Derek Nurse looks at variations in the form and function of tense and
aspect in Bantu, a branch of Niger-Congo, the world's largest language
phylum. Bantu languages are spoken in central, eastern, and southern
sub-Saharan Africa south of a line between Nigeria and Somalia. By current
estimates there are between 250 and 600 of them, as yet neither adequately
classified nor fully described. Professor Nurse's account is based on data
from more than 200 Bantu languages and varieties, a representative sample
of which is freely available on the publisher's website.
He devotes substantial chapters to the analysis and comparison of the
different tense and aspect systems found in Bantu. He also examines the
verbal categories with which they interact, including negation and focus.
Synchronic and diachronic perspectives are interwoven throughout the book.
Following a brief history of Bantu over the last five thousand years, the
final two chapters look systematically at the history of tense and aspect
in Bantu. The first deals with the reconstruction of the earlier forms from
which contemporary structures, morphemes, and categories are derived, and
the second with the processes of change, including grammaticalization, by
means of which older analytical structures and independent lexical items
moved as they became incorporated as grammatical inflections and categories.