Khoekhoe Tone Inventory

Khoekhoe nouns, verbs and adjectives (i.e., "roots") obligatorily belong to one of six tone classes. In my dissertation, I argue that the tone melodies associated with these classes should be analyzed as SL (super-low), L (low), SL-L (low-rising), H (high), SH (super-high) and H-SH (high-rising). Each of these melodies occurs with roots of all three basic shapes (i.e., CVV, CVCV, CVN), as illustrated by the examples below.

In connected speech, Khoekhoe roots undergo a type of tone sandhi (alternation) that is otherwise found only in the Southern Min languages of China. In certain prosodically-defined environments, the root's citation melody is paradigmatically replaced with a different melody. For example, a root in the SL class takes a L-SL (low-falling) melody in a sandhi context, while a root in the H-SH class takes a L melody in the same context. As in Southern Min languages, sandhi contexts are defined only in terms of syntactically-derived prosodic phrasing and not the identity of nearby tones. Khoekhoe does, however, differ from Southern Min languages in that only the first word in each phrase retains its citation melody (rather than the last), and that function words are invariant. The alternation is illustrated below with nouns that take their citation melodies when unmodified and their sandhi melodies when preceded by a modifier.

Words illustrating each of the tone classes are listed below. In each row, the tone class is given first, then words of that class in Khoekhoe orthography, IPA transcription and English translation. Click the play button to hear a recording. The four tone levels are transcribed with double-low ([ȁ]), low ([à]), high ([á]) and double-high ([a̋]) diacritics.

Citation Melodies
SL daos  ǃgurub  ǂgan 
[tȁos] [ǃȕɾup] [ǂȁn]
‘door’ ‘thunder’ ‘jerked’
L ǃgao  ǃurus  ǂgan 
[ǃào] [ŋ̥ǃˀùɾus] [ǂàn]
‘to stop raining’ ‘heart of matter’ ‘to block’
SL-L gaos  durus  dan 
[kȁòs] [tȕɾùs] [tȁǹ]
‘river’ ‘mouse’ ‘to win’
H tao  xuru  ǂgan 
[táo] [xúɾu] [ǂán]
‘to feel shame’ ‘to unwind ‘to say indirectly’
SH ǂgaos  ǀgurus  ǂgan 
[ǂa̋os] [ǀűɾus] [ǂa̋n]
‘heart’ ‘wild animal’ ‘to close a crack’
H-SH saob  xurus  ǂgan 
[sáőp] [xúɾűs] [ǂán̋]
‘winter’ ‘charcoal’ ‘to request’
Sandhi Alternations
SL → L-SL
ǀGaib xa ta ra ǂâi.  Sa ǀgaib xa ta ra ǂâi. 
[ǀə̏ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋] [sa̋a ǀə̀ȉp xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋]
‘I am thinking about strength.' ‘I am thinking about your strength.'
L → L
Xaib xa ta ra ǂâi.  Sa xaib xa ta ra ǂâi. 
[xə̀ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋] [sa̋a xə̀ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋]
‘I am thinking about the kudu’ ‘I am thinking about your kudu’
SL-L → SL-L
ǁGaib xa ta ra ǂâi.  Sa ǁgaib xa ta ra ǂâi. 
[ǁə̏ìp xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋] [sa̋a ǁə̏ìp xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋]
‘I am thinking about the milk bucket’ ‘I am thinking about your milk bucket’
H → L-SL
ǀAib xa ta ra ǂâi.  Sa ǀaib xa ta ra ǂâi. 
[ŋ̥ǀˀə́ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋] [sa̋a ŋ̥ǀˀə̀ȉp xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋]
‘I am thinking about the cousin’ ‘I am thinking about your cousin’
SH → H
Saib xa ta ra ǂâi.  Sa saib xa ta ra ǂâi. 
[sə̋ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋] [sa̋a sə́ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋]
‘I am thinking about the older brother’ ‘I am thinking about your older brother’
H-SH → L
ǁGaib xa ta ra ǂâi.  Sa ǁgaib xa ta ra ǂâi. 
[ǁə́i̋p xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋] [sa̋a ǁə̀ip xà tà rà ŋ̥ǂˀə́i̋]
‘I am thinking about the wrinkle’ ‘I am thinking about your wrinkle’