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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Visiting scholar examines object marking in Swahili

Date Released: Wed, 10 June 2015 23:43 +0200

Dr Kristina Riedel, a visiting linguist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, presented some of her research on Swahili in a Departmental Research Seminar on Tuesday 9 June.  Dr Riedel is a frequent visitor to the department, and her seminar explored some of the interesting quirks of object marking in different varieties of Swahili.  Object markers are morphemes which attach to the verb and indicate the noun class of the verb’s object, and are common in the Bantu language family, which includes nine of South Africa’s official languages. 

Swahili is a well-described Bantu language and there has been plenty of research on its object marking patterns.  Despite this, different speakers of the language use object markers in different places, making it impossible to say whether an object marker is needed in a specific place or not in all varieties of the language.

Researchers on Swahili generally agree that the language “typically” needs object marking when the object of a verb is animate or human.  This is true even if the object is given directly after the verb.  However, there is ongoing debate as to whether there has to be object marking for all verbs with animate objects.  Dr Riedel showed that different varieties of Swahili seem to have different rules for object marking, and that there is a large ‘grey area’ where it is uncertain what the rules for object marking are.

Source:Ian Siebörger