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Review of  Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics

Reviewer: Gian Claudio Batic
Book Title: Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics
Book Author: Akinloye A. Ojo Lioba Moshi
Publisher: Cascadilla Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Book Announcement: 21.3304

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EDITORS: Ojo, Akinloye; Moshi, Lioba
TITLE: Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics
SUBTITLE: Linguistic Research and Languages in Africa
SERIES TITLE: Cascadilla Proceedings Project
PUBLISHER: Cascadilla Press
YEAR: 2009

Gian Claudio Batic, Department of African Studies, University of Naples


The sixteen selected papers included in the volume were presented at the 39th
Annual Conference on African Linguistics at the University of Georgia (Athens,
April 2008). The aim of the conference was to focus on African languages from
the point of view of linguistic research and fieldwork (in its broadest sense),
paying particular attention to endangered languages. The languages analysed in
the selected papers are Emai (Benue-Congo branch), Luganda (Bantu branch), Shona
(Bantu), Sheng (Swahili-based slang), Arabic (Semitic), Shanjo and Fwe (Bantu),
Oko (West Benue-Congo), Yoruba (Benue-Congo), Swahili (Bantu), the Agaw branch
of the Cushitic family and the Bantu branch.

The book consists of a short introduction and five sections: plenary session,
historical linguistics, morphology and syntax, phonology and phonetics,
sociolinguistics and stylistics.

The book begins with Ronald P. Schaefer's paper ''Why do descriptive fieldwork?
Dictionaries, Precedence Types and Verb Argument Order'', in which the author
investigates verb argument alternations in Emai. Employing the concepts of
Figure and Ground as formulated by Talmy (2000), the author demonstrates that in
Emai only the basic precedence is allowed (Figure-Ground order).

The second paper, ''The Velar Ejective in Proto-Agaw'' by Paul D. Fallon,
questions one aspect of the reconstruction of Proto-Agaw given by David
Appleyard (2006), namely the absence of glottalized consonants in Proto-Central
Cushitic. The author argues that 1) Proto-Agaw did have glottalized (ejective)
consonants, and 2) the presence of such consonants gives a more natural
explanation for some sound changes in Agaw languages. The analysis employs both
comparative and internal reconstruction, considering data from other languages
of the Agaw branch.

Franca Ferrari-Bridges in her ''A Quantitative And Qualitative Analysis of the
Final Vowels [i] and [a] in Luganda deverbal nouns'', proposes a new insight into
Luganda derived nominals. The author bases the proposal on a reference corpus of
642 Luganda deverbal nouns, focusing on the morpho-semantic role of the final
vocalic segments [a] and [i]. The paper demonstrates that final vocalic segments
have no semantic content and that there is no evidence to state that final
vowels are N-marked heads.

Carmela Toews's paper, ''The Expression of Tense and Aspect in Shona'', takes into
account the relations between speech time, reference time and event time,
demonstrating that Shona has a class of morphemes which mark either tense or
aspect: such morphemes, previously seen only as tense markers, play a role in
the coding of precedence and subsequence. The author argues against the
past/present/future framework in Shona.

''Investigating the Shona Reflexive zvi'' by Dennis Ryan Storoshenko deals with
the atypical position of zvi, an object marker which behaves at the syntactic
level like a valence operator. The discussion of zvi is supplemented by a brief
survey of reflexivity in other Bantu languages (Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana and Kikamba).

Laura McPherson and Mary Paster in their ''Evidence for the Mirror Principle and
Morphological Templates in Luganda Affix Ordering'' present the results of a
systematic study of the ordering of four verbal extensions in Luganda. After
illustrating the previously accepted analysis of Luganda extension order (the
Mirror Principle and the ''CARP'' template), they give the possible combinations
of extensions based on work carried out with three Luganda consultants. The
authors draw an important hypothesis about the innovative features existing in
the young generation of speakers.

In ''Object Marking in wh-questions in Bantu'', Kristina Riedel shows that object
marking patterns in questions in Bantu are due to the semantic features of the
object noun. Source languages for her analysis are Sambaa, Swahili and Haya.

Mokaya Bosire's paper, ''What Makes a Sheng Word Unique? Lexical Manipulation in
Mixed Languages'', deals with the nature of Sheng, a language used by Kenyan
youth in urban contexts. The author analyzes the role played by Sheng in terms
of code switching (CS), arguing that CS offers a poor explanation for the
spreading of this urban vernacular. Sheng seems to make use of a set of lexical
manipulations (semantic and morphological) that fit the performative and
creative needs of the speakers.

''Agree in the Functional Domain: Evidence from the Morphosyntax of Positive and
Negative Imperatives in Standard Arabic'', by Usaman Soltan, shows that positive
imperatives in Standard Arabic appear without person agreement. The author
focuses on the problem of compatibility between imperatives and negation. A
section of the paper is devoted to a cross-linguistic check of the phenomenon
(with data taken from Modern Greek, Spanish, French, German, Bulgarian,
Serbo-Croatian and Slovak), drawing the conclusion that languages with preverbal
negation do not allow negative imperatives, whereas languages with postverbal
negation always allow negative imperatives.

The last contribution of the section is ''Comparing APPLs and Oranges: The Syntax
of Shona Applicatives'' by Heather Bliss. The author's aim is a description of
the asymmetries between locative versus other applied objects in Shona. Object
asymmetries are analyzed through the discussion of word-order and c-command and
the co-occurrence restrictions on applied objects and causee. The framework
followed to analyze the asymmetries between locative and other applied objects
considers the concept of ''lexical case'' and ''inherent case'' (respectively
Chomsky's structural and non-structural case). Finally, the author proposes to
reconsider the apparent symmetry of other Bantu languages, essentially due to
information structure.

The next section, 'Phonology and Phonetics', commences with Koen Bostoen's paper
''Shanjo and Fwe as Part of Bantu Botatwe: A Diachronic Phonological Approach'',
which considers the historical position of Shanjo and Fwe's sound system within
the Bantu Botatwe (BB) group. After an extensive introduction, the author
discusses the sound system of Shanjo and Fwe from a synchronic point of view.
Then, by means of a comparative study of six other BB languages (Totela, Subiya,
Lenje, Soli, Ila and Plateau Tonga), the analysis focuses on the diachronic
sound changes which Shanjo and Fwe underwent. Finally, the author illustrates
the position of the target languages within the BB group. He argues that these
two languages are by far the most conservative within the group and that their
sound systems underwent very few internal developments. Rather, the innovations
existing in the two sound systems are due to contact with other Bantu and
non-Bantu languages.

In ''On Nasals and Nasalization in Oko'', Joseph Dele Atóyèbí claims that the most
likely source of nasalized vowels in Oko is a nasal consonant. The author seems
to accept Greenberg's (1966) claim on nasalization, but whereas Greenberg
claimed the deletion of the syllable-final nasal, Dele Atóyèbí shows that Oko,
preserving the nasal consonant, behaves differently.

The following contribution, ''Singing in a Tone Language: Shona'' by Murray
Schellenberg, analyzes the influence of tone on the composition of song melody
in Shona. The author considers three Shona songs (a biblical hymn, the national
Anthem of Zimbabwe and a traditional song) performed by a native speaker and
compares them from the point of view of melodic transitions. Exhaustive tables
show the correlations between the speech melody and the sung melody.

Ashleigh Gonzales in ''Intrinsic F0 in Shona vowels: A Descriptive Study'' focuses
on the correlation between vowel height and pitch in Shona. After a short
overview of the intrinsic fundamental frequency (iF0) and the presentation of
the results obtained by previous studies (among others, Whalen & Levitt 1995,
Connell 2002), the author illustrates hypotheses concerning the gradiency of
iF0, neutralization of low tone vowels for iF0 and significance of frequency
distinction between front and back vowels. Section three of the paper is devoted
to explaining the experimental method (speech material, measurements and
statistical analyses), and the results are given in the next section. The final
discussion revisits the original hypotheses.

The final section of the volume, Sociolinguistics and Stylistics, begins with
Adesola Olateju's paper ''Jedi O M'Akowe (Hemorrhoid Respects Not Even the
Educated Elite): A Sociolinguistic-Stylistic Analysis of the Language of Yoruba
Herbal Medicine Practitioners''. The paper analyzes the kind of language employed
in hawking herbal medicines as well as its communicative and stylistic effects.
The contribution is the result of fieldwork carried out over a period of six
months; it pays particular attention to the expressive strategies used by herbal
hawkers in order to advertise their products, such as, for examples, proverbs,
prayerful expression and newly-created formulaic language.

The last paper, ''Linguistic Identity (re)Construction in Electoral Politics: The
Case of 2005 Tanzanian Parliamentary Campaigns'' by Charles Bwenge, focuses on
the language used by parliamentary candidates in Tanzania. The author argues
that Swahili is employed as a vehicle of linguistically-oriented identity, that
is, that in political discourse Swahili is enriched with linguistic elements in
order to emphasize the ethnic, national or elitist nature of the electoral message.


The Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics
covers a broad range of topics and languages. Nevertheless, special attention is
given to Niger-Congo languages (Benue-Congo and Bantu) and, among them, to
Shona. Afro-Asiatic is represented by Standard Arabic and Agaw languages only,
whereas the Nilo-Saharan and Khoisan phyla are not covered at all. From a
qualitative point of view, the proceedings are Benue-Congo and Bantu-oriented,
making the volume a useful source for researchers working on these branches. It
should also be pointed out that the Niger-Congo languages are by far the most
numerous; thus, their preponderance in the selected papers mirrors this
quantitative feature. In the same way, the number of papers devoted to
discussions on Bantu morphology reflect the morphological richness of these
languages. Rather than representing the linguistic variety of African languages
(an almost impossible task), the volume attempts a presentation of the newest
research approaches followed by African linguistics.

The length of the articles is more than reasonable and allows the authors to
offer an exhaustive picture of their research topic (which is quite rare in
proceedings publications).

The papers included in the volume analyze some minority languages under
perspectives usually reserved to well-described languages (such as, for example,
Hausa or Swahili). This aspect is particularly valuable, since the condition of
endangerment of many African languages dictates the research agenda almost
exclusively from a descriptive point of view.

Even if the articles are intended for the relatively narrow audience of
Africanist linguists, specialists from other areas will find interesting ideas
and methodological frameworks as well as useful data for comparative,
contrastive or typological analysis.


Appleyard, David L. 2006. A comparative dictionary of the Agaw languages.
(Cushitic Languages Studies, 24). Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe.

Connell, Bruce 2002. Tone languages and the universality of intrinsic F0:
evidence from Africa. Journal of Phonetics, 30:101-129.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. Synchronic and diachronic universals in Phonology.
Language 42. 2:508-517.

Talmy, Leonard 2000. Toward a Cognitive Semantics. Vol 1 and 2. Cambridge: MIT

Whalen, Douglas H. and Levitt, Andrea G. 1995. The universality of intrinsic F0
of vowels. Journal of Phonetics, 23:349-366.

Gian Claudio Batic completed a doctorate in African linguistics at the University of Naples 'L'Orientale' (Italy). He is currently researching into the semantic and lexico-grammatical interface of metaphorical structures in Bole-Tangale (West Chadic) languages.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781574734317
Pages: 178
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