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!

WOCAL 2018 Rabat

Dr. Bastian Persohn, a close collaborator on all things related to Bantu verbal morphosemantics, presented our joint work at the 2018 WOCAL Conference in Rabat, Morocco, on 26 August. The presentation, “Coming-to-be in Bantu: Towards an ontology and epistemology of inchoative verbs”, on was based on an article we are currently revising for publication in Linguistic Typology.  Bastian is pictured above giving our presentation – I wish I could have participated in person (and visited Morocco)!

Conference: Descriptive Grammars and Typology, March 2019

My colleagues  Rigina Ajanki, Ekaterina Gruzdeva, Arja Hamari, and Matti Miestamo and I will host an international conference on “Descriptive grammars and typology: the challenges of writing grammars of underdescribed and endangered languages” at the University of Helsinki on 27–29 March 2019.

Keynote speakers:

Abstracts are due on 30 September 2018. See the call for papers for more details. The topics are dear to my heart, and I’m extremely excited for this gathering of experts studying languages from around the world.

The conference webpage, which is still under construction, can be visited here.