Startseite / Archive / 2009 / Comments on the review by Kathrin Tiewa


The review of the book Matrix nominal Phrases in Kiswahili Bantu (2009), Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, in Afrikanistik online is lucid and welcome. We appreciate it very much. There are, however, a few inexactitudes that need to be corrected.


Section 2 of the review: Firstly, concerning chapter 2, not all of example (7), on page 40 of the book, is ungrammatical, but the writer gives such an impression. I believe this was not deliberate. (7) consists of 3 sentences: (7a), (7b) and (7c). Only (7b) is ungrammatical. Secondly, the native speaker rejects the collocations within the NP mate ya usoni but accepts similar collocations, e.g. ngumi za usoni on page 38, datum (4b). There are two kinds of ungrammaticality: a) intuitive ungrammaticality and b) constructional ungrammaticality. Although they often try to do so, linguists are not always able to explain intuitive ungrammaticality. We assume that a native speaker knows about the (un)grammatical collocations in his/her language, even if he/she cannot always explain why. In such a case, the linguist should document the choices available, as we have done. This allows other researchers to offer their explications for the native speaker's intuitive rejection of a particular usage.


Section 5 of the review: The reviewer claims that matendegu is the correct word for legs of inanimate objects. To put it mildly, the claim is inaccurate. Firstly, my consultations with Sh. Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi, a native speaker from Zanzibar and Professor at Uppsala University and my recent examination of his corpus of lexical entries during his visit to Trondheim (6-11 September, 2010) do not bear out the claim. Secondly, professional teachers of carpentry and carpenters use mguu/mi- for legs of tables and chairs (Runzanga 1977:35, 36, Mnyupe 1989:97, 99, 110). Thirdly, Ashton (1947:337) uses mguu/mi-. The lexicographers Sacleux (1939:552), Isaak (1999), TUKI (2004) and Kiango, et al. (2007) also use mguu/mi- as the generic term for legs of animates and inanimates that are not beds. There is an illustrated picture of a bed in Kiango et al., p.302 and a definition of meza on page 184 of same. Any monolingual Kiswahili-Kiswahili dictionary entry for kigoda/vi- 'three-legged chair', kuro/- 'large drum' kumbwaya/- 'large drum' obligatorily uses miguu, not matendegu, to describe their legs in the definitions. Tendegu/ma- is almost exclusively used for legs of a bed both in Southern and Northern Kiswahili. Note that, via semantic extension, it may also be used to refer to other kinds of leg, e.g. the supports (mirengu) of the outrigger canoe known as ngarawa/ngalawa, especially in Southern Kiswahili. This is the exception rather than the rule.


Section 8 of the review: The class specification for mradi is actually correct. Many users are not aware of the fact that mradi 'intention/desire/wish/purpose, etc.' is derived from almradi 'the intention/desire/wish/purpose, etc.' or almuradi itself derived from fa 'lmuradi 'and the intention/desire/wish/purpose, etc.' Al 'the' is an Arabic definite article. Mradi and almradi are, therefore, NPs. The Arabic original fa al murad > fa 'lmurad is headed by the conjunction fa 'and' and this is how the entire phrase came to be classified as a conjunction (see Sacleux 1939:590). Sh. Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi confirms the etymological information in Sacleux (1939). That it is a noun can be seen in Kiswahili syntax, namely a) it is often followed by a V or VP whose V has a subjunctive tense; b) it may be followed by a copula, e.g. ni 'be', ±COMPL kwamba/kuwa (±V/VP in the subjunctive), expressing wish or desire or purpose. Thus mradi wewe na mie, Mwana kamati, tuko (p. 98) is maximally mradi ni kwamba wewe na mie, Mwana kamati, tuko. Or mradi tuko na mie is maximally mradi (ni kwamba) tuko na mie, 'lit. the goal/the desire is that you are with me', hence, in good English, 'provided that/ as long as […] you are with me'. The pattern shows the distinction between form and use of form. The form is a noun or noun phrase but, ironically, its use in translations is not always equivalent to a nominal. In the book, we gave the underlying Kiswahili Bantu class of the form, but wrote the use of the form according to the English gloss. In this way, we avoided a lengthy footnote explaining the maximal syntax and use of mradi, as we have just done.


Lastly, the reviewer could also have taken into account the interface between grammar and lexis. In Kiswahili Bantu, nouns in the interface of grammatical function and lexical function have a tendency not to inflect for their plural forms, although they could do so, e.g. if individuation is required. NP mbele yetu is 'front of us, i.e. collectively' while NP mbele zetu is 'fronts of us, i.e. individually'. NPs nje ile 'the outside, lit. that outside', nyuma yao 'their back(side)', peke yetu 'by ourselves, lit. our loneliness', msururu wa sisimizi 'a file of ants', hiyo kesho 'the tomorrow, aforementioned', hii leo 'this day', etc., to name just a few, do not usually inflect for plural. Linguists repeatedly describe many of these as 'prepositional phrases' (PP) although the syntax shows they are noun phrases. Form versus use of form is again set aside. Thus it is apparently good linguistics to subordinate Bantu NP syntax to translational syntax, e.g. mbele yetu translates as 'in front of us', a PP in English, therefore, it is a PP in Kiswahili. All this is done in the name of Universal Grammar.


Issak, E. I. 1999

Norsk-Swahili Ordbok. Oslo: Spartacus Forlag AS.

Kiango, J. G., Lodhi, A. Y., Ipara, I., and Nassir, A. 2007

Kamusi ya Shule za Msingi. Nairobi: Oxford University Press, East Africa Ltd.

Mnyupe, Juma H. 1989

Elimu ya Kati ya Useremala Vijijini. 4th edition. Dar es Salaam: Wesida Books.

Runzanga, S. C. 1977

Useremala. Daraja La Tatu. Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

Sacleux, Le P. Ch. C. S. Sp. 1939

Dictionnaire Swahili-Français. Paris: Institut D'Ethnologie.

Taasisi ya Uchunguzi wa Kiswahili (TUKI). 2004

Kamusi ya Kiswahili Sanifu. 2nd edition. Dar es Salaam and Oxford: Oxford

Assibi A. Amidu

Department of Language and Communication Studies

Norwegian University of Science and Technology

N-7491 Trondheim






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