Workshop 5: Verbal derivation and verb extensions in Bantu

Convenors: Sebastian Dom, Leonid Kulikov, Koen Bostoen


Verbal derivatives (traditionally called verb(al) extensions in Bantu scholarship) might appear to be a well-described feature of Bantu grammatical systems. Virtually all grammars of individual Bantu languages dedicate one or several sections to a variety of productive extensions found in the language in question. Certain derivative morphemes (‘extensions’) are valence increasing markers, such as the causative and applicative, or valence decreasing markers, such as the passive, neuter and sociative/reciprocal; others (re-)orient action, such as the reversive/separative; still others have aspectual properties, such as the repetitive. Some extensions have been thoroughly studied, both cross-linguistically and in individual languages, mostly those whose functions are typologically very common — i.e., the passive, the causative, applicative (dative), and reciprocal. Yet, there are still a number of extensions whose functions are not adequately understood. For example, many grammars repeatedly give similar, very general descriptions of the neuter/stative suffix stating that the patient/logical object is promoted to subject position, and the agent/logical subject is deleted and furthermore cannot be re-introduced in an oblique phrase. The most standard and cross-linguistically generalized definition of this extension, formulated by Schadeberg (2003: 75), also states that “no agent is implied, and it is typically impossible to express the agent.” However, examples as in (1), (2) and (3) show that this is not necessarily the case.

  1. NDONGA (R22) (Fivaz 1986: 111 in Fleisch 2005: 123)
    ókinó       ndjoká     o.y.a.tál.ik.á                          ká.á.ntu                 a.yéhe.       DEM9    INSTR.2.person   2.many
    ‘This film is seen by many people.’
  2. MATENGO (N13) (van der Wal Forthcoming (2015))
    lindilíisá     li-hogul-ik-í                     nu   ũwáai
    5.window   SM5-open-STAT-PFV   by   14.wind
    ‘The window has been opened by the wind.’
  3. SWAHILI (G42) (Seidl & Dimitriadis 2002: 246)
    a-na-tambul-ik-an-a                           na   mjini.
    SM1-PRS-know-STAT-RECP-FV       by   town
    ‘She is well-known by the town (the townspeople).’

These examples demonstrate that factors such as verb class, e.g. perception verbs in (1), semantic properties of the arguments, e.g. non-prototypical causers such as ‘wind’, also frequently labelled ‘natural forces’, or combination with other extensions, such as sociative/reciprocal in (3), play an important role and may interact in non-trivial ways with the syntactic, derivational function of the neuter extension.

This workshop focuses on a variety of topics related to the general domain of verbal derivation in Bantu, paying special attention to the extensions whose semantic and syntactic features have been poorly studied, such as the neuter, impositive, positional, extensive, tentive and separative, as well as to quirky or seemingly irregular uses of  such well-studied extensions, such as the sociative/reciprocal used as antipassive in several Bantu languages (Bostoen et al. Forthcoming).

We are especially interested in:

  • In-depth studies of one or several of the above-listed extensions in individual languages, providing new data for typologically valid cross-Bantu generalizations and shedding light on language-specific innovations;
  • Papers dealing with less or non-productive extensions and the relation between the regular and lexicalized meanings of the corresponding morphemes as well as with the lexical semantics of the verbs;
  • In-depth syntactic and semantic analyses of one or several of these extensions, the interaction between the function(s) of the extension and verb class semantics.
  • Studies on the polysemy of verb extensions, such as the causative/applicative syncretism in Mbuun (B87) (Bostoen & Mundeke 2011);
  • Studies dealing with suffixal compounds, i.e. the combination of two or more extensions having developed non-compositional meanings, such as the passive -Vban- in Fang (A75) (Bostoen & Nzang-Bie 2010), -ikan-, -aman- and -ukan- in Swahili (Schadeberg 1994; Seidl & Dimitriadis 2002), and the sociative/reciprocal/antipassive extension -angan- in Cilubà (L31a) (Dom et al. Forthcoming);
  • Quirky functions of (well-studied) extensions; irregular or uncommon uses both from a cross-linguistic and a historical (Proto-Bantu) point of view;
  • Studies on the influence of language contact with non-Bantu languages on the function of extensions. In Langi (F33), for example, the subject participant of a predicate derived by the neuter extension is not obligatorily a patient, as shown in (4) below. This change in the extension’s derivational function has most likely been caused by the close contact between Langi and neighbouring Cushitic languages.

4.  LANGI (F33) (Dunham 2004: 207)
‘I’m talking.’

The aim of the workshop is to bring together scholars interested in these and other aspects of verbal derivation and verb extensions and, eventually, to advance our understanding of verbal derivation and extensions in Bantu, providing new data from individual Bantu languages and substantiating new analyses and interpretations with cross-linguistic comparisons.



Bostoen, Koen, Sebastian Dom, and Guillaume Segerer. Forthcoming. The antipassive in Bantu. Linguistics.

Bostoen, Koen, and Leon Mundeke. 2011. The causative/applicative syncretism in Mbuun (Bantu B87, DRC): Semantic split or phonemic merger? Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 32: 179-218.

Bostoen, Koen, and Yolande Nzang-Bie. 2010. On how “middle” plus “associative/reciprocal” became “passive” in the Bantu A70 languages. Linguistics 48(6): 1255-307.

Dom, Sebastian, Guillaume Segerer, and Koen Bostoen. Forthcoming. Antipassive/associative polysemy in Cilubà (Bantu, L31a): A plurality of relations analysis. Studies in Language.

Dunham, Margaret. 2004. On the verbal system in Langi, a Bantu Language of Tanzania (F.33). Studies in African Linguistics 33(2): 199-234.

Fivaz, D. 1986. A Reference Grammar of Oshindonga. Windhoek: The Academy.

Fleisch, Axel. 2005. Agent phrases in Bantu passives. In F. K. Erhard Voeltz (ed.), Studies in African Linguistic Typology, 93-111. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Schadeberg, Thilo C. 1994. Kutendekana: Socio-stative verbs in Swahili. Unpublished ms.

———. 2003. Derivation. In Derek Nurse and Gérard Philippson (eds.), The Bantu Languages, 71-89. New York: Routledge.

Seidl, Amanda, and Alexis Dimitriadis. 2002. Statives and reciprocal morphology in Swahili. In Patrick Sauzet and Anne Zribi-Hertz (eds.), Typologie des Langues d’Afrique et Universaux de la Grammaire, 239-84. Paris: L’Harmattan.

van der Wal, Jenneke. Forthcoming (2015). A note on the (non-existing) passive in Matengo. Linguistique et Langues Africaines.