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Malin Petzell

Vice head of department

Department of Languages &
Visiting address
Renströmsgatan 6
41255 Göteborg
Room number
Postal address
Box 200
40530 Göteborg

About Malin Petzell

Researcher in African Languages and Associate Head of Department for Doctoral Studies



I am a researcher in African linguistics at the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, where I am also Associate Head of Department for Doctoral Studies.

Before returning to Sweden in July 2010, I was a post-doctoral researcher in in the Endangered Languages Academic Programme (ELAP) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. My research interests include Bantu languages, language description (documentation and analysis), nominal and verbal morphosyntax, aspectual classification of verbs, language endangerment, and field methods.


Research project

Current project

The semantics of verbal morphology in central Tanzanian Bantu languages: a comparative study

In most Bantu languages, tense, aspect and mood [TAM] systems are typically very complex, covering numerous morphosyntactic categories. The lexical semantics of these TAM systems, especially in combination with verb properties, is an understudied area. The individual studies that do exist do not easily allow for cross-linguistic comparison even within the Bantu family.

I will conduct a thorough analysis of the semantic construal of TAM notions and their grammatical encoding on the verb in the East Ruvu Bantu languages (Kagulu, Kami, Kwere, Kutu, Luguru and Zalamo). The project will examine the TAM systems of the sample languages by studying the forms, their basic meanings, extended functions and distribution. The language data and analyses will enhance our understanding of Bantu languages and constitute a valuable cross-linguistic documentation of this particular area of grammar; they will also feed into the ongoing debates in theoretical linguistics on TAM, and the lexicon/grammar interface both within and beyond Bantu studies.

Moreover, the analytical tools that I will develop for the relevant types of language data (e.g. semantic verb property lists and their interaction with TAM markers) could serve as standard instruments to be integrated into future work on other languages, fostering Bantu comparative work at a larger scale. Finally, we do not know what lesser-studied languages can tell us about TAM in general and what implications there may be for linguistics more broadly.

Completed project

An analysis of an endangered language - the Kami in Tanzania

This project involves the documentation and analysis of a language in danger of disappearing referred to as Kami, spoken in the Morogoro region in Tanzania, approximately 150 km from Dar es Salaam. The purpose of the project is to (1) document this endangered variety for both linguistic and speaker communities and, (2) analyse the structure of the language and relate the new findings to that which linguists currently assume to be true, especially related to comparative Bantu. As such, the project has both documentary and theoretical aims. The study consists of a grammar of Kami, that is the phonology (the sound system), morphology (for instance inflection such as tense) and syntax (word order), and build on, as well as develop, linguistic criteria for comparing neighbouring Bantu languages. The main method is elicitation (that is to obtain data from a person), to which is added interviews and recordings of speech. It is very important to describe undescribed languages before the process of decline has gone too far; not just for the obvious benefit of the present speakers, but also to contribute to linguistics as a science. Every described language provides us with a wider knowledge of what grammatical constructions are possible in a language, and how the human linguistic ability functions.