Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 593–639 | Cite as

Phrasal grammatical tone in the Dogon languages

The role of constraint interaction
  • Laura McPherson
  • Jeffrey Heath


Tonosyntax in the Dogon languages of Mali is characterized by word-level tone overlays that apply in specific morphosyntactic contexts. This paper focuses on the resolution of competitions that arise when a word is targeted by more than one tone overlay. For example, in Poss N Adj the possessor and the adjective compete to impose their respective tone overlays on (at least) the noun, and Dogon languages show different outcomes. We argue that overlays are tonal morphemes associated with particular syntactic positions and propose a series of phrasal Optimality Theoretic constraints, grounded in syntactic structure, that control the association of these morphemes. The relative ranking of constraints determines the outcome of tonosyntactic competitions in a given language.


Tone Morphology Phonology-syntax interface Dogon Optimality theory Variation 



We would like to thank Bruce Hayes, Russell Schuh, Kie Zuraw, Larry Hyman, Anoop Mahajan, Laura Kalin, Byron Ahn, Hilda Koopman, and audiences at UCLA, UC Berkeley, ACAL 44, OCP 10, and AIMM 2 for helpful comments and feedback in the development of this topic. This paper has also benefited immensely from the thoughtful comments of the editor and three anonymous reviewers; any errors that remain are strictly our own. We gratefully acknowledge the funding of NSF grants BCS-0537435 (2006-09), BCS-0853364 (2009-13), and BCS-1263150 (2013-16) that made this research possible, as well as the Fulbright Foundation and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (first author). Finally, we would like to thank our many Dogon consultants for sharing their languages with us.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA
  2. 2.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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