Problems in the acquisition of grammatical tone

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An autosegmental account of the child's acquisition of grammatical tone in Sesotho, a southern Bantu language, is presented. The following theoretical questions are addressed: (1) When and how does the child figure out that Sesotho is a tonal rather than intonational, stress, or accentual language?; (2) How does the child acquire tonal rules?; and (3) When do children become aware of Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP) effects that prohibit two consecutive high tones from occurring on the tonal tier? Data are drawn from the speech of a monolingual Sesotho speaking child in spontaneous utterances during interactions with siblings, parents, and grandparents at ages 2.1, 2.6, and 3.0 years. Results suggest that at 2 years the child knows that he is learning a grammatical tonal rather than a stress/intonational, lexical tonal, or accentual language. An initial rule of interactive high tone spread on verbs at two years gives rise to morphological tone rules, a rule of high tone deletion, and the lexical distinction of verbs by 3 years. Finally, it appears that the effects of OCP are learned much as other tonal rules, around the same time as the other verbal melody tone patterns begin to emerge. A 14-item bibliography is included.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-88
Number of pages8
JournalPapers & Reports on Child Language Development
Publication statusPublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes


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