EVOTONE: The emergence and evolution of linguistic tone

The EVOTONE project studies the origins, acquisition, and evolution of linguistic tone: the use of pitch to distinguish between the meaning of words. Despite the typological ubiquity of tone, there is still no phonetic, structural, or psychological model that explains how and why tones emerge (or fail to emerge) in language after language, nor how they evolve once they are formed. This is because there has never been a systematic analysis of the principles that govern the evolution of tone systems. EVOTONE will provide the first comprehensive study of tonal emergence and evolution, combining detailed phonetic and perceptual studies with innovative experimental methodologies and large-scale computational analysis of the structural principles correlated with the emergence of tone.

The findings of this project will provide a new empirical foundation for the typology and evolution of tone systems; break new ground in the study of how structural and phonetic factors interact in sound change; and establish, for the first time, an empirically grounded set of principles of tonal evolution. In addition to resolving a number of outstanding questions about tonogenesis, the results will substantially advance our more general understanding of how language changes over time.


Research assistants

  • Pawitsapak Akarajaradwong, Kantika Apinyovichien, Zuzana Elliot, Pimthip Kochaiyaphum, Peeranut Nittayanonte, Phongbhorn Prayongdravya, Sue-Anne Richer, Kedsaraporn Ruechai, Thitivut Sommool, Brisa Speier-Brito, Uracha Tatiyanunt, Chanakan Wittayasakpan



  • The Origins and evolution of tone workshop scheduled for 2021 has been postponed. More details will be available once the workshop has been rescheduled.



All data generated by the EVOTONE project will be made available to the research community. Links to datasets related to individual papers can be found in the Supplementary Materials sections of the relevant publication. Links to more general datasets and corpora will be posted here as they become available. Our project GitHub repository is here.