Musical Evidence for Low Boundary Tones in Ancient Greek

In: Greek and Roman Musical Studies
Dieter Gunkel Department of Classical Studies/Linguistics Program, University of Richmond Virginia USA

Search for other papers by Dieter Gunkel in
Current site
Google Scholar
Download Citation Get Permissions

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institution


Buy instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



Several scholars have suggested that in ancient Greek there was a low boundary tone at the end of a relatively small prosodic constituent such as a clitic group or maximal prosodic word. The boundary tone may phonologically motivate some puzzling pitch-accentual phenomena in the language. One is the diachronic pitch-peak retraction that led to the circumflex pitch accent (HL) on penultimate syllables (the “sōtêra rule”). Another is the intonational phrase-internal downstepping or deletion of a word-final acute accent (H); that conversion of an acute to a grave accent is known as “lulling” or “koímēsis”. If such a low boundary tone existed, its effects should still be audible in ancient Greek non-strophic vocal music, where there is a significant correlation between the pitch movement of the text and the movement of the melody to which it is set, i.e. between tone and tune. Specifically, proponents of such a low boundary tone would predict that the turning point between falling and rising melody, the “musical trough”, should center around the word-final mora or syllable. The present study provides the first full description of troughs in the Delphic Hymns and finds that they are indeed closely aligned with word-end. Furthermore, once other factors that could lead to word-final troughs are set aside, i.e. once potential confounds are controlled for, the association of the trough with word-end remains strong, suggesting that we should in fact reconstruct the low boundary tone.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 171 171 13
Full Text Views 99 99 1
PDF Views & Downloads 129 129 0