Songs in African Tonal Languages: Contrasting the Tonal System and the Melody

  • Maria Konoshenko
  • Olga KuznetsovaEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 561)


Over the past fifty years there has been a dramatic increase in studies investigating the rules of tone-tune correspondence in vocal music performed in tonal languages. In this paper we argue that considering structural properties of tonal systems is important for studying the interaction between tone and melody. Using songs in Guinean Kpelle and Guro as test cases, we prove that contour tones are less preserved in melody than level tones, and surface tones are reflected in melody rather than underlying tones. We also show that syllable structure as well as style, genre and structure of songs affect tone-tune correspondence.


Tone Phonology Contour tones Underlying tones Surface tones Syllable structure Vocal music Melody Genre Guinean Kpelle Guro 


  1. 1.
    Hayes, B., Kaun, A.: The role of phonological phrasing in sung and chanted verse. Linguistic Rev. 13, 243–303 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kiparsky, P.: A modular metrics for folk verse. In: Elan Dresher, B., Friedberg, N. (eds.) Formal approaches to poetry, pp. 7–49. Berling, Mouton (2006)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Dell, F., Halle J.: Comparing Musical Textsetting in French and in English Songs. In: Jean-Louis Aroui & Andy Arleo (a cura di.), Towards a typology of poetic forms, 63–78. Amsterdam (2009)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rodríguez-Vázquez, R.: The rhythm of speech, verse and vocal music: a new theory. Linguistic Insights 110, 394 (2010)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
  6. 6.
    Ladd, R.: Singing in tone languages: an introduction to the kinds of things we might expect to find. In: Lechleitner, G., Liebl, C. (eds.) Jahrbuch des Phonogrammarchivs der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. 4, pp. 13–28. Cuvillier Verlag, Göttingen (2014)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Richards, P.: A quantitative analysis of the relationship between language tone and melody in a Hausa song. Afri. Lang. Stud. 13, 137–161 (1972)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Rycroft, D.K.: The relationships between speech-tone and melody in Southern African music. In: Malan, J.P. (ed.) South African Music Encyclopedia, vol. 2, pp. 301–314. Oxford University Press, Capetown (1972)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Leben, W.R.: On the correspondence between linguistic tone and musical melody. In: Proceedings of the 9th Annual Meeting of the Berkley Lingusitics Society, pp. 148–157 (1983)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ekwueme, L.N.: Linguistic determinants of some Igbo musical properties. J. African Stud. 1(3), 335–353 (1974)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Agawu, K.: Tone and tune: the evidence for northern Ewe music. Africa 58(2), 127–146 (1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Gibbon, D., Ahoua, F., Kipré, B.F., Griffiths, S.: Discrete level narrative, terraced music: insights from underdocumented Ivorian languages. In: Austin, P.K., Bond, O., Charette, M., Nathan, D., Sells, P. (eds.) Proceedings of Conference on Language Documentation and Linguistic Theory 2. SOAS, London (2009)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Schellenberg, M.: Singing in a tone language: Shona. In: Ojo, A., Moshi, L. (eds.) Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, pp. 137–144. Cascadilla Proceedings Project, Somerville, MA (2009)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Connell, B.: Tones in tunes: a preliminary look at speech and song melody in Mambila. Speech Lang. Technol. 14(15), 137–146 (2012)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Schellenberg, M.: Does language determine music in tone languages? Ethnomusicology 56(2), 266–278 (2014). (Spring/Summer 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Lewis, M.P., Simons, G.F., Fennig, C.D. (eds.): Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Eighteenth edn. SIL International, Dallas (2015). Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Chao, Y.R.: Tone, intonation, singsong, chanting, recitative, tonal composition and atonal composition in Chinese. In: Halle, M., Lunt, H.G., McLean, H., van Schooneveld, C.H. (eds.) For Roman Jakobson: Essays on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, 11th October 1956, pp. 52–59. Mouton and Co, The Hague (1956)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Schellenberg, M.: The realization of tone in singing in Cantonese and Mandarin. Ph.D., Dissertation. The University of British Columbia, Vancouver (2013)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Konoshenko, M.: Tonal systems in three dialects of the Kpelle language. Mandenkan 44, 21–42 (2008)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Konoshenko, M.: The syntax of tone in Guinean Kpelle. In: Proceedings of the Fortieth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, pp. 233–252, 7–9 February (2014)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Kuznetsova, N., Kuznetsova, O., Vydrine, V.: Propositions pour une réforme de l’orthographe du gouro. Mandenkan 44, 43–52 (2008)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kuznetsova, O.: Tones in Guro and their indication in practical orthography. Qualification paper. Saint-Petersburg State University (2005) (In Russian)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Maddieson, I.: Universals of tone. In: Greenberg, J.H. (ed.) Universals of Human Language Phonology, vol. 2, pp. 335–363. Stanford University Press, Stanford (1978)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Zhang, J.: The effects of duration and sonority on contour tone distribution – typological survey and formal analysis. Ph.D. Dissertation, UCLA (2001)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Luznetsova, N.: Le statut fonctionnel du pied phonologique en gouro. Mandenkan 43, 13–45 (2007)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Le Saout, J.: Notes sur la phonologie du Gouro (zone de Zuénoula). CEPLAN, Nice (1979)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    List, G.: Speech melody and song melody in central Thailand. Ethnomusicology 5(1), 16–32 (1961)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sholokhov Moscow State University for the HumanitiesMoscowRussia
  2. 2.Institute for Linguistic Studies RASSaint-PetersburgRussia

Personalised recommendations