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Topics in Linguistics C: The phonetics and phonology of tone accent systems: synchronic and diachronic typology



In this course, we discuss how tone accent systems develop over time, and how cross-dialectal variation can be analyzed from a synchronic and diachronic perspective. Furthermore, the students get to know different ways to conduct empirical research on tone accent oppositions (e.g. production and perception studies). Our empirical focus will be on the Franconian tone accents, spoken in parts of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Throughout the classes, we also compare the Franconian accents to related prosodic systems, particularly to Scandinavian.

Franconian distinguishes two tone accents, Accent 1 and Accent 2: for instance, in many dialects, the difference between [bɛin2] ‘leg-sg’ (Accent 2) and [bɛin1] ‘leg-pl’ (Accent 1) is primarily based on the tonal contour. Yet the accent opposition can also be manifested in other ways, viz. via durational and / or segmental contrasts. Due to this richness of correlates, Franconian is a perfect example to show how word stress, (intonational) tone, and segmental structure can interact with each other. As we shall see, such interactions are highly relevant for ongoing debates on the synchronic and diachronic analysis of accent contrasts. The phenomenon bears on some of the most fundamental issues in phonology: the relation between phonological representations and their phonetic realization, as well as the relation between synchrony and diachrony.

Course objectives

At the end of the semesters, the students are able…

  • to name and discuss prosodic characteristics of tone accent systems, particularly of Franconian

  • to apply different theoretical approaches to data from tone accent languages, in diachronic and synchronic studies

  • to plan their own research projects on tone accent dialects


The timetable will be available by June 1st at the website of Linguistics. Please check the Timetable

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Oral presentation of a research paper (20%)

  • Paper (80%)


Information, exercises Blackboard

Reading list

To be provided on Blackboard


Prospective students, please check the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to apply.

After application, students are to register for courses and exams through uSis

Contact information

By E-mail: Coordinator of Studies