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PhD Defence

Tone in Saxwe

Wednesday 6 November 2019
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

This study provides a comprehensive look at the tonal system of a Kwa language—how pitch levels in the Saxwe language provide a means of distinguishing between the meaning of individual words, as well as how pitch plays a role in communicating grammatical differences.

While a number of Kwa languages have been analyzed as having two underlying tones, Saxwe has a three-tone system—likely a result of the historical contact between a two-tone Gbe language which had consonant-related lowering effects and a three-tone Yoruboid language.

Included in the analysis is a series of phonetic studies of the details of tone production in Saxwe. The research includes a look at the phenomena known as automatic downstep and non-automatic downstep, both of which involve successive lowering of pitch levels within an utterance.

This language presents an interesting case study for examining tone because there are so many tonal factors at play which influence how the words in a sentence will be produced. The study also notes the surprising variation that is sometimes observed among speakers as they produce pitch levels in speaking



  • Prof. M.P.G.M. Mous
  • Prof.dr. M. van Oostendorp (Nijmegen)


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