Laura McPherson (UCLA) – June 7th

The Linguistic Fieldwork Working Group will be hosting a talk by Laura McPherson (UCLA, Linguistics) on Friday, June 7 at 11am in the Field Lab (AP&M 2452).

This talk is part of Laura’s ongoing doctoral research on Tommo So (

Tone-tune association in Tommo So (Dogon) folk songs

This talk presents the preliminary results of a study on Tommo So folk music. Tommo So is a Dogon language, spoken in east central Mali by around 60,000 people. The language is tonal, with a two-way contrast between H and L tone, used at both the lexical and grammatical levels. Among the Dogon people, songs are traditionally sung in Tommo So, regardless of the native language of the singer.

In what little attention tone-tune interaction has received in the literature, findings have been mixed. Some musical traditions (e.g. Cantonese pop music) have clear tone-tune associations, while many African traditions are more ambiguous, with researchers arguing both sides. Based on recordings made with native Tommo So speakers, I demonstrate that the melody of folk music is in fact constrained by the lexical tone of the language, but that pitch mappings are not exact: mismatches in pitch movement (e.g. rising melody on a HL word or falling melody on a LH word) are rare, while level melodies can host monotone as well as multitone words. In contrast, grammatical tone, which takes the form of replacive overlays in the Dogon languages, is apparently ignored or not applied in tone-tune mapping. Should these preliminary results be confirmed by deeper study, it will be the first recorded case of such a division in African music, suggesting that singers draw only upon lexical representations when singing rather than considering the tonal patterns of words in context. In sum, this talk explores the possibility of using musical expression as evidence in linguistic analyses of tone.