Is Limburgish a tonal language, and if not, what is it?
Keynote lecture by prof. dr. Ben Hermans (Meertens Instituut/VU), Saturday April 22nd 16:15 - 17:15

Ben Hermans is a linguist originally focusing on Slavic and Dutch. As a researcher he has primarily occupied himself with Slavic phonology, and in particular with the phonological representation of the so-called Slavic Yers. And of course with the question of what the representation of the Limburgish tonal accents (the (in)famous 'sleeptoon' and 'valtoon') should be. He earned his doctoral degree on a phonological analysis of the Serbo-Croatian and Limburgish tonal accents.

Many Limburgish dialects have two contrasting tonal accents, the 'valtoon' and the 'sleeptoon', currently most commonly called Accent1 and Accent2 (science progresses relentlessly!). Usually this is interpreted as the manifestation of a tonal contrast; this would mean that Limburgish is a tonal language. Although it is unambiguously true that Limburgish, on the surface, sounds like a tonal language, it is possible to provide phonological arguments against this conception. Phonologically speaking, the Limburgish dialects do not show the behaviour of a tonal language at all. For these dialects, the quality of the tones ('valtoon' or 'sleeptoon') is typically determined by the quality of the vowels carrying the tones. Conversely it is also true that in some dialects the quality of the accents determines the quality of the vowels. As far as we know, in 'real' tonal languages, this kind of relations does not occur. 

Of course, the question is: if Limburgish is not a tonal language, what is it? In his lecture, prof. dr. Ben Hermans will show that Limburgish should be seen as a language (or group of dialects) with two different metrical feet: a moraic trochee and a syllabic trochee. Together, these ensure that sentential intonation is linked differently with stressed syllables, which sounds like a tonal difference. As we know, feet can interact with vowel quality.

Handout (pdf-download):