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All Slavic languages: Tones in languages without tonal oppositions

Discussion in 'Other Slavic Languages' started by ahvalj, Dec 16, 2013.

  1. ahvalj

    ahvalj Senior Member

    A question to speakers of languages like BSC, Slovenian or Lithuanian. I am sure you can hear tonal movements in the languages that lack tonal oppositions. Those tones exist, but remain unnoticed by native speakers, which are untrained to perceive them. I recall, in a Russian manual of BSC, in a chapter explaining the differences between rising and falling tones, I read that Russian tends to have one of these tones in open syllables and another one in closed (don't remember which in which). Something similar may exist in other Slavic and non-Slavic languages as well. Would be grateful if you share your observations.

    A sidenote: I should confess, despite my 20+ years attempts, I cannot distinguish between acute and circumflex intonations in plain long vowels in Lithuanian: to the extent that I would never have guessed they exist there at all. In BSC and Slovenian, I can hear the rising or falling intonation, which is pretty strong there, but I rather associate it with the entire word, and in any case I cannot say which one is rising and which one is falling.
  2. Duya Senior Member

    Not in WR world
    The truth is, some ~99% of native speakers of BCS (and counting only those who have the tones in their native competence) can't consciously tell the four accents one from another. (Ok, probably more can discern long falling and long rising, but short ones are quite tricky.) Only those with a good combination of a) formal linguistic training b) thin ear c) desire to learn can. It is not really taught in the basic school: as I remember, there are only few lessons in the 6th grade, and pupils are not hard-pressed to know them. They are not repeated later, except in social-science gymnasiums.

    So, we acquire tones much like everything L1: we hear the words and repeat their sound, which includes a tonal component. When someone mispronounces them, we hear something wrong, but can't define what it exactly is. And for every given word, there's a range of tonal contours (pitch, length) which can be identified as 'domestic' (uttered by a speaker of same or another BCS dialect) or 'foreign'. But all of it happens unconsciously.

    So, in foreign languages, we can repeat what we hear, more or less successfully, but do not associate that with our tone system. For example, we easily recognize and imitate Italian, but seldom realize that their stress includes length and volume and high pitch, unlike e.g. English where the pitch component is mostly missing. Those that can hear these differences are, again, ones who have a proper combination of the above-mentioned components (for me, I'd say it's mostly c+some a). So, I don't think we're generally in a particular advantage over the speakers of non-tonal languages.
  3. ahvalj

    ahvalj Senior Member

    And could you tell whether these rising or falling tones in the BCS variety you speak are somehow associated with the first or second half (termed "mora") of the long vowel? I am asking this because in Lithuanian, as well in earlier Common Slavic, there was a distinction between a tone emphasizing the first (acute in modern Lithuanian) or the second (circumflex in modern Lithuanian) half? I never met this in any description of the BCS tonal system.

    Also, I have a strong impression that, unlike in Lithuanian, in BCS the tone movement involves more than the stressed syllable and is extended to the neighbour syllables, could you confirm this?

    And, finally, how does a BCS speaker perceive Slovenian tones? Are these the same tones applied to different syllables and words, or is the entire phonetic component different there?
  4. ahvalj

    ahvalj Senior Member

    One more question. Can BCS or Slovenian speakers perceive tones in Lithuanian? Here are two links to a radio station in that language: [...] (for listening in iTunes etc.) or [...] (for listening in browser). At night they retranslate a station in Russian, but they will broadcast in Lithuanian at the daytime and in the evening.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2013
  5. Duya Senior Member

    Not in WR world
    Kind of, yes, but the transition from high to low is gradual, not sudden; we don't really have moras.

    Long rising starts low, ends high, and maintains height on subsequent syllables
    bráda, hear Serbian speaker at: http://www.forvo.com/word/brada/#sr

    Long falling starts high, ends low, and stays low late on:
    tȃjna http://www.forvo.com/word/tajna/#sr

    Yes. Short falling is high, but the subsequent syllables are low:
    kȍnjica, http://www.forvo.com/word/коњица/

    Short rising is high, but the subsequent syllables are high as well:
    nèdjelja http://www.forvo.com/word/nedjelja/#bs (bs and hr speakers are fine, sr produced something odd)

    I think these are about the same tones as BCS. Even within BCS, exact realizations differ (by length, pitch difference, pitch contour) so we can discern dialects. For example, Novi Sad speakers exhibit a rather significant pitch difference (listen to e.g. any YouTube video by "RTVojvodina"), while it is much more neutralized in Belgrade, sometimes I think they only have two accents (short and long).
  6. ahvalj

    ahvalj Senior Member

    Many thanks.
  7. ahvalj

    ahvalj Senior Member

    Still, if somebody shares his observations on the title topic, I would be very grateful.

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