Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Keith L. Snider


Varieties of Mixtec (an Oto-Manguean language group spoken in southern Mexico) have often been analyzed as having a three-way tonal distinction: Low, Mid and High. I present evidence from original research on simple, alienable nouns, that only two lexical tones, /H/ (corresponding to the traditional Mid tone) and /L/, where some H tones are floating, are needed to describe noun roots in Acatlán Mixtec. In essence, the extra-H tone (corresponding to the traditional Hi tone) only occurs in derived environments, which involve the interaction of tones from two or more morphemes. The bulk of the analysis uses H and L to represent the two tones, but in the final section I will present evidence that low tones are underlyingly unspecified.

Acatlán Mixtec (spoken chiefly in the state of Puebla, Mexico) has attracted some attention due to the claim made in E. Pike and Wistrand (1974) that the typologically uncommon tonal process known as “iterative upstep” exists in this variety of Mixtec, and its theoretical implications potentially dispute the universal nature of the Obligatory Contour Principle (Snider 1988, Snider 1999 and Aronovich 1994). Although upstep is beyond the scope of this thesis, this study lays the groundwork for exploring upstep in Acatlán Mixtec in the future, especially the description of the raising effects of floating H tones.

I propose that only six underlying tone patterns account for all noun roots (/H/, /L/, /LH/, /HL/, /HL(H)/ and /L(H)/). I also propose that three tone processes (Hi-tone spreading, Hi-tone raising, Hi-tone lowering) and an OCP condition (the two-slot condition, which is an instantiation of the Obligatory Contour Principle described in this study) account for the surface realizations of these nouns.