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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Issues in AM pitch phonology


We have now seen in some detail how the AM theory provides a useful descriptive framework that has been successfully applied to many languages, and how it gives us the potential to make more specific and hence more testable statements about intonational universals. To the extent that we discussed disagreements about the appropriate analysis of specific contour types, the discussion was framed in the context of cross-language comparison: we argued that certain analyses are more appropriate than others in view of the goal of linguistic typology. However, many of the disagreements actually depend on unresolved theoretical issues within intonational phonology itself, questions that are relevant whether we are comparing cross-linguistically or trying to describe a single variety of a single language. These are the topic of this chapter.

Issues in tonal description

Nuclear and prenuclear accents

We begin with an issue that lies at the boundary between ‘pitch’ and ‘prominence’ (the two aspects of intonation sketched in figure 1.1), namely the distinction between ‘nuclear’ and other kinds of accents. This distinction, in one form or another, has been a part of theorising about intonational structure at least since the beginning of the British tradition. (See Cruttenden 1992b for an interesting discussion of pre-twentieth-century precursors to the nucleus idea.) According to the founding work in the British school (Palmer 1922), an intonation contour is divided into three parts, called head, nucleus, and tail.