I’ve been doing more with Indo-European within my university studies now, enough that it is starting to seem like “work”, so in my free time I’ve been reading more about other language families. I’ve stumbled upon an fascinating connection between Athabaskan, an American Indian language family, Chinese, and Vietnamese, concerning the development of tones.
In Lyle Campbell’s American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 113, we find:
While many Athabaskan languages have tonal contrasts, Proto-Athabaskan lacked tone—a trait that can be shown to have developed from (Pre-)Proto-Athabaskan differences among *V and *Vʔ (and *V:)
In Chinese too, a word-final glottal stop is responsible for tonogenesis. In Jerry Norman’s survey Chinese (Cambridge University Press, 1988), he notes that in Vietnamese one tonal category derives from words which in the surely toneless proto-language ended in a final stop. Vietnamese words with a rising tone have cognates in Khmu and Riang which still end in glottal stops, e.g. Vietnamese lá ‘leaf’ cognate with Khmu hlaʔ and Riang laʔ.
Furthermore, the *pang gives the (high) tone and, according to the “s-hypothesis”, *pang-s ends up with the (departing) tone, while a form ending in a stop, e.g. *pak, leads to the (entering) tone. Finally, *pang-ʔ is responsible for the fourth, rising tone. As Norman writes,
Glottality still survives as a feature of the rising tone in several modern dialects.
(rising) tone of Middle Chinese seems to derive from Old Chinese words ending in a glottal stop. Old Chinese
If ending glottal stop is so productive in creating tones, I would be interested in the tonal ramifications are of Proto-Indo-European reconstructions ending in -h1, widely believed to have been a glottal stop. However, while reconstructed forms with the endings -h2 and -h3 abound, I cannot think of anything ending in the first laryngeal.
Incidentally, I would like to thank the anonymous reader who recently bought Curta’s The Making of the Slavs through the referral link here. As that book is somewhat expensive, the referral fee will provide three full meals today to this impoverished student.