Monday, March 13, 2017  |  2p  NEW TIME 11:30a  |  Moore Hall 575 (LING Conference Room)

manoasealA Tonal Grammar of Kere (Papuan) in Typological Perspective

Sam Rarrick, Linguistics

Co-Chairs: Victoria Anderson, Andrea Berez-Kroeker

While tonal systems have typically been classified as ‘pitch accent’ or ‘true tonal’, there is growing evidence that systems instead have a variety of features which vary across languages, rather than falling into discrete categories. These category labels have been used widely in literature about the languages of New Guinea, despite the fact that the languages of this region exhibit a variety of tonal phenomena, and few are well-understood by tonal phonologists. Kere is an endangered Trans New Guinea language of Chimbu province in Papua New Guinea which has a complex, sparse tonal system that has yet to be adequately documented and described. After describing the segmental phonology of the language, this dissertation describes and presents an analysis of the tonal system of Kere, focusing on the following questions:

  • What are the phonological rules of tone in this language?
  • Is Kere a pitch-accent or tonal language, or something in between, like Kuman?
  • How can a model of interrelated varieties with differences in tone (proposed here) apply to other situations in Trans New Guinea languages?
  • What does this system tell us about tone systems typologically?

This work aims to add to phonologists’ and typologists’ understanding of tonal systems across languages.

In order to typologize Kere’s tonal system, I compare its tonal features to those of other Trans New Guinea languages (especially Kuman), as well as other languages around the world. Based on this comparison, I argue that the Kere data add to the growing evidence that tonal systems make up a multi-dimensional matrix of features, rather than having clear end points along a single continuum like ‘pitch accent’ or ‘true tonal’. Thus, tonal typology should be primarily property-driven. This dissertation aims to broaden our understanding of what is possible in tonal systems around the world (Donohue 1997; Donohue 2005) and to add to the description of an endangered language with an unusual tonal system.