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.

Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science

I am very pleased to be one of the newest members of the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science, a multidisciplinary research group at the University of Helsinki that was established in January 2018. It’s exciting to be part of a group that approaches sustainability issues from holistic perspectives, and to have opportunities to collaborate on projects working towards global environmental and social justice. Below are paraphrased excerpts from my application to Institute.

Language documentation involves not only ‘preserving’ languages for diversity research purposes or the use of heritage speakers, but also working to empower individuals and speaker communities to be advocates for their linguistic rights and make their own decisions about language use. Linguistic rights issues are complex because they involve many actors, competing values, and limited resources. In addition, the multilingual settings in which many minority languages are spoken present numerous challenges for implementing sound language policies.

Education and the empowerment of minority communities are intertwined. Both are crucial for other sustainability efforts in which marginalised communities are involved as primary agents and not merely as the recipients of aid or the objects of externally imposed sustainability policies.

Forthcoming: Constituency, imbrication, and the interpretation of change-of-state verbs in isiNdebele

Note: this information appears elsewhere  in updated form now that the paper is out!


The paper “Constituency, imbrication, and the interpretation of change-of-state verbs in isiNdebele“, which I coauthored with Axel Fleisch, will appear in a forthcoming special issue of Studia Orientalia Electronica.

Abstract: This paper describes the interplay of lexical and grammatical aspect with other grammatical phenomena in the interpretation of the aspectual suffix ‑ile (which we analyse as Perfective) in isiNdebele, a Nguni Bantu language spoken in South Africa. Crucial “other” phenomena include constituency-related factors such as the conjoint-disjoint distinction and (relatedly) penultimate lengthening, along with morphophonological conditions that trigger different forms of ‑ile. These factors appear to interact differently in isiNdebele than they do in closely related isiZulu, suggesting two different paths of grammaticalization, which we argue can change the interpretation of markers of grammatical aspect as they interact with lexical aspectual classes.