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Information Structure in Bantu

Chapter in book
Authors Laura J. Downing
Larry M. Hyman
Published in Oxford Handbook of Information Structure / edited by Caroline Féry and Shinichiro Ishihara
Pages 790-813
ISBN 978-0-19-964267-0
Publisher Oxford University Press
Place of publication Oxford, England
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 790-813
Language en
Keywords topic, focus, IAV, metatony, topicality hierarchy
Subject categories Bantu languages, African languages, Linguistics


Over the past 40 years or more, the role that information structure (IS) plays in the prosody, morphology and syntax of the ca. 500 Bantu languages has been a topic of considerable discussion. This chapter provides a critical evaluation of the question whether IS directly conditions prosodic prominence or restructuring, as in more familiar languages, or whether the Bantu features are only incidentally associated with IS. Besides clefting, a common, but imperfect syntactic strategy is for the positions immediately before and after the verb to correlate with [±focus], while left- and right-dislocation with object marking on the verb more exactly correspond to [±topic], as in other languages. 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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