According to Glottopedia, lexical pitch accent happens when the only indicator of an accent (aka stress) on the syllable is pitch--elevated pitch on the accented syllable. (http://www.glottopedia.org/index.php/Pitch_accent_%28lexical%29)

For example, stress in Swedish is apparently encoded as pitch, as we see in the "Stress and Pitch" section of this article on Swedish phonology. http://www.thefullwiki.org/Swedish_phonology#Stress_and_pitch According to this article, "The phonemicity of this tonal system is demonstrated in the nearly 300 pairs of two-syllable words differentiated only by their use of either grave or acute accent [which indicate tone]."

Contrast this to languages in which accent is conveyed not only by elevated pitch, but by increased loudness and duration. http://www.glottopedia.org/index.php/Accent English is such a language. So when we differentiate watching a RE-peat on TV and re-PEAT-ing an action, all three factors can come into play.

Now, as most of you know, there are languages, including Swedish, in which vowel length is also phonemic. Finnish and Swedish (no relation) both have vowels that come in long and short pairs. In fact, the article on Swedish Phonology mentioned above has some good sound files that illustrate the contrast.

My question is whether there are natural languages in which phonemic vowel length and lexical pitch accent are independent of one another, such that the language could have different lexemes with forms like these. (I'll use a <1> to indicate high tone here.)

pa:za1 paza1: pa1:za pa1za:

Swedish seems to be such a language, but the article doesn't come right out and say it.

  • In Hungarian, length is phonemic and stress is marked essentially through pitch. But stress always falls on the first syllable. Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 20:33

3 Answers 3


Tokyo Japanese has both lexical pitch accent and phonemic vowel length:

  1. ここ /koko/ "here"
  2. 個々 /koꜜko/ "individual"
  3. 高校 /kookoo/ "high school"
  4. 孝行 /koꜜokoo/ "filial piety"

The first and third are unaccented, while the second and fourth have lexical downsteps following the first mora. The first two have short vowels, while the last two have long vowels (indicated here with a simple doubling).


Ancient Greek appears to have been such a language. Although of course we can't know the exact phonetic correlates of accent in a dead language, it's thought to have been a pitch-accent language, and had phonemic vowel quantity.

In fact, it's even more complex in that a high pitch could occur on either mora of a long vowel, so that you get a distinction between V: with all low pitch, V: with high pitch on first mora and low on second, and V: with low pitch on first mora and high on second. Likewise for diphthongs.

There are some phonological and morphological constraints on where in the word a high pitch can appear, so there aren't as many strict minimal pairs of the various possible kinds as you might expect, but there are some. Examples, writing a double vowel for a long vowel so that I can show which mora the high tone is on:

óomos 'shoulder' / oomós 'raw'

phóboon 'of fears' / phobóon 'frightening'

paídeusai 'educate!' / paidéusai 'to educate' / paideúsai 'he might educate'

eí 'if' / éi 'you are'


a bit outdated, but look up intonation only languages! Basically they all are free to lengthen vowels independantly from prosody.

  • I know what a tone language is, and what a contour tone language is, and what a register tone language is. I don't know what an "intonation-only" language is, and hope you can explain and expand on this concept. Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 19:20

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