SS: Preverbal domains

Special session: What is the grammar of preverbal domains in Bantu languages?


Fatima Hamlaoui (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main)

Koen Bostoen (Ghent University)

Position paper:

Bantu languages have been at the heart of the research on the interaction between syntax, prosody and information structure. By having yet a better idea of the variation found across Bantu languages, our goal is to deepen our understanding of the interaction of different grammatical components, both in individual languages and cross-linguistically.

In SVO languages, considerable attention has been devoted to postverbal phenomena. For this thematic session, we welcome submissions related to the syntax, prosody, semantics and pragmatics of the “preverbal domains” in Bantu languages, i.e. issues of Object-Verb order/Immediately Before the Verb position, subject(s) and left-periphery of the clause.

Papers addressing (but not limited to) the following topics are particularly welcome:

  • A number of languages have been shown to display preverbal objects and adjuncts (a.o. Aghem, Tunen, Mbuun or Basaa). What are the semantic/discourse properties associated to these structures? How are they derived? What are their prosodic properties? What other properties of the languages that display OV/IBV distinguish them from the Bantu languages that do not allow it?

  • Bantu languages vary as to what is preferred to be a grammatical subject. Whereas a strong dispreference against non-subject proto-agents leaves only little space to information structural considerations in the choice of a grammatical subject in Basaa, languages like Sotho/Tswana show a strong connection between the notion of Topic and the function of grammatical subject. How is this difference connected to other properties of these languages? What is the pragmatics/semantics/prosody of locative inversion or subject/object reversal structures?

  • Postverbal focusing strategies (e.g. Immediately After the Verb position, inversion, a subset of cleft-sentences) have received considerable attention in the recent literature. Clause-initial focusing seems to be a common focusing strategy too (a.o. Tunen, Basaa, Eton, Kîîtharaka, Kinande). What is the syntactic structure of clause-initial focus sentences? Is clause-initial focusing necessarily associated to contrast/exhaustivity? What other properties of the languages that display clause-initial focusing distinguish them from the Bantu languages that do not allow it? Is clause-initial focusing coupled with a specific prosodic marking?

  • Left-dislocation has recently been discussed in connection to phonology-syntax mapping in a subset of Bantu languages. Languages seem to differ in their ability/requirement to phrase left-dislocated items together with the associate clause. Is there a correlation between the prosody and the discourse status of left-dislocated items? More generally, what are the discourse properties of left-dislocation? ln Mbuun and Bàsàa for instance, object left-dislocation is associated to a broad focus reading and has a functional-passive value. Is this pattern found in other Bantu languages? What is the connection between dislocation and topicalization? Can different types of topics be distinguished, like in Romance and Germanic languages? From a morpho-syntactic perspective, what is the connection between the left-dislocated item and the object marker/pronoun within the associate clause? What is the target position of left-dislocated items? What is the evidence for internal/external topic positions?

  • How do root-clauses compare to embedded clauses or how do declarative sentences compare to other sentence-types in relation to these phenomena?

Experimental, corpus-based, descriptive, comparative, typological and theoretical studies are welcome.

Selected references:

Abels, K. & Muriungi, P. 2006. The focus particle in Kîîtharaka. In A. Schwarz & I. Fiedler (eds.), Papers on information structure in African languages. ZASPiL 42, 1-20. Berlin: ZAS.

Baker, M. 2003. Agreement, dislocation, and partial configurationality. In A. Carnie, H. Harley & M. A. Willie (eds.), Formal approaches to function in grammar: In honor of Eloise Jelinek. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bostoen, K. & Mundeke, L. 2011. Passiveness and inversion in Mbuun (Bantu B87, DRC). Studies in Language 35(1). 72-111.

Bresnan, J. & Mchombo, S. 1987. Topic, pronoun and agreement in Chichewa. Language 63(4). 741-782.

Bresnan, J. & Kanerva, J. 1989. Locative inversion in Chichewa. Linguistic Inquiry 20. 1-50.

Cheng, L. & Downing, L. 2009. Where's the Topic in Zulu? In H. de Hoop & G. van Bergen (eds.), The Linguistic Review 26. 207-238.

Demuth, K. & Harford, C. 1999. Verb raising and subject inversion in comparative Bantu. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 18. 1-19.

Downing, L. 2011. The prosody of 'dislocation' in selected Bantu languages. In L. Buell, K. Riedel & J. van der Wal (eds.), Movement and word order in Bantu, Lingua 121(5). 772-786.

Güldemann, T. 2007. Preverbal objects and information structure in Benue-Congo. In E. O. Aboh, K. Hartmann & M. Zimmermann (eds.), Focus strategies in African languages: The interaction of focus and grammar in Niger-Congo and Afro-Asiatic, 83-111. Trends in Linguistics – Studies and Monographs 191. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hamlaoui, F. & Makasso, E.-M. 2011. Wh-questions and prosodic structuring in Bàsàa. In L. Downing (ed.), Questions in Bantu languages: prosodies and positions. ZASPiL 55. Berlin: ZAS.

Hamlaoui, F. & Makasso, E.-M. In prep. On focus-marking and the unavailability of inversion structures in the Bantu language Basaa (A43).

Mous, M. 1997. The position of the object in Tunen. In R.-M. Déchaine & V. Manfredi (eds.), Object positions in Benue-Kwa, 123-137. Den Haag: Holland Academic Graphics.

Morimoto, Y. 2006. Agreement properties and word order in comparative Bantu. In L. Downing, S. Zerbian & L. Marten (eds.), Papers in Bantu grammar and description. ZASPiL 43. Berlin: ZAS.

Thwala, N. 2006. On the subject-predicate relation and subject agreement in SiSwati. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 24(3). 331-359.

Watters, J. 1979. Focus in Aghem: A study of its formal correlates and typology. In L. Hyman (ed.), Aghem grammatical structure, 137-197. University of Southern California.

Zeller, J. 2009. On clitic left dislocation in Zulu. In S. Ermisch (ed.), Focus and Topic in African languages, 131-156. Frankfurt African Studies Bulletin 18 Year 2006. Koeln: Ruediger Koeppe Verlag.

Zerbian, S. 2006. Expression of information structure in the Bantu language Northern Sotho. ZASPiL 45. Berlin: ZAS.

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