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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

New postdoc talks Swahili

Date Released: Tue, 17 March 2015 09:44 +0200

The department welcomed a new postdoctoral fellow at the beginning of the year, Dr Eva-Marie Bloom Ström.  Eva-Marie comes from Sweden, and she is being funded by the Swedish Research Council to do research on variation in isiXhosa at Rhodes University.  She is an accomplished field linguist specializing in African languages, having completed her PhD at the University of Gothenburg on describing Ndengeleko, an endangered language from Tanzania.  On Tuesday 10 March she gave a seminar on a more widely-spoken East African language she is familiar with, Swahili.

Eva-Marie spoke about how locative demonstratives in Swahili (such as mle, meaning ‘there inside’) can occur before or after the noun they refer to.  For example, in Swahili one could say mkahawani mle (there inside the café), or mle mkahawani.  Swahili grammars say that these demonstratives usually follow the noun, but data from the Helsinki Corpus of Swahili shows that they come before the noun much more often than they follow it. 

Eva-Marie showed that if a demonstrative like mle comes after the noun, the focus falls on it and it is emphasized, as in ‘He entered there into that café’. By contrast, when locative demonstratives like mle come before the noun, the demonstrative is defocused and functions more like a preposition, as in ‘He entered into the café’. This follows a general pattern of change found in languages across the world, in which demonstratives like ‘that’ are defocused and reduced into articles like ‘the’ over time.

Source:Ian Siebörger