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Re: Swahili Gender Agreement

From:Chris Bates <christopher.bates@...>
Date:Monday, March 29, 2004, 8:57
Thomas R. Wier wrote:

>From: Chris Bates <christopher.bates@...> > > >>Okay, so I've doing some more swahili recently.. and more and more I've >>been wondering how the gender system actually survives in its current >>form. With the amount of agreement there is in a sentence, with >>adjectives agreeing in class (and thus in number) with their nouns, the >>verb agreeing with both the subject and object and also having >>compulsory indication of tense/aspect and mood (well, in bantu verbs, >>the -a at the end of the dictionary form is an indicative mood marker, >>although some verbs borrowed from arabic don't change to indicate mood) >>and all of these being separate morphemes glued together instead of >>merging... It seems to me that the need to be concise would have led to >>either some of the affixes fusing, or just being dropped, a long time >>ago, especially since word order in swahili is generally fixed so the >>agreement seems to serve little purpose. >> >> > >Is Swahili a pro-drop language? If so, you won't always see those >nominal arguments in the surface forms, and so the redundancy drops >markedly. > > >
Swahili is very pro-drop... I think I gave the example nakisoma ni-a-ki-soma "I read it" (the book probably, because book falls into the ki class). That's supposed to be the present tense, but english spells ri:d and red (from "to read") the same for some reason... But still, a longer example (from a dialogue on the course) with english and spanish translations: na barua hii nataka kupeleka Mwanza 14 syllables And this letter, I want to send it to Mwanza 12 syllables y esta carta, quiero mandarla a Mwanza 12 syllables nitapata stempu hapa? 8 syllables Will I get stamps here? 5 syllables Puedo comprar sellos aqui? 8 syllables Actually, I give up. I still think the swahili will be slightly longer than the spanish or english, but... probably not as much longer as I thought. *hums* I'm going to keep trying examples by myself now to see how it works out... but the short phrases I've been trying in my head seem to work out roughly like above, with the swahili having a couple more syllables than the english. Not that I'm sure syllables is a good way to count length... maybe I should could sounds, but do I count long vowels as one sound or two to compensate for the fact they take longer? Maybe I should just use a stopwatch to see how long it takes me to pronounce them, but I'm bound to say my native english faster.... what's a good way to compare length?
>>Its very interesting just... I >>would have thought that the need to state things in the most concise way >>possible (allowing for sufficient redundancy to make communication >>reliable) would be one of the primary driving forces of language >>evolution. The one thing that the gender system seems to have going for >>it is the fact you can use it to derive new words sometimes, ie: >> >> > >You're forgetting that language is not just about concision; it's >also about making sure your interlocutor heard you correctly. Lots >and lots of languages put up with massive redundancy because a language >conveyed by sound will always have lots of noise that needs to be >filtered out. More redundancy can thus be a means to ensure you're >actually communicating rather than just mouthing off, so to speak. > >
That's what I meant by the redundancy thing... I was just arguing that the redundancy in swahili seemed excessive to me. But I don't know anymore.... I like their version of goodbye though.... "Kwa Heri" = "(Place) of Happiness". Kwa is actually "of" (-a) with an agreement on the front to make it agree with one of the locative classes. So Kwa Heri to you.