tone contact

Just been listening to a fascinating piece on Radio 4 about India and China competing against each other in a new ‘scramble for Africa.’ Someone said the Chinese involvement included lots of unskilled Chinese migrant workers living in their own parts of town, doing menial jobs – and speaking no English.

Which obviously made me long to know about the new pidgins that must be developing right now. Is anyone doing any work on this? What happens to the tonal systems when, say, Bantu speakers come in contact with a SE Asian tone language? Wouldn’t that be a cool phd topic for someone?


5 thoughts on “tone contact

  1. Um. Not to be too dismissive. I suppose if English was dominant in whatever part of Tanzania or wherever they ended up, it might make sense. More interested tho in situations where English is not available. What happens when one tone language is the dominant language in contact with another tone language, was the question. Which may have been addressed in the literature already. Further insights welcome.


  2. Indeed. I remember being surprised in a language practical to discover tone elements in Shona. I’d never realised till then. Tones tend to defer to music, indicating, I’d have thought a degree of flexibilty about them … but you’re right, a definite potential PhD provided that someone can find it happening first. The pidgin English remark is actually likely to have a lot to commend it. Pidginised Hindi/Urdu is also possible …


  3. Yes, theoretically a pidgin can arise from any combination of languages. I still can’t help finding it odd that Chinese migrants with no English arriving in some country in Africa would end up with an English-based pidgin though: unless of course they landed somewhere where English was the dominant language; whether this is a plausible scenario I’m not in a position to say.

    Tone is firmly a linguistic phenomenon though, not musical. See Ladd’s Intonational Phonology, or any textbook of your choice (eg O’Grady, Dobrovolsky, Katamba, Contemporary Linguistics).


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