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In two recent handbook articles, Beckman & Venditti (2010, 2011) present overviews of tone and intonation which take issue with both traditional typology and recent attempts to bring clarity to the study of prosodic typology. In the course of their coverage Beckman & Venditti question the “usefulness” of distinguishing prosodic systems by “tonemic function alone” (e.g., lexical tone, stress, intonation) and raise the question “Is typology needed?” Within this context I once again argue for a “property-driven” approach to prosodic typology whose goal is not to classify languages into prosodic types, rather to accurately characterize the same vs. different ways in which prosodic properties are exploited. We thus ask (i) whether a given language has word-level contrastive pitch (“tone”), word-level metrical structure (“stress”), both, or neither; (ii) if yes, what does the prosodic system do with the tones and/or stress, both at the word level and postlexically? Given the level-ordered nature of phonological systems, only after the first two questions are dealt with can we move on to the the question with which Beckman & Venditti are most concerned: (iii) how are the surface or output word-prosodic properties integrated with phrase- and utterance-level intonation? While Beckman & Venditti question the usefulness of “broad-stroke typologies” which have traditionally distinguished tone, stress, and intonation, their disposition to minimize systemic differences in favor of surface comparisons of phonetic realizations raises important questions concerning levels of representation and the nature of phonological typology itself.
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