Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies


Controversy in the tonal analysis of Tibetan1

R. K. Sprigg

Tone made its appearance in descriptions of Tibetan pronunciation as early as 1881, when Jäschke introduced the term into an account of the prosodic features of the spoken Tibetan dialects: ‘A system of tones has been introduced. … I am told by European students of reputation, who have made the Tonic languages of eastern Asia their special department, that only the first principles of what are known as the high and low Tones, have made their way into Tibetan. … Here, as in the languages of Farther India, generally, which possess an alphabetic system of writing, the Tone is determined by the initial consonant of the word.


1 Based on a paper presented at the 24th Conference of Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics, Bangkok and Chiangmai, October, 1991, under the title ‘Contour pitch in the tonal analysis of Tibetan citation forms contrasted with its role in spoken Tibetan sentences’.