Tone shift and spread in Taita I


  • David Odden


Bantu, tone, tone shift, Taita, Dembwa


Numerous Bantu languages have processes of rightward shift or spread of H tone. Sometimes the process is quite simple: every H shifts once to the right (as in Cijita) or spreads once to the right (as in Kikerewe). The tonal system of Taita is more complex in that both shifting and spreading are found in the language. Furthermore, the extent of tone shift or spread is not just one syllable; sometimes, H tone can shift or spread by two syllables. An analysis of the tonal system of the Dembwa dialect of Taita is given here. It is argued that the facts of the language are best described in terms of two rules of rightward spreading and a third rule of tone delinking. The argument for analyzing the tone system in terms of three interacting rules rather than one unified rightward movement process resides in the fact that the environments for the three processes only overlap partially. On the theoretical front, these results support a general decomposition of the process of tone shift into tone spread interacting with tonal delinking, rather than including the operation of shift in the formal repertoire of primitive phonological operations.