Workshop 6: Melodic tones in Bantu languages

Convenors: Lotta Aunio (University of Helsinki) & Laura J. Downing (University of Gothenburg)


A thorough tonal analysis is crucial for the comprehensive analysis of TAM systems in Bantu languages since tones often play a central role in verbal inflection. Sometimes only tone distinguishes one inflection from another. And often some set of inflections is characterized by what are called, ‘melodic tone patterns’. Melodic tone patterns cannot be attributed to particular segmental TAM morphemes. Instead, they are realized as H tones in specific positions in the verb in a particular inflection. Different melodic patterns are often associated with different TAM morphemes: that is, many languages have more than one melodic tone pattern. Despite this close association between TAM and tone, there are numerous descriptions of Bantu languages that do not take tone into account.

A special issue of Africana Linguistica published in 2014 is devoted to closing this gap and includes descriptions of the melodic tone systems of more than 20 Bantu languages. However, as noted by the guest editors of the issue (Odden & Bickmore 2014), there remain many areas that are not adequately covered in the study of TAM tone systems. Marlo 2013 is an attempt towards closing the methodological gap in regard to studying melodic tones, but there are still many features of melodic tone systems that are not well understood.

This workshop invites papers on current research on melodic tone in Bantu languages. We particularly encourage submissions on the topics listed below:

  • Descriptions of melodic tone systems of individual languages/language varieties
  • Areal/comparative accounts of melodic tone patterns
  • Melodic tone patterns under contact
  • Emergence/historical development of melodic tone patterns
  • Theoretical and/or methodological views on melodic tone systems



Marlo, M. 2013. Verb tone in Bantu languages: micro-typological patterns and research methods. Africana Linguistica XIX: 137–234.

Nurse, D. 2008. Tense and aspect in Bantu. Oxford: OUP.

Odden, D. & L. Bickmore 2014. Melodic tone in Bantu: Overview. Africana Linguistica XX: 3–13.