodies': High (H), Low (L), High-Low (HL), and Low-High (LH). Whether an Ik word has one, two, or three syllables (or more), these same four melodies are used. They just look a bit different depending on how many syllables a word has. Here's what they look like on nouns with two syllables:

H ƙálítsʼ ‘jaw’
L tsòrìt ‘vein’
HL kúràk ‘crow’
LH dèréƙ ‘wasp’

Second, we discovered that Ik has what linguists call depressor consonants. Depressor consonants are sounds that affect the tones around them. In Ik, the consonants /b/, /d/, /g/, and sometimes /h/ have this effect. For example, in the following data, the possessive pronoun ntsí ‘his/her’ usually gives the noun following it a High tone, as in:

ntsí ‘his/her’ + kòp ‘vulture’ = ntsí kóp ‘his vulture’

In other words, while kòp has a Low tone melody assigned to it, in this grammatical construction it comes out with a High tone: kóp. But now compare with the following example:

ntsí ‘his/her’ + dì ‘sitting place’ = ntsí dì ‘his sitting place’

Both kòp and have the same underlying Low tone melody, but the /d/ in is blocking the High tone that we would normally expect to appear.

This ‘his/her_____’ construction brings up a third thing we can say about the tone system: it has replacive grammatical tone. This means that certain grammatical constructions simply replace the underlying tones of some of the words involved.

Fourth, Ik has automatic downstep. Conditions for automatic downstep are fulfilled when two things happen in a language:

1) A Low tone following a High tone drops to a lower ‘register’ (if you’re a musician you can think of it being the same key but an octave lower)
2) Any High tones after the lowered Low tone will also be lowered (so that a ‘downstepped’ High is lower than any Highs before it)

This should be clearer once illustrated. Consider the following example:

béɗá róƙóà dé ‘he wants that tamarind‘ ⟶ béɗá róƙóȁ dē

On the left, you see the underlying tones of the words in this example. On the right, you see how the tones actually get pronounced. The symbol over the /ȁ/ means ‘extra low’, and the symbol over the /e/ in /dē/ means ‘mid’. Here ‘extra low’ is a downstepped Low, while ‘mid’ is a downstepped High.

A lot more about Ik tone is left to be figured out, but we’re off to a good start! Stay tuned for Part 3 where I talk about how to mark tone in the Ik writing system.


Don Metzler said...

Thanks so much for sharing about the tones of the Ik language. Very interesting. I am currently reading a book to our kids for school about Cameron Townsend and think of you often in that story.
Be blessed and have a great day.

Notinthewild said...

Honestly, this tonal system is too complicated to be morally acceptable. The combination of tones and sounds that I CAN'T HEAR means my future with Icetote is DOOMED. Tell the young men they will have to find SOMEONE ELSE.