Tones of suffixes and prefixes

After learning more about tone, I got curious and after reading Bamadaba’s explanation on tonal notation, I was wondering if there are first, some words morphemes like suffixes that do not have tone, and second, if morphemes affect the tone of a word when used or do they have no impact.

Hi Malik!

I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “words morphemes like suffixes”. I am going to assume that your question is about suffixes/prefixes.

I think that the short answer to your question is that suffixes (e.g., -li, -ya, -la, -baga, etc.) do not have their own underlying tones:

Instead, they come to carry a tone that is defined by the headword to which they are attached as well as the context of the broader word. For instance:

fàràlí ̀

‘act of adding’


fàràlbá ̀

‘big act of adding’

Verbal prefixes (such as, lá-, mà-, and sɔ̀-), on the other hand, carry a tone that is independent from the verb to which they are attached. For instance:

Ka mɔgɔ lájɛ́

(lajɛ < lá- ‘causative prefix’ + jɛ́ ‘whiten’)

‘to scrutinize/look at people’


ka mɔgɔ lájɛ̀

(lájɛ̀ < lá- ‘causative prefix’ + jɛ̀ ‘unite; gather; assemble’)

'to unite people

Notice how in the second example, the tone of lá- did not “overtake” that of jɛ̀.

(Note though that when these verbs with prefixes are used as nouns, they become “tonally compact”; meaning that the tone of the prefix overtakes/defines that of the verb.)

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One last thing: keep in mind that this is not an explanation of “Bambara tonal notation” – it is just an explanation of their system of conventions for marking tone.

There is not one standard for writing Bambara/Manding tone in Latin script.

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