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Title: Upstep  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tone letter, Prosodic unit, Downstep, Vowel length, Isochrony
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In linguistics, upstep is a phonemic or phonetic upward shift of tone between the syllables or words of a tonal language. It is best known in the tonal languages of sub-Saharan Africa. Upstep is a much rarer phenomenon than its counterpart, downstep.

The symbol for upstep in the International Phonetic Alphabet is a superscript upward pointing arrow []. However, it is not uncommon, especially in the early research, to find a superscript (or sometimes subscript) inverted exclamation mark [], due to typographical constraints.

Hausa has upstep due to the interaction of tones once they are placed in context:

[túránꜛtʃí nè]
It's English.

Upstep is superficially similar to pitch reset, which is nearly universal in the prosody of the world's languages. The most common prosodic contours occur in chunks with gradually declining pitch (here transcribed as a global fall, [↘]). Between such chunks the pitch resets:

Been there. Done that.
[ꜛbɪn ðɛɹ↘ ꜛdɐn ðæt↘ ]

List of languages with upstep

Upstep occurs in various sub-Saharan African languages, for example:

Bokoto [bdt], an Ubangian language of the Central African Republic.

Duma [dma] and Wandji [wdd], Bantu B languages of Gabon.[1][2]

Engenni [enn], an Edoid language of Nigeria.[3][4][5][6]

Hausa [hau], a Chadic language of Nigeria.

Kirimi [rim], a Bantu F language of Tanzania.[7]

Krachi [kye], a Guang language of Ghana.[8]

Mankon [nge], a Grassfields language of Cameroon.[9][10][11][12]

Mbelime [mql], a Gur language of Benin.[13]

Mbugwe [mgz], a Bantu F language of Tanzania.[14][15]

Nupe [nup], a Benue-Congo language of Nigeria.[16]

Upstep also occurs in at least one Central American language:

Peñoles Mixtec, [mil] an Oto-Manguean language of Mexico.[17]

See also

  • Downstep, which is more commonly phonemic.


  1. ^ Puech, Gilbert (1990). Upstep in a Bantu tone language. Pholia 5.175-1186.
  2. ^ Puech 1990
  3. ^ Snider, Keith Tonal 'upstep' in Engenni. Journal of West African Languages 27:1.3-15.
  4. ^ Hyman, Larry (1993). Register tones and tonal geometry. In ed. Harry van der Hulst & Keith L. Snider, The Phonology of Tone: The Representation of Tonal Register, 85-89. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  5. ^ Thomas, Elaine (1974). Engenni. In Ten Nigerian tone systems. Studies in Nigerian Languages, Vol. 4. (ed.) John Bendor-Samuel. Jos and Kano: Institute of Linguistics and Centre for the Study of Nigerian Languages.
  6. ^ Thomas, Elaine (1978). A grammatical description of the Engenni language. Arlington TX: University of Texas at Arlington and SIL.
  7. ^ Hyman, Larry (1993). Register tones and tonal geometry. In ed. Harry van der Hulst & Keith L. Snider, The Phonology of Tone: The Representation of Tonal Register, 94-103. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  8. ^ Snider, Keith L. (1990). Tonal Upstep in Krachi: Evidence for a Register Tier. In The geometry and features of tone. Dallas: SIL and University of Texas at Arlington.
  9. ^ Hyman, Larry (1993). Register tones and tonal geometry. In ed. Harry van der Hulst & Keith L. Snider, The Phonology of Tone: The Representation of Tonal Register, 89-94. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  10. ^ Leroy, Jacqueline (1977). Morphologie et classes nominales in mankon. Paris: Société d'Etudes Linguistiques et Anthropologiques de France.
  11. ^ Leroy, Jacqueline (1979). A la recherche de tons perdus: structure tonal du nom en ngemba. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 1.31-54.
  12. ^ Hyman, Larry & Maurice Tadadjeu (1976). Floating tones in Mbam-Nkam. In ed. Larry Hyman, Studies in Bantu Tonology. University of Southern California: Occasional Papers in Linguistics.
  13. ^ Mellick, Christina (2012). Tone in the Mbelime verb system. Dallas, TX: Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. Masters thesis, p. 82-84
  14. ^ Wilhelmsen, Vera (2013). Upstep in Mbugwe: a description of upstep in Mbugwe verbs. Paper presented at the 5th International Conference on Bantu Languages, Paris.
  15. ^ Wilhelmsen 2013
  16. ^ Kandybowicz, Jason (2008). The Grammar of Repetition: Nupe grammar at the syntax–phonology interface. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  17. ^ Yip, Moira (2002). Tone. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 217-219
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