This week's HistLing meeting features Professor Bill Baxter with a presentation on Tibetan Tonogenesis. The title and abstract of his presentation are given below.
Tonogenesis in Tibetan
To Europeans who first encountered them, tone languages like Chinese and Vietnamese seemed so exotic as to constitute a type of human language very different in design and conception from the languages they were familiar with. Henri Maspero (1912) concluded that because of its tonal system, Vietnamese could not belong to the largely nontonal Mon-Khmer languages, even though they shared a considerable amount of very basic vocabulary: instead he assigned it to the Tai family. But since the work of Haudricourt (1954), it has become clear that a nontonal language can acquire distinctive tones through the loss of consonant features.
Tibetan dialects provide an interesting laboratory case to illustrate this point: some dialects are tonal and others, with more conservative consonantism, are not. In this talk we will apply the comparative method to two tonal and two nontonal dialects of Tibetan, to reconstruct how tones arose in this situation.