African Languages, Linguistic Research and Regional Differences

This edited volume presents highlights from wide-ranging linguistic research on African languages.

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Introduction

The papers in this volume, edited by Emily Clem, Peter Jenks and Hannah Sande (2019), were presented at the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL) at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016. The papers offer new descriptions of African languages and propose novel theoretical analyses of these. The contributions to Theory and Description in African Linguistics, thus, span topics in phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, while reflecting the typological and genetic diversity of languages in Africa. Four papers in the volume examine areal features and linguistic reconstruction in Africa. These papers were presented at a special workshop on this topic held alongside the general session of the ACAL.

Topical Spotlight

Among the contributions to the first section on phonetics and phonology of this book, also comprising sixteen other papers, is the chapter by Patrick Jones and Jake Freyer (2019) that explores the melodic tone system of Kikamba as a particularly complex phenomenon in the context of recent cross-linguistic work on tone aspects of language in Bantu, since it features a melody that assigns four distinct tones to three phonological positions simultaneously. This book section also explores tonal features in Babanki, vowel length in Dagaare, differences between tone and stress in Tumbuka, other phonological features in Bantu, the morphology of Marka, acoustic features in Somali, prosody in Tshivenda, consonants in Gengbe, fricatives in Tigrinya, stress in Hamar and gestures in Cameroon, among other topics.

The paper by Tristan Purvis (2019) analyzing the transcripts of WhatsApp chats among Hausa-speaking youth exemplifies the second part of this collection on syntax and semantics. This study shows that the adoption and usage of homegrown Hausa terms, has evolved via semantic extension, for the actions, objects and spaces associated with computer-mediated, English-influenced and jargon-inflected communication (Purvis, 2019). Encompassing additional fourteen papers, this section also deals with contrastive particles in Kusaal, switch-reference in Serer, subject-object agreement and nominal quantification in Kipsigis, verb nominalization in Akan, verb-predicate coordination in Ibibo, relative clauses and presuppositions in Swahili, stem modification in Nuer, negation in Ga, verb splitting in Yoruba, object dislocation in Luganda and cases in Bantu.

The third part of this book on the areal features of African languages is well represented by the chapter of Bonny Sands and Hilde Gunnink (2019) on the clicks that are a linguistic feature of the Kalahari Basin linguistic area. As Sands and Gunnink (2019) indicate, this feature has been borrowed into Bantu languages spoken on the fringes of the Kalahari Basin, while demonstrating, as measured by the number of click phonemes and frequency of clicks in the lexicon, a lower functional load than in the languages from the core of this area. Other studies in this section address the regional differences between Swahili and Somali, the syntactic diversity in West Africa and the spread of linguistic innovations in Kru.

Conclusion

As Emily Clem, Peter Jenks and Hannah Sande (2019, p. v) conclude in their preface, “these papers add a sizable body of scholarship to the study of African languages, including valuable new descriptions of African languages, novel theoretical analyses of them, and important insights into our typological and historical understanding of these languages. These papers also provide an sample of the depth and richness of contemporary scholarship in linguistics, both in terms of the efficacy of current theories in analyzing language as well as the progress that has been made in describing African languages over the last few decades.”


Published by Language Science Press in 2019, Theory and Description in African Linguistics, edited by Emily Clem, Peter Jenks and Hannah Sande, has become available in Open Access at the Open Research Library in early 2020, as part of the Language Science Press 2018-2020 collection.


References

Clem, Emily, Peter Jenks, and Hannah Sande, eds. Theory and Description in African Linguistics: Selected papers from the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics. Berlin: Language Science Press, 2019. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://openresearchlibrary.org.

Jones, Patrick & Jake Freyer. Reconsidering tone and melodies in Kikamba. In
Emily Clem, Peter Jenks & Hannah Sande (eds.), Theory and description in African Linguistics: Selected papers from the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, 177–198. Berlin: Language Science Press, 2019.

Purvis, Tristan. Hausa chat jargon: Semantic extension versus borrowing. In
Emily Clem, Peter Jenks & Hannah Sande (eds.), Theory and description in African Linguistics: Selected papers from the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, 571–593. Berlin: Language Science Press, 2019.

Sands, Bonny, & Hilde Gunnink. Clicks on the fringes of the Kalahari Basin Area. In Emily Clem, Peter Jenks & Hannah Sande (eds.), Theory and description in African Linguistics: Selected papers from the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, 703–724. Berlin: Language Science Press, 2019.


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Johannesburg, South Africa, April 24, 2013 | © Courtesy of Stanislav Lvovsky/Flickr.

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