What Is Tonal tongue

Tonal language is any language in which intonation is part of its semantic structure , that is, the same word can take on different meanings, depending on the tone of its syllables . All verbal languages ​​use a change of tone to express paralinguistic information (such as emotions) and convey emphasis, contrast and other aspects; however, not all use tones to distinguish words, similar to what consonants and vowels do. It is assumed that 40% of the world’s languages ​​are tonal. The number of tones ranges from two to eight.


  • 1Tonal languages
  • 2Phonetic notation
  • 3References
  • 4Bibliography

Tonal languages

The tone is a phonological characteristic found on all continents, although the typical examples are the Chinese languages ​​of Asia. A study of a wide body of languages [ 1 ] estimates that about 40% of human languages ​​are tonal languages. Despite their wide spread throughout the world, tonal languages ​​are basically concentrated in five regions:

  1. Far East ( Sino-Tibetan , Vietnamese family )
  2. Sub- Saharan West Africa and Bantu Languages
  3. New Guinea
  4. Mesoamerica ( Ottoman languages ) and na-dené languages in North America
  5. Many languages ​​of the Amazon .

Languages ​​that make use of tones:

  • Most Sino-Tibetan languages , including the most important in terms of the number of speakers.
  • All languages ​​of the miao-yao family .
  • Several Afro-Asian languages , such as Hausa .
  • The vast majority of African languages, such as Ewe , Malinke and Lingala .
  • Possibly all Nilotic languages .
  • Several indigenous languages ​​of America , spread across America (most notably in the Amazon ).
  • The servo Croatian is considered marginally tonal.

The Igbo also a tonal language, like Yoruba or Chinese. There are hundreds of different Igboid dialects and languages ​​included in the Igba language, such as the ikwerre enuane and ekpeye dialects. Among the few non-tonal African languages ​​are Swahili and Wolof .

Due to the fact that tonal languages ​​occur worldwide, several forms of written representation of tones have developed independently around the globe. In Asia and America, the use of numbers is more common, while the use of accents is more used in African contexts.

Phonetic notation [ edit | edit source code ]

Symbol Example description
◌́ Mandarin Chinese ā ma [mámā] High tone
◌̄ Mandarin Chinese mām a [mámā] Middle tone
◌̀ Mandarin Chinese ǎ [mà] Low tone
◌̂ Mandarin Chinese à [mâ] Descending tone
◌̌ Mandarin Chinese á [mǎ] Crescent tone

A typical example of a tonal language is Chinese taken in its Mandarin variety , whose tonal system consists of four tones plus a neutral tone. For example, the syllable “ma”, pronounced with the first tone  (妈) can mean “mother”, if pronounced with the second tone can mean “hemp” (麻), pronounced with the third tone can mean “horse” (马), pronounced with the fourth tone can mean “insult” “(骂).


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