Tone and phonation in Southeast Asian languages

Marc Brunelle, James Kirby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Southeast Asia is often considered a quintessential Sprachbund where languages from five different language phyla have been converging typologically for millennia. One of the common features shared by many languages of the area is tone: several major national languages of the region have large tone inventories and complex tone contours. In this paper, we suggest a more fine-grained view. We show that in addition to a large number of atonal languages, the tone languages of the region are actually far more diverse than usually assumed, and employ phonation type contrasts at least as often as pitch. Along the same lines, we argue that concepts such as tone and register, while descriptively useful, can obscure important underlying similarities and impede our understanding of the behavior of phonetic properties, typological regularities and diachrony. We finally draw the reader’s attention to some issues of current interest in the study of tone and phonation in Southeast Asia and describe some technical developments that are likely to allow researchers to address new lines of research in years to come.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-207
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2016


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