Is there any language that has tone-based allophonic variation? For example, /e/ and /o/ might become [ɛ] and [ɔ] ─ literally being lowered ─ with low tone. Or since back vowels are inherently lower in tone when whispering, maybe /e/ and /i/ would be backed to [ɤ] and [ɯ]. But is this recorded in any natural language, or is vowel quality inherently a separate phenomenon from tone?

  • There are tonal languages and non-tonal ones. Compare: pitch-accent languages.
    – Lambie
    Apr 26, 2023 at 14:47
  • 3
    @Lambie What are you trying to convey there? I understand that information. Apr 26, 2023 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


Many languages of Southeast Asia have such a tone / quality connection, for example Vietnamese whose tones have to be defined phonetically in terms of duration, pitch and phonation. The correlation between pitch and creakiness / breathiness is particularly strong in languages, and probably exists at least phonetically in half of languages. Breathiness also has an effect on perceived vertical position of vowels because of vocal tract lengthening ergo formant lowering.

Min dialects of Chinese have a tone sandhi system that has vowel changes as a concomitant, centered around vowel raising ~ lowering. There are also tone / vowel height connections in Shua and Tupuri, where higher vowels are associated with higher tones (the phonologized version of the widespread observation that higher vowel have higher pitch). A similar correlation is found in Slovene involving tense / lax distinctions in non-high vowels. The primary vowel-type property involved is height, not backness.


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