The interaction of lexical tone and phrase-level intonation in Limbum

Author(s): Siri Gjersøe, Jude Nformi and Ludger Paschen


This paper presents results of an acoustic study of tone in Limbum, a Grassfields language of Cameroon. Our main claim is that Limbum has a final low boundary tone (L%) that appears in phrase-final position in assertive sentences and wh-questions but not in polar questions. We present evidence that this boundary tone can have three different phonetic manifestations in Limbum: (i) lowering of low level tones, (ii) the emergence of falling contour tones, and (iii) breathy voice. As there is a strong correlation between the presence of L% and falling tones, we propose that these contour tones are in fact the result of a single tone combining with a low boundary tone. We thus challenge previous accounts assuming underlying contours that are simplified in pre-pausal position. The findings give rise to the question of how the contrast of stable level vs. alternating level/contour tones before a boundary is represented in the phonology.