Evolution of Tone in Bantu Languages

According to Heine and Nurse (2000), most African languages are tone languages, in that voice pitch that is used to distinguish between words. Normally, in a tone language every syllable in a word has a fixed tone, which may be high, low and sometimes in-between. In Bantu languages, a branch of Niger-Congo language family, tones are not associated to their original segmental units. They behave in a complex and dramatic manner, because they have disassociated themselves with their original anchors and are now stretching or displacing in different ways.

The aim of this article is to trace the factors and circumstances which led to the evolution and development of tone behaviour in multiple ways in Bantu languages. The study concludes by highlighting the implications of the complex and variable tone behaviour in Bantu languages, particularly in relation to orthography design, language acquisition, second language learning and lexical distinction in Bantu languages.

Herman Batibo