According to the Critical Band Theory, the auditory perception of F0 data is the same for all human beings. However, when F0 signals are transferred through the auditory cortex to specialized areas of the brain, they are perceived and processed differently, depending on whether the language is tonal or accentual. In tone languages, F0 data appears to be processed in Heschl’s gyrus (Schneider 2005, Bendor 2012), whereas in accent languages, it appears to be processed in the planum temporale (Binder et al. 1996). Furthermore, in accent languages, F0 signals are computed on a nominal scale, but in tone languages, a logarithmic scale is used (Wightman 1973, Speaks 2005). These insights support the long-held linguistic view that accent and tone languages are prosodically different. Terms such as strong/weak or stressed/unstressed are used to describe pitch variations in accent languages, whereas in tone languages, the terms used are extra low, low, mid, high, and extra high. Current research on language and the brain suggests that the differences between these two types of languages may be the result of differences in tonotopic mapping, autocorrelational algorithms, and the scales on which pitch is computed. Due to these differences, it is not advisable to apply the same interpretive framework in analyzing pitch variations in accent and tone languages. Examples will be provided from English and Baule, a West African language, to underscore the pitfalls of doing so.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Author Bio

Ettien Koffi, Ph.D., is a professor of Linguistics at St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, USA, specializing in acoustic phonetics (Speech Intelligibility). His research interests center around sociophonetic variations in Central Minnesota English, acoustic phonetic accounts of intelligibility in L2 English, and acoustic phonetic and general description of Anyi, a West African Language spoken in Cote d'Ivoire. He is the author of four books and numerous papers covering topics as varied as syntax, translation, language planning and policy, orthography, and indigenous literacy training manuals. He can be reached at enkoffi@stcloudstate.edu.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.