Headed tone spans: Binarity and minimal overlap

  • Micheal Key
  • Lee Bickmore


We present a theoretical framework for tone that builds on the Headed Spans theory of assimilation. We propose that spans have two important properties, which we term binarity and minimal overlap. Cilungu (Bantu, Zambia) exhibits a process of binary H tone spreading onto the following mora, and then onto the following syllable, unless an Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP) violation would result. We propose two binary constraints on spans to explain this pattern. Further, Cilungu binary spreading obtains regardless of the length of the sequence of H-toned tone-bearing units (TBUs) in the input, which creates arbitrarily long output sequences of H-toned TBUs. We show that the binarity analysis can nonetheless account for this generalisation if spans are permitted to minimally overlap. A welcome consequence of permitting minimal overlap is that the No Crossing Condition can be derived (for tone) from factorial typology: candidates with supraminimal overlap are harmonically bounded in our theory. Finally, the formal and typological pathologies of non-overlapping alternative analyses are discussed.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2014, 32(1): 35–53

Author Biographies

Micheal Key
Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland, 1401 Marie Mount Hall, College Park, MD 20742, USA
Lee Bickmore
Department of Anthropology, AS 238, University at Albany, Albany, NY 12222, USA

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614