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In two recent handbook articles, Beckman & Venditti (2010, 2011) present overviews of tone and intonation which take issue both with traditional typology and with recent attempts to bring clarity to the rather confused study of prosodic typology. In the course of their coverage B&V reject the “usefulness” of distinguishing prosodic systems by “tonemic function alone” (e.g. lexical tone, stress, intonation) and raise the question “Is typology needed?”

As in Hyman (2006, 2009), I once again argue for a “property-driven” approach to typology whose goal is not to classify languages into prosodic types, rather to accurately characterize the same vs. different ways in which prosodic prooperties are exploited. We thus ask (i) whether a given language has word-level contrastive pitch (“tone”), word-level metrical structure (“stress”), both, or neither; (ii) if yes, what does the prosodic system do with the tones and/or stress, both at the word level and postlexically?

After providing definitions of tone, stress and intonation, I propose to replace my previous notion of prosodic “prototypes” with a “canonical typology” of each, based on Corbett's (2007:9) notion of canonical instances which constitute “the best, clearest, indisputable” fulfillment of the core function of each of the three prosodies. While B&V question the usefulness of “broad-stroke typologies” which have traditionally distinguished tone, stress and intonation, their disposition to minimize systemic differences in favor of surface comparisons of phonetic realizations raises important questions concerning levels of representation and the nature of phonological typology itself.


Beckman, Mary E. & Jennifer J. Venditti. 2010. Tone and Intonation. In William J. Hardcastle & John Laver (eds), The handbook of phonetic sciences, 603-652. Blackwell.
Beckman, Mary E. & Jennifer J. Venditti. 2010. Intonation. In John Goldsmith, Jason Riggle & Alan C.L. Yu (eds), The handbook of phonological theory, 485-532. Blackwell.
Corbett, Greville G. 2007. Canonical typology, suppletion, and possible words. Language 83.8-42.
Hyman, Larry M. 2006. Word prosodic typology. Phonology 23.225-257.
Hyman, Larry M. 2009. How (not) to do phonological typology: the case of pitch-accent. Language Sciences 31.213-238.

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