The project Linguistic Variation as an Indicator of Historical Relations and Language Contact: A comparative grammar of four Mara Bantu languages (Tanzania) provides a description of four minority Bantu languages spoken in the Mara region of Tanzania. The aim is especially to study the effects of language contact in the region and its implications for historical-comparative research within Bantu as well as more generally in historical linguistics. The reconstruction of the history of Bantu languages has in particular been focused on lexical items and sound systems, and comprehensive studies of language contact and its influence on the various aspects of language have been rather rare. The Bantu languages present a great opportunity for this type of research, since, while exhibiting broad typological similarities, Bantu languages also have a high degree of micro-variation across the family.
The languages targeted by this project are Ikoma, Nata, Isenye and Ngoreme, all Bantu languages in the South Mara branch of Lacustrine Bantu. The Mara Region is an area of high linguistic diversity and a long history of language contact, and all the languages under investigation show signs of contact-induced change. This is evident in the phonology of the languages, with vowel harmony and tonal patterns showing influence of neighbouring languages, and in the rearrangement of TAM (tense-aspect-mood) systems, as well as changes the morphosyntax, in particular in the word order.
The Mara Project will provide a better understanding of how language change occurs in phonology and the verbal stem, as well as how such patterns were borrowed and developed. This type of in-depth research has not been previously conducted in the Mara region. The aim is to further our understanding of language contact and language change both locally and in general, and also to contribute to the development of historical-comparative methods for the examination of TAM systems and morphosyntax.