Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 337–362 | Cite as

Contour tones and contrast in Chinese languages



The goal of this paper is twofold. First, it discusses the tonal systems of several Chinese languages within the framework of the Theory of the Contrastive Hierarchy (Dresher et al. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 13:3–27, 1994; Dresher Talk Presented at Meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association, University of Ottawa, 1998, Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 20:47–62, 2003a, Asymmetry in grammar: Morphology, phonology, acquisition. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Benjamins, Vol. 2, pp. 239–257, 2003b). In particular, this paper demonstrates that disparities between phonetic characteristics of tones and their phonological activity can be understood as a kind of underspecification that the Contrastive Hierarchy affords. The second goal of this paper is to propose an analysis in which contour tones in Chinese languages generally are represented as unitary entities rather than as a concatenation of level tones (Tone Clusters). This contrasts with the tonal systems found in African languages, in which contour tones are demonstrably composed of level tones. Thus, this paper argues for the existence of two types of contour tones in natural language: unitary contour tones and Tone Clusters.


Tone Contour tones Contrastive hierarchy Chinese 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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