Monday, September 13, 2010

339. Tonoexodus 2

In a recent comment, Maju called our attention to a very interesting new article in which a possible connection between tonal and non-tonal languages is tested and discussed: Real-Time Correlates of Phonological Quantity Reveal Unity of Tonal and Non-Tonal Languages, by Juhani Jarvikivi1, Martti Vainio and Daniel Aalto. (How does he find this stuff?) The authors point specifically to the influence of tone in certain non-tonal "quantity languages," (i.e. languages in which differences in syllable length have phonemic import), citing evidence suggesting
that in non-tonal quantity languages such as, Estonian,
Finnish, Japanese, and Serbo-Croatian, tonal differences affect
speakers’ judgments of vowel length, in so far
as the available evidence can be taken to suggest that the speakers
of these languages tend to categorize syllables or words as long
more often than short when the target syllable has a falling rather
than a level tone. (p.2)
To further test this hypothesis, the authors performed experiments with Finnish speaking subjects, to determine the effects of certain tonal configurations on their perception of lexical difference. For them, the results of these experiments "are clear: whether the first syllable has a falling or a level (high) tone is a robust online cue to . . . lexical identity in Finnish" (p. 4).

In a Discussion section, they elaborate on the meaning of their results:
In contrast to the usual assumption that there is a clear-cut
conceptual distinction between tone and non-tonal quantity
languages, we have put forth the idea that, cognitively, these two phonological systems could perhaps be seen as two variants of . . . the same underlying mechanisms. In addition to reviewing the available evidence that we thought would point this way, we carried out two experiments investigating whether pitch information would affect perception of length and thus word recognition in a language with a par excellence example of a quantity-based lexical-phonological system. The answer based on the two experiments was a clear affirmative (p.4).
In short, "our results showed that pitch information is an important co-index of the quantity opposition in Finnish." On this basis, they make a rather startling claim: "Consequently, . . . our results imply that in terms of the production and perception mechanisms, pitch in Finnish is probably in all respects like pitch in any prototypical tone language, e.g., Mandarin Chinese" (p. 5).

In more general terms,
we would like to argue that rather than a
discrete categorical classification of languages into tone languages
and non-tone languages, a more fine-grained account is needed
that takes into account the extent to which (in this case) pitch
information is actually used to distinguish phonological categories
in processing. This would not only sharpen our criteria of tone
languages, but would also provide a more realistic, more refined,
explanandum for studies of linguistic evolution. (p. 6)

Moreover,
With regard to tonogenesis - at least in some cases - it
may be that tone in the phonetic sense has been present all along
and only surfaces phonologically when other linguistic factors force
the change. Importantly, our results suggest that there is no
unidirectional link from perceptual sensitivity to pitch information
to the emergence of a tone language. (p. 6)
The authors never go far as to question the tonogenesis dogma per se, but their work certainly raises many questions regarding its validity as a "unidirectional link" in linguistic evolution.

What I find especially intriguing in this research is the fact that two of the three European languages they cite as typical "quantity languages," Finnish and Estonian, are Uralic languages, thus among the very few non-Indoeuropean languages on that continent. Since the establishment of Indoeuropean throughout almost all of Europe appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, and Uralic is widespread among languages spoken by indigenous peoples scattered through vast regions of northern Europe and Asia, it seems likely that the Uralic complex could predate Indoeuropean and thus might represent an earlier stage of lingustic evolution.

Indeed, according to a very interesting paper by Mario Alinei (Interdisciplinary and linguistic evidence for Palaeolithic continuity of Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic populations in Eurasia, with an excursus on Slavic ethnogenesis, 2003), a new theory of Uralic origins
was advanced about thirty years ago and is now universally recognized by linguists as well as archaeologists: it is called the Uralic Continuity Theory (UCT) and claims an
uninterrupted continuity of Uralic populations and languages from [the] Paleolithic (Meinander 1973, Nuñez 1987, 1989, 1996, 1997, 1998)

According to this theory, which historically represents the first claim of uninterrupted continuity of a European people from [the] Paleolithic, Uralic people must belong to the populations of Homo sapiens sapiens coming from Africa, who occupied mid-eastern Europe in Paleolithic glacial times . . . and followed the retreating icecap in [the] Mesolithic, eventually settling in their present territories . . . (pp. 12-13)
I don't want to pursue my speculations too far, since my knowledge of historical linguistics is very limited and I might well be on the wrong track entirely. Nor are such speculations really necessary with regard to the overall argument I've been presenting over the last few posts. Nevertheless, I do find the link between tonal languages and non-tonal quantity languages very interesting and definitely worthy of further investigation. As I wrote in my response to Maju's comment,
If the earliest language was indeed tonal, as I strongly suspect (due to the saturation of tone languages in Africa, and the lack of evidence for "tonogenesis" on that continent), then the association these linguists found between tone and quantity could represent a first step in an evolution from tonal to non-tonal language. . . . I'm now wondering whether Uralic languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Saami were among the "native European" language families displaced by the advent of Indoeuropean. If so, then the close association with tone language demonstrated in this paper would make a great deal of sense. . . The evolution from a tone to a quantity language would have been the exact opposite of the "tonogenesis" so confidently assumed by so many linguists.

8 comments:

Maju said...

"How does he find this stuff?"

I guess I just read things. In particular I am subscribed to PLoS ONE and PLoS genetics alerts and read some sicence online magazines regularly. However stumbling on this, as I'm not particularly focused on linguistics nor many linguistic papers are surely published in PLoS, was a matter of chance.

I took a look at Wikipedia's Pitch accent article and it seems that it was a common feature in early IE:

"The term [pitch accent] has been used to describe the Scandinavian languages, Croatian, Serbian, Slovene, Ancient Greek, Vedic Sanskrit, Latin, Japanese, some dialects of Korean, and Shanghainese".

"Proto-Indo-European accent is usually reconstructed as a free[2] pitch-accent system,[3] preserved in Ancient Greek, Vedic, and Proto-Balto-Slavic. The Greek and Indic systems were lost: Modern Greek has a pitch produced stress accent, and it was lost entirely from Indic by the time of the Prākrits".

What for me only adds support to the Indo-Uralic theory.

...

Tonoexodus.- Doesn't exodus mean 'emigration'? (from exo-: out) I understood tonoexodus to mean the migration of tonal languages out from a core area but it seems you use it to mean the loss of tonality. Isn't a Greek word for loss? Honestly, I don't like the neologism: it seems forced and confusing.

...

Paleolithic continuity hypothesis.

While it makes some good sense to consider the ultimate Paleolithic origins of Uralic and Indoeuropean, the core tenet of the PC model is that Indoeuropean and specifically historical Indoeuropean subfamilies were "always" spoken more or less where they are now. The case for Uralic seems just an extension of the IE PC hypothesis, which I understand it's a total waste (too much to discuss here).

Also the very fact that IE has gradually lost its pitch accent, specially where it's considered most intrusive by the main (most solid) model, the Kurgan Theory, is sueggestive of this feature being imported in Europe or most of it.

DocG said...

Maju: "I took a look at Wikipedia's Pitch accent article and it seems that it was a common feature in early IE"

Pitch accent is not the same as phonological quantity. However it's interesting to speculate on whether this too might be a survival from an orginary tone
language (or: language of tones).

"Tonoexodus.- Doesn't exodus mean 'emigration'? (from exo-: out) I understood tonoexodus to mean the migration of tonal languages out from a core area but it seems you use it to mean the loss of tonality. Isn't a Greek word for loss? Honestly, I don't like the neologism: it seems forced and confusing."

My "coining" of this term was tongue in cheek (note the smiley). After all, doesn't "exodus" come right after "genesis" in the bible?

However, I was surprised to learn that "tonoexodus" is in fact the term used by linguists to describe the opposite of "tonogenesis." So I guess we're stuck with it.

"While it makes some good sense to consider the ultimate Paleolithic origins of Uralic and Indoeuropean, the core tenet of the PC model is that Indoeuropean and specifically historical Indoeuropean subfamilies were "always" spoken more or less where they are now."

Yes. This is in fact very close to Alinei's theory. However, he also argues that Uralic speakers must orginally have settled in the central regions of eastern Europe and moved north only as the glaciers receded.

It certainly makes sense to argue that Indoeuropean and Uralic diverged from the the same root during the Paleolithic. The question remains: what sort of root was it and what role might the perception of tonal differences have played in it's makeup?

"Also the very fact that IE has gradually lost its pitch accent, specially where it's considered most intrusive by the main (most solid) model, the Kurgan Theory, is sueggestive of this feature being imported in Europe or most of it."

As I said above, pitch accent is not the same as phonological quantity. But I'm confused as to why you believe pitch accent was imported into Europe rather than native to it.

Maju said...

"As I said above, pitch accent is not the same as phonological quantity. But I'm confused as to why you believe pitch accent was imported into Europe rather than native to it".

Never mind, I took the concept of pitch from your original post and its quotes:

"we carried out two experiments investigating whether pitch information would affect perception of length"

"our results showed that pitch information is an important co-index of the quantity opposition in Finnish."

"Consequently, . . . our results imply that in terms of the production and perception mechanisms, pitch in Finnish is probably in all respects like pitch in any prototypical tone language, e.g., Mandarin Chinese"

As I'm not linguist and English is not my first language, I looked it up at Wikipedia, and the only linguistic term I found was pitch accent.

Then I followed some of the info provided in that article. Just that.

I am not sure if the conjectured Indo-Uralic or its major components were imported to Europe. It is a possibility but all depends on the details of ethnogenesis at the Volga-Urals area for these two ethnicities. Sadly, the archaeological record for under Neolithic seems unresearched. This leaves us wondering.

However, if Uralic and IE are not phylogenetically related but only by sprachbund, then Uralic can perfectly be ultimately original from East or NE Asia rather than related to European languages. This is supported mostly on the genetics of Y-DNA haplogroup N (and related CZ and D mtDNA) among Uralic peoples specially.

Similarly, an independent PIE might be original from South Asia, where haplogroup Ra1 seems to be rooted after all (only one paper on this as of now though).

spiraldance said...

Thanks for this fascinating discovery -- the main point to me is synethesia -- how a "long" visual symbol is a down tone while a "short" is up tone.

In Minnesota there is a strong Scandinavian accent that belies this tonal connection but I had never consciously realized this. I mean it's obvious.

The real issue is the "Haunting Melody" phenomenon -- how the cerebellum, a la Daniel Levitin, stores the subconscious emotions as music memories. So if you can remember the words of that song stuck in your head then there is revealed a subconscious message. Or in the opposite direction -- language arises from this emotional subconscious electrochemical connection.

So Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the different lower organs having different vowel sounds and each organ is a different emotional blockage (liver is anger, kidney is fear, pancreas is worry, heart is over-excitement, lung is sadness).

If you can create light from the sound then you can exorcise the emotional blockage -- which can also be caused from food or drugs, etc. -- smoking causes depression, sugar causes worry, coffee causes fear, etc.

I recently blogged on the new creation of sound lasers! Phasers -- quantum sound is based on phonons as complementary opposite resonance. Western music analysis relies on time as a "divide and average" or logarithmic spatial measurement! Quantum sound is the true nonwestern secret to creating light from sound -- aka sonofusion or "piezonuclear fusion" -- ultrasound sonoluminescence.

http://naturalresonancerevolution.blogspot.com/2010/09/laser-quantum-sound-phaser-and-matrix.html

DocG said...

Thanks for your comment, Spiraldancer. You raise some very interesting issues. I remember reading Theodore Reik's "The Haunting Melody," and finding that it made a great deal of sense. An aspect of evolution I was planning on bringing up, but haven't so far, is the role of the unconscious. It's disappointing that the unconscious is rarely any more discussed in the literature on evolution, cognitive science, and even anthropology.

As I see it, Freud, along with Darwin, Nietszche, Marx -- and also Niels Bohr -- was one of the great innovators who literally turned our views of human life and culture inside out. I'm hoping to be in a position to take some time to discuss Freud and his disciples in some future posts.

As for the rest, I just now took a quick look at your blog and found many things that intrigued me. I'll be returning to read more and possibly write some comments as well. Thanks for posting that link.

Maju said...

A reader's hint: two genetic variants seem related to tonality in language. I'm sure you'll be interested (it's from 2007 but new to me).

Enjoyed your strange music, btw. Cheers.

DocG said...

Hi Maju, nice to see you posting here again:

"A reader's hint: two genetic variants seem related to tonality in language. I'm sure you'll be interested (it's from 2007 but new to me)."

Thanks for the reference, but I'm way ahead of you. This article was discussed (dissected) by me in post 265 (http://music000001.blogspot.com/2009/12/265-baseline-scenarios-41-gap.html).

"Enjoyed your strange music, btw."

Thanks.

Maju said...

Oops, I was there but I could not recall. Sorry.