The vast majority of African linguists still rely on their naked ears to determine pitch registers and tone rules. In recent years, timid efforts have been made by some to complement their impressionistic analyses with acoustic phonetic measurements. Yet, they still interpret the acoustic data impressionistically. In this paper, I propose a new approach based on the Critical Band Theory (CBT). This theory was pioneered by Physicist Harvey Fletcher who postulated on the basis of mathematical calculations that the basilar membrane compartmentalizes speech signals into frequency bands. He demonstrated this in various experiments that culminated in his seminal paper, Auditory Patterns (1940). Seven years later, von Békésy, another physicist, published The Variations of Phase along the Basilar Membrane with Sinusoidal Vibrations in which he proved clinically that Fletcher’s theory was grounded in physiological reality. There are three main advantages in using CBT to study pitch registers and tone rules in African languages. First, it correlates F0 measurements directly with a pre-existing critical band template. Therefore, pitch registers are determined independently of the researcher’s preconceived ideas about pitch levels. Secondly, the findings are authoritative because the critical band system has been endorsed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the International Standardization Organization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) for designing and manufacturing audio products and sound level meters. Last but not least, CBT-based findings are falsifiable and applicable to all tone languages.
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"The New Paradigm in Tone Analysis: The Contribution of the Critical Band Theory,"
Linguistic Portfolios: Vol. 6
, Article 12.
Available at: https://repository.stcloudstate.edu/stcloud_ling/vol6/iss1/12