Séminaires Llacan

Séminaire du Llacan – mercredi 20 avril 2022 – Elena Perekhvalskaya : «Tonal Density Index»

Le mercredi 20 avril 2022, de 10h à 11h, Elena Perekhvalskaya fera un exposé intitulé «Tonal Density Index(TDI)».


Tonal density index is based on the notion of “tonal density” introduced by Carlos Gussenhoven. This index is counted as the ratio between the number of meaningful tones and the number of potential tone-bearing units of the language (Gussenhoven 2004). The concept of tonal density is extremely fruitful. It makes it possible to operate with more subtle differences than the dichotomy “tonal / non-tonal” while describing the phonological system of a language. The degree of tonality when taken into account will show more precisely the relative importance of tones for coding meanings in a particular language. Tonal density has not yet become an exact term, it is still rather impressionistic. A language may be defined as having rather high or rather low tonal density, but this estimation is not supported by accurate calculations. However, the tonal density is a very important parameter: it may provide an opportunity to compare phonological systems of different languages and also different subsystems within one language. It will also make it possible to find correlations between the structure of tonal system and other characteristics of the language. In order to make “tonal density” work, it should be precisely defined in the frames of quantitative approach. It is proposed to count this index for tonal languages as the number of relevant tonal oppositions per 100 potential tone carriers  made on the basis of text of a certain length (for example, 10,000 characters).

Principles of TDI counting. Since any pronounced vowel can be characterized by its F0 (that is, it is pronounced with some pitch), it is necessary to establish certain principles of counting the TDI.

(1) If pitch of a segment is completely predictable by the phonological context, the segment should be counted as non-tonal;

(2) only pitch distinctions relevant for coding meanings are counted as tones;

(3) if lexical and / or grammatical context determines the choice of a unit, it should be counted as non-bearing a tone;

(4) in most two-tone systems one tone is marked; therefore, only segments which bear the marked tone are considered tone carriers, those bearing the default tone are marked as toneless;

Case studies

Mwan (South Mande < Mande < Niger-Congo)

Navajo (Na-Dene)

Tibetan (Bodic < Sino-Tibetan)

Chakavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian (Slavonic < Indo-European)


Gussenhoven, Carlos. 2004. The phonology of tone and intonation. Cambridge University Press.


Lien Zoom pour assister au séminaire : https://cnrs.zoom.us/j/95654741763

ID  réunion : 956 5474 1763

Code secret : 81Llacan35