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Stability and Change in Language Contact: The Case of Southern Ndebele (South Africa)

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Thera Marie Crane
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The lexical and phrasal dimensions of aspect and their interactions with morphosyntactic aspectual operators have proved difficult to model in Bantu languages. Bantu actional types do not map neatly onto commonly accepted categorizations of actionality, although these are frequently assumed to be universal and based on real-world event typologies. In this paper, we describe important characteristics and major actional distinctions attested across Bantu languages. These, we argue, include complex lexicalizations consisting of a coming-to-be phase, the ensuing state change, and the resultant state; subdistinctions of coming-to-be phases, and other issues of phasal quality. Despite these fine-grained distinctions in phasal structure and quality, evidence for a principled distinction between activity- and accomplishment-like predicates is mixed. We review the current state of evidence for these characteristics of Bantu actionality and sketch methodological directions for future research.
Recent years have seen increased attention to the dimension of actionality (also known as lexical aspect) in Bantu. Bantu verbs are known for their complex lexicalisations of aspectual structures, in which the same verb frequently encodes both a coming-to-be phase and a result state (e.g. ‘get/be angry’). The prevalent framework of actionality in Bantu, developed primarily by Robert Botne and Tiffany Kershner, models these complex lexicalisations as consisting of up to three distinct phases: onset, nucleus, and coda. In this paper, we describe the key tenets of the theory, tracing its development and cross linguistic applications. We then offer a problematisation of the three phase-model and note some outstanding questions in the domain of Bantu actionality. We suggest that a simpler model might allow for more straightforward analyses and comparative work. We sketch a preliminary proposal for a framework in which the explanatory weight is partially shifted to semantic characteristics of the phases and boundaries. In this model, maximally two phases – a coming to be phase and a resultant phase, along with their boundaries – are lexically encoded.
Thera Marie Crane
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Verbal lexical aspectual structure is a domain in which infinite meaning possibilities meet a closed set of grammatical categories. It is therefore a fruitful area for investigations of subtle cross-linguistic semantic differences, as well as of contact-induced semantic change. Bantu lexical aspectual systems typically include "complex" lexicalizations denoting both a coming-to-be phase and a resultant state (e.g. the same verb in different frame can encode both 'get angry' and 'be angry'). At least some Bantu lexical aspectual types are, therefore, difficult to account for using traditional classifications (e.g. Vendler 1957), and the tests frequently used to arrive at classifications may also not be applicable. In this paper, we describe our pilot study of lexical aspect in isiNdebele, a Bantu language of South Africa, and our comparative with a related South African language, Sindebele. We describe some of the tests we used, and suggest general guidelines for developing and applying tests of lexical aspect within and across languages. We also describe and illustrate the semi-structured interview process we used, showing that hybrid elicitation/ethnographic discussions are helpful in developing and appropriately applying tests for lexical aspect.
Lotta Aunio
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Thera Marie Crane
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This paper describes the interplay of lexical and grammatical aspect with other grammatical phenomena in the interpretation of the aspectual suffix ‑ile (which we analyse as Perfective) in isiNdebele, a Nguni Bantu language spoken in South Africa. Crucial “other” phenomena include constituency-related factors such as the conjoint-disjoint distinction and (relatedly) penultimate lengthening, along with morphophonological conditions that trigger different forms of ‑ile. These factors appear to interact differently in isiNdebele than they do in closely related isiZulu, suggesting two different paths of grammaticalization, which we argue can change the interpretation of markers of grammatical aspect as they interact with lexical aspectual classes. This is a pre-publication version of an article accepted for publication in a forthcoming special volume of Studia Orientalia Electronica (StOrE), edited by Lotta Aunio, Leora Bar-el, and Malin Petzell. The present document was posted online on 6 April 2018. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Please check StOrE for the open-access final version in the coming months!