All the tonal languages I have some familiarity with, Mandarin, Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and Cantonese either lack stop consonants in syllable-final position, or allow only "unreleased" stop consonants in that position.

According to Wikipedia, unreleased stops are also known as "applosives" and "no audible release.

My question is whether there are other tonal languages, either less-known regional or minority languages in Asia, or tonal languages in Africa or other parts of the world, where this does not hold, and in which syllables can have released final stop consonants, or even aspirated final stop consonants.

  • Do ambisyllabic consonants count? Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 13:59
  • Also, "unreleased stop consonants" are really an areal feature unrelated to tone; consider Ainu which does not release syllable final stops but also does not have tone Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 15:13
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    @OmarL Are they unrelated? That's part of what this question is exploring. Are the two features in complimentary distribution or not? As for ambisyllabic consonants, I'm not sure... Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 2:02

4 Answers 4


Punjabi is normally analysed as being tonal. They're rare, but syllable-final released stops may be found in words like /hʊkuːmət/ which I'm given to understand means "the secondmost" or something.

Also consider Lakhota, which has phonemic tone and has a word /jatkə̃õna/ ("they drank it and..."). I'm assuming the syllable break occurs between the segments t and k.


Outside the more ‘traditional’ areas of tonal languages, Swedish and Norwegian both have tones (albeit employed to a lesser degree than stereotypically tonal languages, being only distinguished in stressed syllables) and, being Germanic languages, generally release their syllable-final consonants.

An example would be the Swedish minimal pair brynet ‘the edge (of a forest)’ (acute tone) vs brynet ‘the whetstone’ (grave tone), which will normally be [ˈbɾíʷːnɛt] and [ˈbɾìʷːnɛt], respectively, with fully released [t]’s at the end.

(The tone marks here are only meant to indicate the ácute and gràve phonemic tones – the actual contours of both vary a lot between dialects, and both are contour tones in, as far as I know, all dialects.)

  • I considered including a caveat that I wasn't asking about languages with pitch accent like Croatian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Slovenian, Swedish, and I think Latvian. They are known to have quite different characteristics. Though I don't think any of them have aspirated final stops like English does. Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 2:08
  • @hippietrail Swedish does, at least optionally; Norwegian doesn’t really, though, but then Norwegian stops are usually unaspirated even initially. Japanese, of course, doesn’t have final stops at all, and I don’t know about the rest of them. Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 9:30
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - Japanese actually does have syllable-final stops, for example 日本 にっぽん Nip-pon ‘Japan’.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 15:46
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    @hippietrail I’m not aware of any sound symbolisms with final stops – those all adhere to regular phonotactics. I’ve heard Japanese people say things like [pop̚] as pure onomatopoeia, with the stop unreleased at the end and no hint of a vowel after it, but never as sound symbolisms. Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 9:46
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    @hippietrail I think such onomatopoeia are fairly universal, and break phonotactics quite universally too. Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 10:20

Tibetan (at least most dialects) is normally considered tonal, and has at least a labial stop that's usually released in the syllable-final position. Depending on dialect and how the speaker is trying to distinctly enunciate, there may be released velar and possibly alveolar stops in the syllable-final position too. These more commonly become a(n unreleased) glottal stop though.


We are looking for a language that has phonologically significant tones, and released stops in syllable-final position. Look no further than (Classical) Greek. A word like ἐκτός “outside” is phonologically /ektós/ (the accent indicates that the 2nd syllable has the high tone), with no indication that the /k/ at the end of the first syllable was not released.

  • Ancient Greek is actually a pitch accent language, rather than a tonal language. This makes it like Japanese, Croatian, Lithuanian, Swedish, etc rather than like Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese which are tonal languages. In tonal languages every syllable has one out of a set number of possible tones. Tones can have qualities besides pitch. In pitch accent languages, a word may have an accented syllable like in English, but uses pitch for the accent where English uses stress for the accent. Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 9:37
  • @hippietrail. I am not convinced that this distinction is meaningful. In Greek, at least, every syllable has one of three pitches: high (acute), low (grave), or rising/falling (circumflex).
    – fdb
    Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 9:52
  • Please feel free to post a new question on the topic(s). I'm not an expert but I checked before posting. I closed those tabs but here are some links I found just now by Googling again: 1, 2, 3 Commented Oct 16, 2021 at 10:07

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