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The role of tone in phrasing in Bemba and an initial tonal experimental study

Nancy Kula, University of Essex

April 21, 2021 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · via Zoom

Program in Linguistics

The talk looks at phrasing marked by tonal patterns in Bemba and contrasts this with competing morphological marking of particular phrasal patterns that suggests an overlaying of prosodic patterns on otherwise segmental morphologically marked forms. The data suggests the phonologization of a previously morphologically marked alternation/phrasal pattern. While a significant number of tenses in the rich TAM system of Bemba have morphemes that distinguish the position of the verb in phonological phrasing, these are also accompanied by particular tone patterns that suggest redundancy in the phonological phrasing grammar. We will investigate the contrasting distributional properties and the resulting blurring of morphological and phonological boundaries.

One of the patterns of tonal phonological phrasal marking involves ternary high tone spread that we will investigate through an experimental study to evaluate to what extent derived tonal patterns are cognitively represented in contrast to lexical tone.


Nancy Kula studied phonology for her PhD at the University of Leiden, The Netherlands, MA in Linguistics at SOAS, University of London, and BA in African Linguistics at the University of Zambia. She is currently professor of Linguistics at the University of Essex. Her research centrally focuses on Bantu languages, particularly on phonology, tone, intonation, phonology-syntax interface and aspects of morphosyntax. She is also interested in language policy and in multiligual language practices. She has worked on many topics in phonology (including nasalisation, palatalisation, spirantisation, vowel harmony, strength relations, segmental structure, syllable structure, derived environments, licensing, tone, intonation and element theory) and published in international journals and edited books. She is currently co-editing the Oxford Guide to the Bantu Languages due to be published in 2022.

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