Zulu has two (or three) phonological tones: High tone (H), shown in the examples by an acute accent (´), Falling (F) (ˆ), and unmarked or Low. However the actual pitch contour of a syllable is affected by several additional factors, notably tone assimilation, depression, and of course intonation, downdrift etc.
- Assimilation: unmarked syllables standing between two marked ones adopt the same pitch as the previous H (subject to certain exceptions).
- Depression: a vowel following a depressor consonant, if H or F, begins with a rising-pitch onset and reaches a lower high point than would otherwise apply. If it is unmarked (low), it receives low pitch, overriding the Assimilation that would otherwise apply.
Here is a nice example of the depressor effect. Zulu has borrowed the English word spoon, but has modified it so as to conform to the usual Bantu noun pattern of “classifier” prefix plus stem: isi-punu. (The s is taken to be the classifier isi-. The English p, unaspirated in this position, is duly mapped onto Zulu p̕ rather than onto aspirated pʰ.) Nouns that have isi- in the singular regularly form their plural by changing the prefix to izi-. Thus the plural prefix contains a depressor consonant, although the singular prefix does not. The English stress on a monosyllable is mapped onto Zulu H tone, with the result you see in the graphics, which are scanned from Rycroft’s duplicated teaching materials. Notice how the -si- syllable of the singular is assimilated to high pitch, while the depressor consonant in -zi- overrides that effect and causes low pitch.
Here’s another of his examples. The words abantwana and amadada have the same tone pattern (H on the second syllable, otherwise unmarked). The pitch patterns differ in the third syllable: partial assimilation in abantwana aɓántwaːna but depression in amadada amád̤aːd̤a.
In the word-by-word sound file of Thula Sizwe (blog, 15 Nov.), listen again to the first two words, thúla sízwe. Notice the assimilation of the pitch of unmarked -la to highish, but the abrupt drop to low pitch on -zwe caused by the depressor z̤. In úngabókhâla the g of the second syllable is a depressor, but not the implosive ɓ of the third. In úJehóva you hear the depressor effect of the dʒ and the v. And so on.
I was impressed by Rycroft’s analysis of Zulu tone: a simple system of lexical tones, but complicated realization rules. His description, and the output of his rules, agreed exactly with what our native-speaker language consultant pronounced, although Mr Ngcobo, as seems often to happen with speakers of tone languages, had great difficulty in analysing the tones he deployed so effortlessly. (The first consonant in his name is a depressor nasalized click, the second a non-depressor implosive.)
For Rycroft’s analysis see his 1980 monograph ‘The Depression Feature in Nguni languages and its interaction with tone’, Communication No. 8. Department of African Languages, Rhodes University, Grahamstown.
To bid farewell in Zulu you say salani kahle saláːni ɠaːɬé. Literally, this means ‘stay (pl.) well’, and is used when saying goodbye to people who are staying where they are as the speaker leaves. Cf hambani kahle hamb̤áːni ɠaːɬé ‘go well’, used if the addressees are leaving and the speaker is staying. See here. You will now be able to work out how the pitch patterns of the two expressions differ.
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Over the coming days I shall be busy elsewhere. Next blog posting: 22 Nov.