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Eva-Marie Bloom Ström interviewing two women
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The role of the verb phrase and word order in the expression of definiteness in Bantu languages

Research project
Inactive research
Project period
2018 - 2020
Project owner
Department of Languages and Literatures

Short description

This project breaks new ground by analysing the expression of definiteness in a language without articles, the Xhosa language of South Africa, and compares this to other Bantu languages through international collaboration with fellow linguists. How morpho-syntactic categories interact with pragmatics in order to differentiate definite from indefinite, specific from non-specific, is largely unknown for this language family.

About the project

The results contribute to the understanding of the complex negotiation of discourse between speaker and hearer, where the speaker takes into account what she assumes that the hearer already knows or can figure out. Importantly, there are indications that word order variation plays a role in Bantu and this is therefore the focus of the project, although the holistic approach also considers other aspects of the verb phrase, such as tense-aspect-mood and object marking, as well as the influence on the noun phrase of e.g. demonstratives. One of the main findings with regards to definiteness in Bantu languages so far is that the manipulation of word orders (in combination with different kinds of agreement) forms a tool for the speaker to disambiguate between definite and indefinite readings. However, activation state appears to be the main notion of interest and the (in)definite readings follow from this (Bloom Ström 2020).

The project contributes to the advancement of knowledge on definiteness effects of word order and the verb phrase, still a relatively under-researched field. We make use of transcribed recorded speech and work together with field assistants, and the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources to make the Xhosa material accessible for a wider research audience, which will greatly contribute to the advancement of linguistic knowledge of this resource scarce language.