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Rhodes > English Language and Linguistics > Latest News

Xhosa in long and short

Date Released: Wed, 27 May 2015 11:22 +0200

Eva-Marie Bloom Ström, a Rhodes linguistics postdoctoral research fellow, shared some early insights from her research on morpho-syntactic variation in Xhosa dialects at a Departmental Research Seminar on Tuesday 26 May 2015.  She looked at the difference between the disjoint (or long) form of Xhosa sentences and the conjoint (or short) form.

Eva-Marie’s post-doctoral project, “Morpho-syntactic variation in the dialects of Xhosa” is being carried out at two universities, with the University of Gothenburg in Sweden as her home university and Rhodes University as her host in South Africa.  Variations in Xhosa according to region and other factors have been reported to hinder communication and also form a challenge in schools where standard Xhosa is the medium of instruction.  However, research on the differences between the dialects and the standard is scarce. Eva-Marie aims to improve this situation by investigating three major categories of morpho-syntactic structures and finding out how they vary across different regions where Xhosa is spoken.  These three types of structures are the formation of relative clauses, use of what is known as the temporal mood, and the distinction between the conjoint and disjoint forms of sentences.

In the first half-year of Eva-Marie’s project, she has concentrated on the conjoint/disjoint distinction. The short (or conjoint form) form is typically used when there is a close relationship between the verb and what follows it, so that they are said together in one phrase.  An example would be the sentence Uncede umama wakhe (‘He has helped his mother’). 

This short form cannot be used at the end of a speaker’s utterance.  In this case, the long form is used.  There does not need to be a direct object after the verb in the long form, but there can be in some cases.  In these cases, though, there is a marker on the verb to show the noun class of the object.  There is also a pause between the verb and its object.  An example would be Umncedile umama wakhe (literally ‘He has helped her, his mother’).

Eva-Marie showed how the distinction between long and short forms is related to the information that is given in the context of the sentence, particularly what part of the sentence is new information in the conversation. She also discussed the first findings from her fieldwork in the Eastern Cape, where varieties of Xhosa are spoken. So far, she has made recordings with speakers from East London, Mthatha and Port St Johns. 

Another aim of Eva-Marie’s project is to create a large audio-video database of snippets of speech from different varieties of Xhosa, called a multimodal corpus.  She will use this to test her findings in natural spoken language.  She is creating this corpus in collaboration with a colleague from UNISA, and plans to make it available online. In her presentation, she showed some of the first snippets of speech she has collected for this corpus. 

Source:Ian Siebörger