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Computationally, tone is different*

  • Adam Jardine (a1)


This paper establishes that unbounded circumambient processes, phonological processes for which crucial information in the environment may appear unboundedly far away on both sides of a target, are common in tonal phonology, but rare in segmental phonology. It then argues that this typological asymmetry is best characterised by positing that tone is more computationally complex than segmental phonology. The evidence for the asymmetry is based around attestations of unbounded tonal plateauing, but it is also shown how the ‘sour-grapes’ harmony pathology is unbounded circumambient. The paper argues that such processes are not weakly deterministic, which contrasts with previous typological work on segmental phonology. Positing that weak determinism bounds segmental phonology but not tonal phonology thus captures the typological asymmetry. It is also discussed why this explanation is superior to any offered by Optimality Theory.

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I would first like to thank Jeff Heinz for going over countless versions of this paper, as well as three anonymous reviewers who provided thoughtful and detailed critique and advice. Thanks also go to Larry Hyman, Bill Idsardi, Kevin Ryan, the computational linguistics group at the University of Delaware, the members of Jeff Heinz's 2012 phonology seminar, and an inquisitive audience at NECPhon 7, all of whom provided valuable feedback over the course of the project. Although many helped with this paper, all errors are my own.

Mathematical definitions and a proof are available as online supplementary materials at



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Computationally, tone is different*

  • Adam Jardine (a1)


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