New volume on University of Helsinki language research in South Africa!

Happy Africa Day 2020!

I am a little late in posting this, but the volume resulting from the Helsinki Area and Language Studies (HALS) 2016 group field trip to South Africa is now available online, fully free and open access. Many congratulations to all the authors, and to editors Lotta Aunio and Axel Fleisch  for their hard work on this volume, which can be accessed here.  Axel Fleisch and I have a co-authored paper in this volume, entitled “Towards a fieldwork methodology for eliciting distinctions in lexical aspect in Bantu”.

#AfricaDay #AfricaDay2020

virALLanguages – Coronavirus information in minority languages

I was scheduled to be on the first field research trip to South Africa for my new project, Accommodating Linguistic Diversity in Conversation: Modal Expressions and Multilingualism in South Africa right now. Instead, I am attempting a remote version of the first research stage, in collaboration with a number of wonderful South African language experts. More on that later, I hope!

In the meantime, I would like to help publicise an effort to spread accurate and trusted information about COVID-19 in the world’s minority languages, which often contend with the dual problems of lack of quality information and the easy spread of misinformation. The project, called virALLanguages, is working to create and share “reliable and memorable information” amongst minority language communities. If you are a speaker or work with speakers of a marginalised language, there are many ways to get involved.

The project is a collaborative effort between the KPAAM-CAM project (University at Buffalo, SUNY, USA), the SOAS World Languages Institute (UK), and the Community for Global Health Equity (University at Buffalo, SUNY, USA). I’m not directly involved, but I think it’s a great idea and I’m trying to spread the word as much as I can!

Paper on Ndebele Futures published in South African Journal of African Languages

Peter Mabena (UNISA) and I co-authored an article entitled “Time, space, modality, and (inter)subjectivity: Futures in isiNdebele and other Nguni languages“, which has just been published in the South African Journal of African Languages  39(3): 291–304. I have free e-prints that I can share, so please contact me if you would like access!

Abstract: Perhaps more than any other tense, expressions of futurity are intricately linked with modality: the future is inherently uncertain. This article explores the outcomes of future markers grammaticalised from ‘come’ and ‘go’ in isiNdebele and several other South African Nguni Bantu languages, and shows that their semantic and pragmatic functions can mark contrasts in time, space, and modality, and can be used both subjectively (communicating speaker stance) and intersubjectively (communicating information about the relationship between speakers). Multiple factors influence the choice and interpretation of isiNdebele future markers in different contexts. These factors can all reasonably be traced to developments from ‘come’ and ‘go’, but the semantic and pragmatic force of these markers differs significantly, depending on context. Because different contrasts are emphasised in different contexts, there is significant functional overlap of ‘come’ and ‘go’ futures, despite their different origins and cognitive frames. Cross-linguistic distinctions are observed in the systems of future marking across South African Nguni languages, suggesting that even in a group of closely related languages that are often in heavy contact with one another, significant semantic and pragmatic differences can be maintained.

ALT 13 in Pavia

Pavia ponte coperto sul Ticino

The 13th Conference of the Association for Linguistic Typology, held in Pavia, Italy, ended today. It was a wonderful event filled with good food, good ideas, and good times with congenial colleagues. I had the privilege of co-organizing a theme session with Johanna Nichols and Bastian PersohnA cross-linguistic perspective on the role of the lexicon in actionality. There was much animated and productive discussion. We’re now planning a special journal issue with papers from the workshop’s presenters and other researchers in actionality.

What’s in a Bantu verb? published in Linguistic Typology

A paper I co-authored with Bastian Persohn, entitled “What’s in a Bantu verb? Actionality in Bantu languages”  has been published (open access) in volume 17.2 of Linguistic Typology. In addition to the main article, there is an online appendix reviewing theories of actionality in Bantu languages (downloadable here). I had a wonderful time writing this paper with Bastian, who is a great collaborator in addition to being a brilliant linguist.

There is still a lot to learn about aspect and actionality in Bantu!


The lexical and phrasal dimensions of aspect and their interactions with morphosyntactic aspectual operators have proved difficult to model in Bantu languages. Bantu actional types do not map neatly onto commonly accepted categorizations of actionality, although these are frequently assumed to be universal and based on real-world event typologies. In this paper, we describe important characteristics and major actional distinctions attested across Bantu languages. These, we argue, include complex lexicalizations consisting of a coming-to-be phase, the ensuing state change, and the resultant state; sub-distinctions of coming-to-be phases, and other issues of phasal quality. Despite these fine-grained distinctions in phasal structure and quality, evidence for a principled distinction between activity- and accomplishment-like predicates is mixed. We review the current state of evidence for these characteristics of Bantu actionality and sketch methodological directions for future research.

Mots et Odes à la Conscience by Simon Nsielanga Tukumu

My dear friend and co-author Simon Nsielanga Tukumu has published a beautiful new volume of poetry Mots et odes à la conscienceThe description blurb in English:  Mots et Odes à la Conscience is poetic interpellation towards more human consciousness for the respect of life that God freely grants us. In front of the horrible killings of people in Ituri and Central Congo a whole human consciousness can’t remain silent like a beggar. Human consciousness cannot remain silent before violence done to women in eastern Congo, before the spoliation of the soils orchestrated by the Congolese political leaders and by the destruction of the road infrastructure, which by negligence, takes away life of many Congolese. Stop to the destruction of life, to violence done to women and to the irresponsibility of our politician leaders!

Bantu Languages, 2nd Edition!

The 2003 edition of The Bantu Languages (Routledge, edited by Derek Nurse and Gérard Philippson, available for download here) has long been the place I go to first with any question about Bantu linguistics. So I am tremendously honored to be a part of the recently published new Second Edition, edited by Mark Van de Velde and Koen Bostoen, in addition to the original two editors. It’s also an awe-inspiring thought that I recently saw all four of these giants of the field at the Proto-Bantu Conference in Ghent!

I wrote chapter 22, “Totela K41”. Totela is a Bantu language of Zambia and Namibia, and the subject of my PhD dissertation.

Congratulations to the editors and all the authors!

International Conference on “Reconstructing Proto-Bantu Grammar”

I’ll be traveling to Ghent, Belgium in November to participate in the International Conference on “Reconstructing Proto-Bantu Grammar” . I’ve been invited to speak about Proto-Bantu lexical aspect (based on joint research with Bastian Persohn) and, as time allows, to also make some notes about Proto-Bantu mood and modality. I’m so excited about this conference and getting to collaborate with many of the modern giants of Bantu linguistics!

Update: the conference was a great success – many thanks to the organizers!