Tonal Conlangs?

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ShounenRonin

Tonal Conlangs?

Postby ShounenRonin » 2016-06-01, 13:57

I am revamping my conlang's grammar, and I'm considering adding tones to it. My goal is for a musical language, one that sounds pleasant and flows well when sung.

The conlang orignally had a pitch accent, so idk if I should keep that or go fully tonal like Mandarin.

What do you guys think about tones? Do any of your conlangs use them? If so, what for and to what extent?

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linguoboy
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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby linguoboy » 2016-06-01, 17:10

ShounenRonin wrote:I am revamping my conlang's grammar, and I'm considering adding tones to it. My goal is for a musical language, one that sounds pleasant and flows well when sung.

Then I would actually recommend not having lexical tone. I don't think Mandarin sounds the least bit "musical".

Remember that you can do a lot with prosody. Traditional forms of Irish and Basque, for instance, have an interesting sound that's rather different than the languages spoken near them. (Unfortunately, the older patterns are losing ground to those adapted from English and Spanish, respectively.)
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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby Mentilliath » 2016-06-05, 15:43

I don't use tones because I simply can't pronounce them properly. I can say isolated words with the proper tone, but the moment I try to pronounce a sentence in a tonal language, I completely botch it. I also never use phonemes that I can't pronounce properly either. If I can't say it, then it doesn't go in my conlang.

Linguoboy makes a good point though; you can create a "musical" sound with pitch-accent and other prosodic features. Tone isn't the only way to achieve that. But if you want to try lexical tone, go for it. It's something that most conlangers don't do, that's for sure (and yet it's present in a significant percentage of non-Indo-European languages).
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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby Vlürch » 2016-06-14, 6:36

Well, personally, I've never really gotten what the point of tones is or how they work, but I definitely agree with linguoboy and Mentilliath. Like, if tones work the way I think they do, I'd actually call them anti-musical because they'd get in the way if you're actually doing music and writing lyrics, since you couldn't use words that you really want to use because their tones would fuck up the whole song.

As for features that can make a language sound more musical, something as simple as diphthongs and different vowel lengths can go a long way. Syllable structure also plays an important part.

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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby Dormouse559 » 2016-06-14, 18:25

Vlürch wrote:Well, personally, I've never really gotten what the point of tones is or how they work
You won't find many satisfying answers asking about the "point" of linguistic features.

Vlürch wrote:Like, if tones work the way I think they do, I'd actually call them anti-musical because they'd get in the way if you're actually doing music and writing lyrics, since you couldn't use words that you really want to use because their tones would fuck up the whole song.
How tones are treated in actual music is a cultural thing. It's my understanding that while modern Mandarin songs ignore the tones, Cantonese songs don't.
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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby Vlürch » 2016-06-15, 0:31

Dormouse559 wrote:
Vlürch wrote:Well, personally, I've never really gotten what the point of tones is or how they work
You won't find many satisfying answers asking about the "point" of linguistic features.

Mmmh, true...
Dormouse559 wrote:
Vlürch wrote:Like, if tones work the way I think they do, I'd actually call them anti-musical because they'd get in the way if you're actually doing music and writing lyrics, since you couldn't use words that you really want to use because their tones would fuck up the whole song.
How tones are treated in actual music is a cultural thing. It's my understanding that while modern Mandarin songs ignore the tones, Cantonese songs don't.

Interesting. Does that mean Mandarin songs leave much more room for interpretation, allowing intentionally vague lyrics with multiple meanings? Like, a thousand times more vague than the maximum Japanese vagueness? I've never really been into anything Chinese except in the context of how it's influenced Japanese (mostly because ugh-wtf-how-do-all-these-tones-work and why-are-there-more-strokes-in-every-single-character-than-there-are-stars-in-the-galaxy), but this sickles my pickles pretty hard and makes me want to learn at least some basic stuff. Either that, or doing a tonal conlang...

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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby OldBoring » 2016-06-15, 19:38

Vlürch wrote:Does that mean Mandarin songs leave much more room for interpretation, allowing intentionally vague lyrics with multiple meanings?

No, but it's often difficult to understand the lyrics of Mandarin songs.
Especially since most of them use a quite literary and poetic language with obscure words, far from the everyday colloquial language, so one needs to see the lyrics. In fact a lot of music videos come with subtitles... so it's not only a matter of tones.
So lyrics are never intentionally vague, but mondegreen is quite frequent, probably even more than in English.

On the other hand, we understand a song with simple lyrics, because we can understand the words from the context even without the tones.
In everyday life, we can often also understand learners or people with strong regional accents who pronounce the tones wrongly.
Dormouse559 wrote:How tones are treated in actual music is a cultural thing. It's my understanding that while modern Mandarin songs ignore the tones, Cantonese songs don't.

Actually, the only place where I heard this claim is from sources in English. I tried to ask a native Cantonese speaker, but she couldn't tell me, she just said that she never noticed it.
So it's either a myth, or maybe a custom used only in older Cantopop, or maybe true but not noticeable to the average Cantonese speaker.

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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby linguoboy » 2016-06-15, 20:26

OldBoring wrote:Actually, the only place where I heard this claim is from sources in English. I tried to ask a native Cantonese speaker, but she couldn't tell me, she just said that she never noticed it. So it's either a myth, or maybe a custom used only in older Cantopop, or maybe true but not noticeable to the average Cantonese speaker.

I originally heard this from a Cantonese-speaker in the 90s and have since had it confirmed by two others. It's possible that no longer as common in Cantopop. It's also possible that it simply sounds so "natural" that most native speakers don't even notice it. (Just as a lot of English-speakers don't notice rhyme schemes more complex than AABB or ABAB.)
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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby Atluk » 2016-06-20, 14:54

I can't really pronounce tones myself, at least not fully tonal systems like Mandarin, it's a cool idea to play with though.

I originally wanted to do a conlang with clicks and tones like what a lot of African languages have, but I can't pronounce those.

Because I cannot pronounce many tones, I restricted my project to two tones. My language includes a pitch accent, where a syllable can either have a neutral pitch or a high pitch. The pitch serves an important grammatical function: The location of the pitch in a syllable determines what gender the noun belongs to. What do you think of this? My reasoning is that I do not like altering the nouns by equipping them with a suffix, so the pitch determines the gender. I could change that rule and have the pitch accent play a role with tenses, instead.

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Re: Tonal Conlangs?

Postby linguoboy » 2016-06-20, 15:32

Atluk wrote:Because I cannot pronounce many tones, I restricted my project to two tones. My language includes a pitch accent, where a syllable can either have a neutral pitch or a high pitch. The pitch serves an important grammatical function: The location of the pitch in a syllable determines what gender the noun belongs to. What do you think of this? My reasoning is that I do not like altering the nouns by equipping them with a suffix, so the pitch determines the gender. I could change that rule and have the pitch accent play a role with tenses, instead.

Or you could use it for both. Languages rarely use a phonemic distinction for only one purpose and I wouldn't expect there to be much possibility of confusion between a nominal inflection and a verbal one. (Though it would be interesting to see how this interacts with deverbal noun derivation.)
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