Main content



Loading wiki pages...

Wiki Version:
Please note! The uploaded presentation video is an old file; for more recent version with more data please reference the newly updated slides. With some exceptions (see Nurse & Devos 2019 for examples), mood and modality lack careful study in most Bantu languages. As a result, cross-linguistic studies of modality are largely lacking in data from a significant language family. The few in-depth studies that have been conducted have given sometimes unexpected results: for example, a diachronic study of the modal prefix ‑andi‑ in Luganda shows that the marker derived its modal uses from an earlier conditional function, counter to the more frequent grammaticalization path leading in the opposite direction (Kawalya, de Schryver & Bostoen 2018). Despite close geneological relations and a heavy degree of multilingualism among their speakers, South African Bantu languages evince small but significant differences in their modal mappings (in the sense of van der Auwera & Plungian 1998), even amongst cognate forms. A good example can be seen in the semantics of cross-linguistic reflexes of azi ‘know [how to]’. Some languages (e.g. Southern Ndebele, Zulu) allow azi – especially in its negated form – for the expression of most kinds of ability, learned or otherwise, and even for participant-external dynamic possibility (e.g. Southern Ndebele angikwazi ‘I can’t’ in contexts such as, ‘I can’t come out to play [because I’m sick / because my parents won’t allow me / …]’). In contrast, Northern (Sumayela) Ndebele only allows the cognate root wati ‘know’ in cases of actual learned knowledge. Use of wati is not accepted, for example, with gu gidima ‘to run’ (except, perhaps, in specific pragmatic contexts such as a toddler acquiring skills). Instead, modal verbs such as kxhona ‘be able to’ must be used. This difference may be due to semantic transfer through contact dynamics. Although both Southern Ndebele and Northern Ndebele are spoken in intense contact with Northern Sotho, the latter dominates Northern Ndebele both numerically and in terms of prestige (see the papers in Aunio & Fleisch forthcoming). Google searches suggest that, like Northern Ndebele, Northern Sotho restricts modal uses of ‘know’ (tseba in Northern Sotho) in non-learned contexts. A search for “tseba go kitima” ‘know how to run’ garnered zero hits, while “kgona go kitima” ‘be able to run’ had 290 hits (Google searches on 21 February 2018). A context in which learned knowledge is possible, “tseba go ngwala” ‘know how to write’ had 246 hits (search on 5 June 2018). In contrast, the isiNdebele/isiZulu clauses “sp-kwazi ukugijima” (lit. ‘X know(s) how to run’) garnered numerous hits, suggesting that it is in relatively frequent use (searches on 13 September 2019). Northern Sotho *tseba ‘know’ kgona ‘be able to’ Northern Ndebele *wati ‘know’ kxhona ‘be able to’ Southern Ndebele azi ‘know’ kghona ‘be able to’ Zulu azi ‘know’ - Modals of possibility as expressions of non-learned knowledge or ability In this talk, I will present the preliminary results of a comparative survey of modal strategies in several of South Africa’s Nguni and Sotho-Tswana Bantu languages, including Southern Ndebele, Northern Ndebele (also known as Sumayela Ndebele), Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Tswana, Zulu, Xhosa, and Swati, focusing in this presentation on Southern Ndebele and Zulu. I will discuss commonalities in the modal systems of these languages, as well as areas of cross-linguistic variation. In this initial investigation I treat the languages as distinct, reified ideals to understand maximal contrasts; later research will delve into the complexities of usages in the multilingual contexts in which South African speakers typically operate. References Aunio, Lotta & Axel Fleisch (eds.). Forthcoming. Linguistic diversity research among speakers of isiNdebele and Sindebele in South Africa (working title). Helsinki, Finland: Studia Orientalia. Auwera, Johan van der & Vladimir A. Plungian. 1998. Modality’s semantic map. Linguistic Typology 2: 79–124. Kawalya, Deo, Gilles-Maurice de Schryver & Koen Bostoen. 2018. From conditionality to modality in Luganda (Bantu, JE15): A synchronic and diachronic corpus analysis of the verbal prefix -andi-. Journal of Pragmatics 127:84–106. Nurse Derek & Maud Devos. 2019. Aspect, tense and mood. In: Mark Van de Velde, Koen Bostoen, Derke Nurse & Gérard Philippson (eds.), The Bantu Languages. London: Routledge. 204–236.