Inquiry into the Musical Nature of Linguistic Tone

Lian Hee Wee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapter


Linguistic tone has often been related to musical pitch. In fact, definitions of tonal language appeal to pitch as the fundamental character that distinguishes tonal languages from atonal ones. Thus, with the widespread use of acoustic analyses, tonal values have centered on pitch contours. This paper explores the assumptions behind such an approach and argues that musicality cannot have been taken into account if tonal values are taken to represent equidistant intervals of frequencies. One way to factor musciality into our understanding of linguistic tones is to consider the ratios between the highest and lowest pitch frequencies of the tones present a picture in which the musical range extend far beyong what Chao (1930) might have first thought when he analogize his tonal scale to the augmented musical fifth.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterfaces in Chinese phonology: Festschrift in honor of Matthew Y. Chen on his 70th birthday = 漢語音韻介面: 陳淵泉先生七秩壽慶論文集
EditorsYuchau E. Hsiao, Hui Chuan Hsu, Lian Hee Wee, Dah An Ho
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9789860150216
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2008

Publication series


User-Defined Keywords

  • tone
  • pitch
  • tone value system
  • music
  • interval
  • ratio


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