Tone in Indo-European Languages: Let’s take a look at Punjabi
Monday, 31 October 2022
Indo-European languages are not typically associated with tone but there are a few Indo-European languages that incorporate tone in one way or another. Punjabi (ਪੰਜਾਬੀ) is one of them so let’s take a look into how tone is incorporated in the Punjabi language.
Indo-European languages are not typically associated with tone but there are a few of them that incorporate tone in one way or another. Punjabi (ਪੰਜਾਬੀ) is one of them, so let’s take a look into how tone is incorporated in the Punjabi language.
Punjabi is spoken in both India and Pakistan and has over 100 million native speakers. In India, it is written in the Gurmukhi script, whereas in Pakistan it is written in the Shahmukhi script. In this article, I’ll be referring to the Gurmukhi script, as that is what I’m familiar with.
Gurmukhi is an abugida (a specific type of writing system) and consists of 35 primary letters. It is arranged in such a way that each row – excluding the first and last row - represents a certain manner of articulation, and each column is a variation on that articulation. For those curious about Gurmukhi, this video pronounces the names of the letters and gives some example words.
The letters in the red box along with ਹ (sometimes) serve as tone markers and the placement of these letters within a syllable – at the beginning or the end – determines the nature of the tone
In Punjabi there are three types of tone: low, high, and level. The low tone is characterized by lowering the voice below the normal pitch and then rising back in the following syllable. In the high tone the pitch of the voice rises above its normal level falling back at the following symbol. The level tone is carried by the remaining words.
The sounds of ਘ,ਝ,ਢ,ਧ,ਭ , when appearing at the beginning of a syllable, carry the low tone3. The letter is pronounced in the same way as the first column equivalent.
ਘ = ਕ + low tone
High tone is typically seen when ਹ is in the middle or end of the word. In these instances, the sound of ਹ is not pronounced and the only indication of its existence in the word is the high tone. High tone also occurs when the letters the sounds of ਘ,ਝ,ਢ,ਧ,ਭ occur in the final position within a word. More detail about tone in Punjabi can be found in this lecture.
One thing that you can infer from this is that tone in Punjabi is much simpler than Chinese for example. As to why tone has arisen in the Punjabi language, it is hard to say. According to the book ‘An Introduction to Punjabi - Grammar, Conversation and Literature,’ the tonal feature of Punjabi is something that awaits serious research. Many native speakers of Punjabi probably don’t even recognize the fact that they use tone as for them it is something acquired naturally. Nevertheless, tone is an important factor in the language and is something that makes it unique.
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Very tasty and cheap. I often have this for tea!
Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?
Such an interesting article!