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Polar Question Intonation in Five Ghanaian Languages
Michael Cahill
28-36 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Polar ("yes/no") questions have a final rise in pitch in many languages around the world. However, polar questions in African languages commonly have falling final pitch. An instrumental study of five Ghanaian languages (Buli, Deg, Safaliba, Adele, and Chumburung) tests Rialland's (2007, 2009) proposed cluster of properties which comprise a "lax question prosody": (a) falling pitch, specifically with final Low, (b) final vowel lengthening, (c) final low vowel, and (d) breathy termination. All the languages in this study have falling pitch (a) and final vowel lengthening (b). Three of them add a sentence-final /-áà/ (c); Safaliba and Adele merely lengthen the final vowel or nasal. Only Chumburung consistently has final [h] (d). Interestingly, falling pitch in these languages is only sometimes created by L. Also, polar questions all had higher register than statements, suggesting that register raising may be universal, even in "lax prosody" languages.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 44th Annual Conference on African Linguistics
edited by Ruth Kramer, Elizabeth C. Zsiga, and One Tlale Boyer
Table of contents
Printed edition: $320.00