Workshop 2: The expression of Mood and Modality in Bantu languages (MoMod)

Convenors: Maud Devos (RMCA), Ferdinand Mberamihigo (Université du Burundi)


Mood and modality have received relatively little attention in Bantu studies. In his 1935 Linguistic terminology Doke identifies eight ‘moods’: imperative, infinitive, indicative, subjunctive, participial, potential, conditional and contingent, and the term ‘modal’ is understood as referring to a very broad category including aspect. In line with (Meinhof 1906: 61) verbal suffixes are characterized as being modal contrary to prefixes which are temporal. The idea that modality is mainly marked through suffixes, and especially the subjunctive final ‑e, is still broadly accepted within Bantu literature (e.g. Nurse 2003: 91; Nurse et al. 2010) and also in broader typological studies where Bantu tend to be classified with languages having an indicative / subjunctive system (cf. Spanish) rather than with languages known for their modal auxiliaries (cf. English) (Palmer 2001: 107-108; de Haan 2006: 33).

Recent studies give a more diversified picture of mood and modality in Bantu languages (Devos 2008; Bostoen et al. 2012; Kawalya et al. 2014; Mberamihigo 2014; Devos & Van Olmen 2013). The picture which arises confirms the use of the Imperative and the Subjunctive as the main grammatical means of expressing basic illocutions. The Subjunctive is involved in the expression of modality as well but only to a limited extent as its modal uses mostly concern deontic modality. The Potential / Conditional – including a reflex of *nga, tentatively reconstructed for PB as a conditional tense marker by Meeussen (1967: 109) – is known to express dynamic, deontic as well as epistemic possibility. Last but not least, modal auxiliaries fill the remaining gaps but are also used to denote any modal type.

The present workshop aims at filling some of the gaps in this still very incomplete picture of the expression of mood and modality in Bantu languages. As a working definition we define mood as comprising illocution (i.e. types of speech acts) and modality (i.e., expressions which can be characterized in terms of possibility and necessity (cf. van der Auwera & Plungian 1998). Papers can but need not to focus on one of the following topics:

  • A comparative approach to form categories like the Subjunctive and the Potential / Conditional which are well known for their involvement in the expression of modality. What, for example, are the different modal uses of the Subjunctive in different Bantu languages? How are these related to its illocutionary uses? Which post-modal uses are associated with the Subjunctive (e.g. future, conditional but also more tentatively narrative, past imperfective) and can all these uses result in a coherent semantic map of the Subjunctive?
  • A semasiological approach to selected modal forms, preferably corpus driven. Does a certain modal auxiliary have pre-modal (lexical) uses? Which modal and non-modal grammatical categories does it cover? Which hypotheses can be formulated about the relations between the described uses, e.g., an increase in subjectification (cf. Traugott 2003).
  • A more global onomasiological approach to the expression of modality in selected Bantu languages. Which grammatical and lexical categories are involved and how do they relate to each other? Which lexical means (modal adverbs, adjectives, tags and particles) do Bantu languages use to express modality?
  • Directive speech acts are potentially face-threatening. As is argued by Evans (2007: 393) and Hopper & Traugott (2003: 42), this face-threatening nature urges the speaker to come up with new directive strategies, which is in part corroborated by the existence of two imperatival strategies (the Imperative and the Subjunctive as well as hybrid Imperative/Subjunctive forms) and several prohibitival strategies in Bantu languages. Which means do languages have to reinforce or mitigate a directive speech act and are there cases of illocutionary modification leading to renewal of imperatival strategies?

Organization of the workshop

We would invite a maximum of 8 papers (20 min. + 10 min. discussion) through an open call and possibly also personal invitations.

The workshop will be closed by an overview (given by the workshop organizers) and a general discussion. We are hoping to invite Johan van der Auwera (UAntwerp) as a discussant. He is definitely interested but has a very busy agenda.


Bostoen, K., F. Mberamihigo and G.-M. de Schryver. 2012. Grammaticalization and subjectification in the semantic domain of possibility in Kirundi. Africana Linguistica 18: 6-40.

de Haan, F. 2006. Typological approaches to modality. In W. Frawley, E. Eschenroeder, S. Mills & T. Nguyen (eds.), The Expression of Modality, 27-69. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Devos, M. 2008. The expression of modality in Shangaci. Africana Linguistica 14: 3-35.

Devos, M. and D. Van Olmen. 2013. Describing and explaining the variation of Bantu imperatives and prohibitives. Studies in Language 37: 1-57.

Doke, C.M. 1935. Bantu linguistic terminology. London; New York: Longmans, Green.

Evans, N. 2007. Insubordination and its Uses. In I. Nikolaeva (ed.), Finiteness: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations, 366-431. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hopper, P.J. and E.C. Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization (Second Edition) (Cambridge textbooks in linguistics). Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kawalya, D., K. Bostoen and G.-M. de Schryver. 2014. Diachronic semantics of the modal verb -sóból- in Luganda: A corpus-driven approach. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 19: 60-93.

Mberamihigo, F. 2014. L’expression de la modalité en kirundi. Exploitation d’un corpus électronique. Bruxelles: Université libre de Bruxelles, thèse de doctorat.

Meeussen, A.E. 1967. Bantu grammatical reconstructions. Africana Linguistica 3: 79-121.

Meinhof, C. 1906. Grundzüge einer vergleichenden Grammatik der Bantusprachen. Berlin: Reimer.

Nurse, D. 2003. Aspect and tense in Bantu languages. In D. Nurse & G. Philippson (eds.), The Bantu Languages, 90-102. London New York Routledge.

Nurse, D., S. Rose, J. Hewson and C. Beaudoin-Lietz. 2010. Verbal Categories in Niger-Congo. St. John’s: Memorial University of Newfoundland:

Palmer, F.R. 2001. Mood and modality (Cambridge textbooks in linguistics). Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Traugott, E.C. 2003. From subjectification to intersubjectification. In R. Hickey (ed.), Motives for language change, 124-139. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

van der Auwera, J. and V.A. Plungian. 1998. Modality’s semantic map. Linguistic Typology 2: 79-124.