Separating Intonation from Tone

This project represents collaboration between KTH (David House) and Lund University (Anastasia Karlsson, Jan-Olof Svantesson and Damrong Tayanin) and is funded by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation. Anastasia Karlsson is the project’s principal investigator.

The purpose of the project is to investigate how the existence of lexical tones in a given language influences the use of intonation in that language, especially as a signal for focus and phrasing. The main goal is to compare strategies for expressing intonational meanings in tonal and non-tonal languages. A problem which is often encountered in works on intonation in tone languages is the difficulty in separating tone from intonation, which may lead to uncertainty about what in the intonation contour is the contribution of lexical tones and what is phrase intonation.

In this project we use a novel approach to this problem by analyzing a language that has developed lexical tones rather recently, from the point of view of language history. Kammu, a Mon-Khmer language spoken in Northern Laos, is a language of this kind. One of the main dialects of this language is a tone language of the “East Asian” type with (high or low) tone on each syllable, while the other main dialect lacks lexical tones. The dialects differ only marginally in other respects. This gives us a rare opportunity to investigate the tonal contours in nearly identical sentences produced by speakers of dialects with and without tones.

Group: Speech Communication and Technology

David House

Funding: Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation

Duration: 2007-01-01 - 2009-12-31

Keywords: Prosody, intonational meaning, tone language, phrasing, focus, Mon-Khmer, Kammu, Laos

Related publications:


Karlsson, A., House, D., & Tayanin, D. (2008). Recognizing phrase and utterance as prosodic units in non-tonal dialects of Kammu. In Proceedings, FONETIK 2008 (pp. 89-92). Department of Linguistics, University of Gothenburg. [pdf]


Karlsson, A., House, D., Svantesson, J-O., & Tayanin, D. (2007). Boundary signaling in tonal and non-tonal dialects of Kammu. Proceedings of Fonetik, TMH-QPSR, 50(1), 117-120. [pdf]

Karlsson, A. M., House, D., Svantesson, J-O., & Tayanin, D. (2007). Prosodic Phrasing in Tonal and Non-tonal Dialects of Kammu. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Saarbrücken, 1309-1312. [pdf]


Svantesson, J-O., & House, D. (2006). Tone production, tone perception and Kammu tonogenesis. Phonology, 23, 309-333. [pdf]

Published by: TMH, Speech, Music and Hearing

Last updated: 2012-11-09