Tone in Yongning Na: Lexical tones and morphotonology

Alexis Michaud  


tone systems, Yongning Na, Narua, Mosuo, morphotonology, lexical tone


Yongning Na, also known as Mosuo, is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken in Southwest China. This book provides a description and analysis of its tone system, progressing from lexical tones towards morphotonology. Tonal changes permeate numerous aspects of the morphosyntax of Yongning Na. They are not the product of a small set of phonological rules, but of a host of rules that are restricted to specific morphosyntactic contexts. Rich morphotonological systems have been reported in this area of Sino-Tibetan, but book-length descriptions remain few. This study of an endangered language contributes to a better understanding of the diversity of prosodic systems in East Asia.

The analysis is based on original fieldwork data (made available online), collected over the course of ten years, commencing in 2006.


  • Words of praise by Juliette Blevins published June 23, 2017
    This book provides an extensive analysis of lexical tone, phonological rules governing tone-to-syllable associations, and tone rules that apply only in certain morphosyntactic contexts. While the content and method are original, the volume is also constructed with an original narrative style: rather than presenting the grammar as a /fait accompli/, the reader is taken through the stages of the analysis, so that each step of the author's scientific method can be appreciated and evaluated. In this way, the work will have a broad application as a learning tool in the evaluation of primary linguistic data, and as a basic text in courses focused on linguistic fieldwork, language documentation, and language description. Dr. Michaud has made it clear exactly how data (phonetic, phonological/distributional, variation) informs analyses, and has made this data available to the larger scientific community. By presenting the analysis as a process of discovery, he engages the reader, in every chapter, with the precise questions he is asking, so that they can contemplate the possibility of alternatives, and actually explore them directly, with the aid of the extensive Yongning Na dictionary and texts that he has put on-line. Overall, there is a refreshing degree of transparency and engagement in the text that will ensure future progress in all of the linguistic areas detailed.
  • Words of praise by James A. Matisoff published June 9, 2017
    /Tone in Yongning Na/ establishes a high-water mark for Tibeto-Burman tonal studies in terms of its level of detail and its subtle analytic insights. This exhaustively researched book will serve as a model for all future work on Tibeto-Burman morphotonology.
  • Words of praise by Guillaume Jacques published July 20, 2017
    A long-awaited monograph on one of the most complex and opaque tonal systems in the Sino-Tibetan family.
  • Words of praise by LEE, Wai Sum Vanti published September 18, 2017
    There has not been another publication about the tones and tone patterns in a Tibeto-Burman language or a Sinitic language as comprehensive and meticulously crafted as Prof. Alexis Michaud’s /Tone in Yongning Na: Lexical Tones and Morphotonology/. The monograph is an awesome piece of work and a timeless classic. | 米可教授的Tone in Yongning Na: Lexical Tones and Morphotonology是一本專業著作, 全面及細緻地去描繪漢語語系或藏緬語系中語言的聲調和聲調模式。這本書絕對是學術界的經典著作。(香港城市大学李蕙心教授)
  • Review in Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society by Mark Alves published October 1, 2017
    ... Overall, this is a highly significant contribution to research on level-tone languages, as the author intended, though in many ways also to linguistic research on languages in the southwestern China/northern Southeast Asian region. ...
  • Review in JLDC 12 by Maria Konoshenko published January 19, 2018
    ... Michaud’s monograph is an outstanding contribution to studies of linguistic diversity in general and tonal systems in particular. It does not only cover the very complex tonal system of a small language, but it can also be used as a reference by those who need a quick introduction to the theory of tone and related phenomena. ...
  • Review on Himalayas by Stéphane Gros published October 4, 2018
    ... Finding ways to describe ethnicity dynamics in this region is a daunting task for any anthropologist, and reviewing historical and ethnographic evidence and the particularly extensive literature is in itself a significant challenge. This is especially valid in the complex case of the Na. The author is to be applauded for his synthesis which should certainly become a key reference on the topic for historians and anthropologists alike. ...
  • Review in Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris by Annie Rialland published March 25, 2019
    ... Au cours de la consultation de cet ouvrage, le lecteur aura pu se rendre compte que le livre d'Alexis Michaud ne constituait pas seulement une contribution importante à la tonologie du na de Yongning mais que c'est en même temps un ouvrage de linguistique générale par ses prises de positions théoriques fondées sur un examen critique des modèles existants et leur confrontation avec les données du na de Yongning.
  • Review in Yuyanxue Luncong [Essays on Linguistics] by LI, Zihe 李子鹤 published May 1, 2023
    Tone in Yongning Na is a very enlightening monograph in the field of Tibetan-Burmese linguistics. ... Among studies of the tonal systems of minority languages in China, this work stands out as the most detailed. | 《永宁纳语的声调:词汇调与形态调系规则》是藏缅语语言学领域非常具有启发性的一本专著。……是国内少数民族语言声调系统的研究中最为详细的一本著作。


Author Biography

Alexis Michaud, CNRS

Alexis Michaud (1975) holds a PhD in Phonetics from Sorbonne Nouvelle University. In 2006 he joined Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique as a researcher. He does fieldwork on the Naish subgroup of Sino-Tibetan and on the Vietic subgroup of Austroasiatic. In addition to phonetics/phonology, he has an interest in historical linguistics, and a commitment to linguistic documentation – tapping the potential of the new technologies to build and exploit high-quality databases of rare and endangered languages.

Alexis Michaud (1975) est titulaire d’un doctorat en phonétique de l’Université Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle ; depuis 2006, il travaille au Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Il mène des enquêtes linguistiques au sujet de parlers du groupe naish (famille sino-tibétaine) et du groupe vietique (famille austroasiatique). Outre la phonétique/phonologie, il s’intéresse à la linguistique historique, ainsi qu’à l’emploi des nouvelles technologies pour la constitution et l’exploitation de bases de données de langues rares et en danger.

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May 19, 2017
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Michaud, Alexis. 2017. Tone in Yongning Na: Lexical tones and morphotonology. (Studies in Diversity Linguistics 13). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.439004


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