Tone in Mende: A Comparative Analysis of Theoretical Approaches
Swarthmore College. Dept. of Linguistics
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In this paper, I examine the advantages and shortcomings of two different methods of tonal analysis; Autosegmental Phonology and Simplified Bracketed Grid Theory. Autosegmental Phonology is widely used in American linguistics for tonal analysis, but Simplified Bracketed Grids are still very new and relatively unknown. For this reason, I explain each theory in general, and expound on some key points and key differences between the new and old theories. Each analytic approach is applied to Mende, a member of the Niger-Congo language family, with the aim of determining which of the two approaches, if either, provides the simplest and most elegant analysis. Mende has long been used as an anchor of support for the application of Autosegmental Phonology in representing tone, and it is for this reason, that I am using it as the medium of comparison. Two separate Mende data sets, which represent two dialects, are analyzed. The first data set, Mende A, is the classic data set used when discussing Mende or tone in Autosegmental Phonology. A supplement to this data set is included, which contains data that fits in with the patterns in Mende A. Mende B doubles the number of possible tones and the number of tonal patterns. SBG theory ends up turning out analyses of Mende tonal patterns that are at least equally as sophisticated as the Autosegmental analyses. They additionally provide some predictions inherent to the structures and created by the analyses about the eventual phonetic output from the phonological representations.