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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

New phonology lecturer fascinated by Xhosa and Zulu

Date Released: Thu, 24 January 2013 14:43 +0200

William Bennett, the newest addition to the Department of English Language and Linguistics staff, arrived from New Jersey last week.  For him, coming to Rhodes is the latest stage in a growing love affair with South Africa and its languages.

Dr Bennett, or Will, as he prefers to be called, took an interest in African languages when he started studying linguistics with an instructor who had just completed fieldwork in Malawi.  He found click sounds particularly intriguing, and so became interested in Zulu and Xhosa.  He spent a semester at the University of Cape Town in 2004, and says he “fell in love with the places [he] saw; things have pretty much snowballed since then.”

Naturally, Will is eager to continue his research into African language phonetics and phonology here in the Eastern Cape.  His PhD thesis was on long-distance consonant interactions, including consonant harmony and dissimilation.  This thesis grew out of a paper that he wrote on a phonological process that happens in Zulu and Xhosa.  He says, “Of course, it was a bit challenging working on Zulu with no Zulu speakers around, so there were a lot of unanswered questions at the end.  Now that I'm in Grahamstown, I am hoping I can answer some of those by collecting some new data.  I'd particularly like to look more at the Xhosa version of this pattern, and see how it's different from the Zulu one.  Xhosa is a very interesting language, but there's been very little written about its phonology.  I've also got some ideas about Afrikaans in the works as well.”

Since arriving in Grahamstown, Will has found his new favourite Xhosa word: ukusmsela (to send a text message).  It looks like it breaks many of the phonological rules in the book until you realize that the root of the word is pronounced as in ‘SMS’. 

Linguistics aside, Will hopes that he and his wife Alyson (whom he married in July) will get time to travel around South Africa.  In his spare time, he likes to play Ultimate Frisbee and practise Aikido.  He says, “I also find rugby fun to watch, though I don't know if I'll be playing that much.” 

Will will be lecturing phonetics and phonology from first year right through to the postgraduate programme.