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Information Structure in Bantu Languages

Chapter in book
Authors Laura J. Downing
Larry M. Hyman
Published in Oxford Handbook of Information Structure
Publisher Oxford University Press
Place of publication Oxford
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Language en
Keywords information structure, topic, focus, Bantu
Subject categories Languages and Literature, General Language Studies and Linguistics, Linguistics, Specific Languages, African languages, Bantu languages


or some 40 years, the role that information structure (IS) plays in the grammatical structure of the ca. 500 Bantu languages has been the topic of considerable research. In this chapter we review the role of prosody, morphology and syntax in expressing IS in Bantu languages. We show that prosodic prominence does not play an important role; rather syntax and morphology are more important. For example, syntactic constructions like clefts and and immediately after the verb position correlate with focus, while dislocations correlate with topic. Among the morphological properties relevant to IS are the “inherently focused” TAM features (progressive, imperative, negative etc.) and the “conjoint-disjoint” distinction on verbs, as well as well as the presence vs. absence of the Bantu augment on nominals. Finally, we consider a range of tonal effects which at least indirectly correlate with IS (tonal domains, metatony, tone cases).

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