Pitch accent is a linguistic term of convenience for a variety of restricted tone systems that use variations in pitch to give prominence to a syllable or mora within a word. The placement of this tone or the way it is realized can give different meanings to otherwise similar words. The term has been used to describe certain Scandinavian and South Slavic languages, Ancient Greek, Vedic Sanskrit, Japanese, Korean, Hiaki and Shanghainese. Although it has been claimed that "pitch accent" is not a coherently defined term, it is commonly understood to refer to a language that uses phonemic tone, but where only one or two syllables in a word can be phonemically marked for tone, and many words are not marked for tone at all. In such languages, the syllable with phonemic tone typically is acoustically prominent, in a similar fashion to the dynamic stress of languages such as English or Spanish.
Pitch-accented languages may have a more complex accentual system than stress-accented languages, in that in some cases they have more than a binary distinction, but are less complex than fully tonal languages such as Chinese or Yoruba which assign a separate tone to each syllable. For example, in Japanese short nouns (1-4 moras) may have a drop in pitch after any one mora, but more frequently on none at all, so that in disyllabic words there are three-way minimal contrasts such as kaꜜki "oyster" vs. kakiꜜ "fence" vs. kaki "persimmon"); Ancient Greek in contrast had obligatory tone on one of three final syllables, so that if the tonic syllable had a long vowel or diphthong, it had either a rising or a falling tone. In addition, the mapping between phonemic and phonetic tone may be more involved than the simple one-to-one mapping between stress and dynamic intensity in stress-accented languages.
Proto-Indo-European accent is usually reconstructed as a free[nb 1] pitch-accent system,[nb 2] preserved in Ancient Greek, Vedic, and Proto-Balto-Slavic. The Greek and Indic systems were lost: Modern Greek has a pitch produced stress accent, and it was lost entirely from Indic by the time of the Prākrits. Balto-Slavic retained Proto-Indo-European pitch accent, reworking it into the opposition of "acute" (rising) and "circumflex" (falling) tone, and which, following a period of extensive accentual innovations, yielded pitch-accent based system that has been retained in modern-day Lithuanian and West South Slavic languages (in some dialects). Some other modern Indo-European languages have pitch accent systems, like Swedish and Norwegian, deriving from a stress-based system they inherited from Old Norse,[nb 3] and Punjabi, which developed tone distinctions that maintained lexical distinctions as consonants were conflated.
Firstly, while the primary indication of accent is pitch (tone), there is only one or a few tonic syllables or morae in a word, or at least in simple words, the position of which determines the tonal pattern of the whole word.[nb 4] Pitch accent may also be restricted in distribution, being found for example only on one of the last two syllables. This is unlike the situation in typical tone languages, where the tone of each syllable is independent of the other syllables in the word. For example, comparing two-syllable words like [aba] in a pitch-accented language and in a tonal language, both of which make only a binary distinction, the tonal language has four possible patterns:
- low-low [àbà],
- high-high [ábá],
- high-low [ábà],
- low-high [àbá].
The pitch-accent language, on the other hand, has only three possibilities:
- accented on the first syllable, [ába],
- accented on the second syllable, [abá], or
- no accent [aba].
The combination *[ábá] does not occur.
With longer words, the distinction becomes more apparent: eight distinct tonal trisyllables [ábábá, ábábà, ábàbá, àbábá, ábàbà, àbábà, àbàbá, àbàbà], vs. four distinct pitch-accented trisyllables [ábaba, abába, ababá, ababa].
Secondly, there may be more than one pitch possible for the tonic syllable. For example, for some languages the pitch may be either high or low. That is, if the accent is on the first syllable, it may be either [ába] or [àba] (or [ábaba] and [àbaba]). In stress-accent systems, on the other hand, there is no variation between different stressed syllables. (If there is secondary stress in a stress-accent language, as is sometimes claimed for English, there must always be a primary stress as well; such languages do not contrast [ˈaba] with primary stress only from [ˌaba] with secondary stress only.) In addition, whereas non-compound words may have more than one stress-accented syllable, as in English, multiple pitch-accent words are not normally found.
Other usage 
In a wider and less common sense of the term, "pitch accent" is sometimes also used to describe intonation, such as methods of conveying surprise, changing a statement into a question, or expressing information flow (topic–focus, contrasting), using variations in pitch. A great number of languages use pitch in this way, including English as well as all other major European languages. They are often called intonation languages.
Ancient Greek 
In Ancient Greek one syllable of a word was normally accented. The accented syllable was pronounced at a higher pitch than the other syllables; Dionysius of Halicarnassus states that the interval was approximately that of a fifth in music. In standard polytonic orthography (invented in the Hellenistic age, but not adopted universally until Byzantine times), the acute accent (ὀξεῖα) is used to indicate a simple accented syllable. In long vowels and diphthongs the accent could fall on either half (or mora) of the syllable: if it fell on the first mora, so that the syllable had a high tone followed by a low tone, it is indicated in polytonic orthography by the circumflex (περισπωμένη): /ée/ = ῆ, but /eé/ = ή.
The accent can only fall on one of the last three syllables of a word, and if the last syllable contains a long vowel or diphthong, it can only fall on one of the last two syllables. The circumflex can only fall on the last two syllables, and only if that syllable contains a long vowel or diphthong. An acute accent on a final syllable (except before a pause or an enclitic word) is regularly replaced in the orthography by a grave accent (βαρεῖα): this may indicate a lowering of tone, but the evidence from ancient authors is unclear on this point.
If the penultimate syllable is accented, it normally has the circumflex if it contains a long vowel or diphthong and the last syllable contains a short vowel, otherwise it has the acute. An accented final syllable can have either the acute (or grave) or the circumflex.
In most inflected forms, final αι and οι are treated as if they were short vowels (or, rather, combinations of a short vowel and a semivowel glide).
Norwegian and Swedish 
Most dialects differentiate between two kinds of accents. Often referred to as acute and grave accent, they may also be referred to as accent 1 and accent 2 or tone 1 and tone 2. Hundreds of two-syllable word pairs are differentiated only by their use of either grave or acute accent. A list of such Swedish words is collected at Swedish Wikipedia: sv:Lista över svenska ordaccentsskilda minimala par. Accent 1 is, generally speaking, used for words whose second syllable is the definite article, and for words that in Old Norse were monosyllabic.
These are described as tonal word accents by Scandinavian linguists, because there is a set number of tone patterns for polysyllabic words (in this case, two) that is independent of the number of syllables in the word; in more prototypical pitch-accent languages, the number of possible tone patterns is not set but increases in proportion to the number of syllables.
For example in many East Norwegian dialects, the word "bønder" (farmers) is pronounced using tone 1, while "bønner" (beans or prayers) uses tone 2. Though the difference in spelling occasionally allows the words to be distinguished in written language, in most cases the minimal pairs are written alike. A Swedish example would be the word "tomten," which means "Santa Claus" (or "the house gnome") when pronounced using tone 2, and means "the plot of land," "the yard," or "the garden" when pronounced using tone 1. Thus, the sentence "Är det tomten på tomten?" ("Is that Santa Claus out in the yard?") uses both pronunciations right next to each other. Another example in Swedish is the word "anden", which means "the duck" when using tone 1 and "the spirit" when using tone 2. "Den heliga anden" could, in writing, be construed as either "the Holy Spirit" or "the holy duck", whereas in speech the pitch accent would convey the intended meaning.
Although most dialects make this distinction, the actual realizations vary and are generally difficult for non-natives to distinguish. In some dialects of Swedish, including those spoken in Finland, this distinction is absent. There are significant variations in the realization of pitch accent between dialects. Thus, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary.
The word accents give Norwegian and Swedish a "singing" quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish them from other languages. In Danish, the pitch accent of Swedish and Norwegian corresponds to the glottalization phenomenon known as Stød.
Franconian languages 
Welsh and Welsh English 
Welsh has a simple pitch accent but this does not affect meaning because it is always on the same syllable. It does however make it easier to differentiate words in rapid speech. The stress accent is normally on the last or penultimate syllable in Welsh, but the pitch accent is always placed on the last syllable of a word as a high pitch. The rising pitch of the last syllable is also a distinctive feature of Welsh accents in English.
West South Slavic languages 
Late Proto-Slavic accentual system was based on the fundamental opposition of short/long circumflex (falling) tone, and the acute (rising) tone, position of the ictus being free as is the state of affairs inherited from Proto-Balto-Slavic. Common Slavic accentual innovations significantly reworked the original system primarily with respect to the position of the ictus (Dybo's law, Illič-Svityč's law, Meillet's law etc.), and further developments yielded some new accents—e.g. the so-called neoacute (Ivšić's law), or the new rising tone in Neoštokavian idioms (the so-called "Neoštokavian retraction"). As opposed to other Slavic dialect subgroups, West South Slavic idioms have largely retained the Proto-Slavic system of free and mobile tonal accent (including the dialect used for basis of codification of modern standard Slovene, as well as Neoštokavian used for the basis of standard varieties of Serbo-Croatian: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian), though the discrepancy between codified norm and actually spoken speech may significantly vary.[nb 5]
Neoštokavian idiom used for the basis of standard Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian distinguishes four types of pitch accents: short falling ⟨◌̏⟩, short rising ⟨◌̀⟩, long falling ⟨◌̑⟩ and long rising ⟨◌́⟩. The accent is said to be relatively free as it can be manifested in any syllable but the last one, albeit in practice, the stress almost always falls on the second-last or third-last syllable. The long accents are realized by pitch change within the long vowel; the short ones are realized by the pitch difference from the subsequent syllable. Accent alternations are very frequent in inflectional paradigms, both by quality and placement in the word (the so-called "mobile paradigms", which were present in the PIE itself but in Proto-Balto-Slavic have become much more widespread). Different inflected forms of the same lexeme can exhibit all four accents: lònac 'pot' (nominative sg.), lónca (genitive sg.), lȏnci (nominative pl.), lȍnācā (genitive pl.).
Restrictions on the distribution of the accent depend, beside the position of the syllable, also on its quality, as not every kind of accent can be manifested in every syllable.
- Falling tone generally occurs in monosyllabic words or the first syllable of a word (pȃs 'belt', rȏg 'horn'; bȁba 'old woman', lȃđa 'river ship'; kȕćica 'small house', Kȃrlovac). The only exception to this rule are the interjections, i.e. words uttered in the state of excitement (ahȁ, ohȏ)
- Rising tone generally occurs in every syllable of a word except the ultimate and never in monosyllabics (vòda 'water', lúka 'harbour'; lìvada 'meadow', lúpānje 'slam'; siròta 'female orphan', počétak 'beginning'; crvotòčina 'wormhole', oslobođénje 'liberation').
Thus, monosyllabics generally have falling tone, whilst polysyllabics generally have falling or rising tone on the first syllable, and rising in all the other syllables but the last one. The tonal opposition rising ~ falling is hence generally only possible in the first accented syllable of polysyllabic words, while the opposition by lengths, long ~ short, is possible even in the non-accented syllable as well as in the post-accented syllable (but not in the pre-accented position).
Proclitics (clitics which latch on to a following word), on the other hand, "steal" a falling tone (but not a rising tone) from the following mono- or disyllabic word (as seen in the examples /vîdiːm/→/ně‿vidiːm/, /ʒěliːm/→/ne‿ʒěliːm/). This stolen accent is always short, and may end up being either falling or rising on the proclitic. This phenomenon, although obligatory in Neoštokavian idiom and so in all three standard languages, is often lost in spoken idioms due to the influence of other dialects (e.g. in Zagreb, the influence of kajkavian dialect). 
|in isolation||with proclitic|
|rising||/ʒěliːm/||I want||/ne‿ʒěliːm/||I don't want|
|/nemɔɡǔːtɕnɔːst/||inability||/u‿nemɔɡǔːtɕnɔsti/||not being able to|
|falling||N: /zǐːma/, A: /zîːmu/||winter||/û‿ziːmu/ (A)||in the winter|
|/vîdiːm/||I see||/ně‿vidiːm/||I can't see|
|N, A: /ɡrâːd/||city||/û‿ɡraːd/ (A)||to the city (stays falling)|
|N: /ʃûma/||forest||/ǔ‿ʃumi/ (L)||in the forest (becomes rising)|
Slovenian language 
In Slovenian, there are two concurrent standard accentual systems — the older, tonal, with three "pitch accents", and younger, dynamic (i.e. stress-based), with louder and longer syllables. The stress-based system was introduced because two thirds of Slovenia does not have tonal accent anymore. In practice, however, even the stress-based accentual system is just an abstract ideal and speakers generally retain their own organic idiom even when trying to speak standard Slovenian (e.g. the speakers of urban idioms at the west of Slovenia which don't have distinctive lengths don't introduce that kind of quantitative opposition when speaking the standard language).
Older accentual system, as it was said, is tonal by quality and free (jágoda 'strawberry', malína 'raspberry', gospodár 'master, lord'). There are three kinds of accents: short falling ⟨◌̀⟩, long falling ⟨◌̑⟩ and long rising ⟨◌́⟩. Non-final syllables always have long accents (◌̑ or ◌́), e.g. rakîta 'crustacea', tetíva 'sinew'. Short falling accent can come only in the ultimate (or the only, as is the case in monosyllabics) syllable, e.g. bràt 'brother'. It is only there that three-way opposition among accents is present: deskà 'board' : blagọ̑ 'goods, ware' : gospá 'lady'. Accent can be mobile throughout the inflectional paradigm: dȃr — darȗ, góra — gorẹ́ — goràm, bràt — bráta — o brȃtu, kráva — krȃv, vóda — vodọ̑ — na vọ̑do). The distinction is made between open -e- and -o- (either long or short) and closed -ẹ- and -ọ- (always long).
Japanese is often described as having pitch accent; this differs significantly between dialects. In standard (Tokyo-dialect) Japanese, this "accent" may be characterized as a downstep rather than as pitch accent. The pitch of a word rises until it reaches a downstep, then drops abruptly. In a two-syllable word, this results in a contrast between high–low and low–high; accentless words are also low–high, but the pitch of following enclitics differentiates them.
|Accent on first mora||Accent on second mora||Accentless|
Standard Seoul Korean uses pitch only for prosodic purposes. However, several dialects outside Seoul retain a Middle Korean pitch accent system. In the dialect of North Gyeongsang, in southeastern South Korea, any one syllable may have pitch accent in the form of a high tone, as may the initial two syllables. For example, in trisyllabic words, there are four possible tone patterns:
Not counting closed syllables (those with a final glottal stop), a Shanghainese word of one syllable may carry one of three tones, high, mid, low. (These tones have a contour in isolation, but for our purposes that can be ignored.) However, low always occurs after voiced consonants, and only there. Thus the only tonal distinction is after voiceless consonants and in vowel-initial syllables, and then there is only a two-way distinction between high and mid. In a polysyllabic word, the tone of the first syllable determines the tone of the entire word. If the first tone is high, following syllables are mid; if mid or low, the second syllable is high, and any following syllables are mid. Thus a mark for high tone is all that is needed to write tone in Shanghainese:
|Voiced initial||zaunheinin||上海人||low–high–mid||Shanghai resident (Shanghainese person)|
|No voiced initial (mid tone)||aodaliya||澳大利亚||mid–high–mid–mid||Australia|
|No voiced initial (high tone)||kónkonchitso||公共汽車||high–mid–mid–mid||bus|
See also 
- The term free here refers to the position of the accent—its position was unpredictable by phonological rules, i.e. it could stand on any syllable of a word, regardless of its structure. This is opposed to fixed or bounded accent whose position is determined by factors such as the syllable quantity and/or position, e.g. in Latin where it's on the penultimate syllable if it's "heavy", antepenultimate otherwise.
- Fortson IV (2004:62) "From the available comparative evidence, it is standardly agreed that Proto-Indo-European was a pitch-accent language. There are numerous indications that the accented syllable was higher in pitch than the surrounding syllables. Among the Indo-European daughters, a pitch-accent system is found in Vedic Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, the Baltic languages and some South Slavic languages, although none of these preserves the original system intact."
- Proto-Germanic had fixed accent on the first syllable of a phonetic word, a state of affairs preserved in oldest attested Germanic languages like Gothic, Old English and Old Norse. Free Proto-Indo-European accent was lost in Germanic rather late, after the operation of Verner's law.
- The term is often defined as tone on only one syllable or mora. However, in the Korean pitch-accent system, tone is allowed on two adjacent syllables in initial position, and this contrasts with tone on just one of these syllables.
- For example the accentual systems of the spoken idioms of the Croatian capital Zagreb and the city of Rijeka are stress-based and do not make use of distinctive vowel lengths or pitch accent.
- Demers, Escalante, Jelinik. "Prominence in Yaqui Words". International Journal of American Linguistics.
- Larry Hyman, "Word-Prosodic Typology", Phonology (2006), 23: 225-257 Cambridge University Press
- Lexical, Pragmatic, and Positional Effects on Prosody in Two Dialects of Croatian and Serbian, Rajka Smiljanic, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-97117-9
- A Handbook of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian, Wayles Brown and Theresa Alt, SEELRC 2004
- Pierrehumbert, Janet; Beckman, Mary (1988), Japanese Tone Structure, MIT Press: Cambridge, MA
- The Prosodic Structure and Pitch Accent of Northern Kyungsang Korean, Jun et al., JEAL 2005[ling.snu.ac.kr/jun/work/JEAL_final.pdf]