Is there intonation in Manding?

I am wondering whether there is also intonation in Manding.

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Hi Malik!

It depends on what you mean by “intonation”.

For linguists, intonation refers to the way that “fundamental frequency” of one’s voice changes during the course of an utterance.

As you know, Manding is a tonal language which means that the fundamental frequency (that is, the pitch) of your voice plays a role both in terms of lexical items (that is, words; bá ‘river’ vs bà goat’) and grammar (e.g., Mùsó ̀ tɛ́ yàn “The woman isn’t here” vs Mùsò tɛ́ yàn “A woman isn’t here”).

From this perspective, “there is intonation” in Manding because changes in one’s fundamental frequency change the meaning of an utterance (or even individual words).

But the term “intonation” is not generally used in describing lexical and grammatical tone in Manding. Instead, linguists would say “Manding is tonal” or “Manding has tones”, etc.

Above the level of lexical and grammatical tones, however, there is potentially a place for “intonation” in analyzing Manding. This is because just like in English, one can apply different intonations during the course of one’s utterance that change influence or even “nullify” the underlying grammatical and lexical tones that linguists like to isolate and identify in idealized sentences.

(I summarized a number of these in this little write-up about the book “The Epic of Sumanguru Kante”, which includes a bunch of specialized conventions for marking what the authors call “discourse features” related to intonation and prosody.)

So to answer your question, yes, there is “intonation” (or something similar) in Manding, but it is distinct from tone (and also potentially it has a different definition than that of intonation in the context of discussing English).

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