Making questions with tone: Polar question formation in Kinyarwanda

Alexander Jarnow


Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language with one phonemic (H) tone (Kimenyi 2002). This can phonetically realized as high, low, rising, and falling. This talk addresses the tonological discrepancy between declaratives and polar questions in Kinyarwanda. Kimenyi(1980) briefly addresses Kinyarwanda polar questions and describes them as "rising pitch at the sentence final position". This generalization captures crucially cannot predict polar questions in which there is no LHL contour at the end of the sentence. I argue that what polar questions share is (a) suspension of downstep on the rightmost lexical H and (b) deletion of all word-final prosodic H. Kinyarwanda forms a prosodic structure that takes the scope of the question. This expands on Richards (2010) analysis of wh-questions. Kinyarwanda marks the right edges of prosodic words using boundary tones, similar to Chichewa (Kanerva 1990; Myers 1996).


Kinyarwanda; tonology; Bantu; prosody; polar question

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