Computationally, tone is different

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


This paper establishes that unbounded circumambient processes, phonological processes for which crucial information in the environment may appear unboundedly far away on both sides of a target, are common in tonal phonology, but rare in segmental phonology. It then argues that this typological asymmetry is best characterised by positing that tone is more computationally complex than segmental phonology. The evidence for the asymmetry is based around attestations of unbounded tonal plateauing, but it is also shown how the 'sour-grapes' harmony pathology is unbounded circumambient. The paper argues that such processes are not weakly deterministic, which contrasts with previous typological work on segmental phonology. Positing that weak determinism bounds segmental phonology but not tonal phonology thus captures the typological asymmetry. It is also discussed why this explanation is superior to any offered by Optimality Theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-283
Number of pages37
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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