(15/09/20) BantUniVar

The BaSIS team at Leiden is organising a workshop within the tenth World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL 10), held in Leiden, 8-11 June 2021. The title is ‘Bantu Universals and Variation’:

[W]ork on African languages has reached the critical mass necessary to make insightful comparative work between African languages possible. I think this is especially true of the Bantu languages, for perhaps no other language family possesses so many distinct languages that have so much in common syntactically.” (Henderson 2011:23)

As the field of Bantu typology is gaining momentum, we are organising a workshop with the aim to obtain a picture of the synchronic variation within the Bantu language family. We aim to go beyond lexical data to consider morphosyntax, phonology, and semantics, and welcome presentations from any framework.

Please check the call for papers and submit your abstract through EasyChair, indicating BANT in the ‘Keywords’ field to indicate that the abstract is intended for this workshop.

(31/05/20) First BaSIS publication

Studies in African Linguistics has published Allen and Jenneke’s paper on the conjoint/disjoint alternation in Rukiga. It is available (open access) here. The first of many BaSIS publications to come, we hope!

Abstract: The Bantu language Rukiga (JE14, Uganda) shows tonal reduction on the verb in a subset of tenses, similar to the conjoint/disjoint alternation in Haya. Whereas in other languages the conjoint/disjoint alternation is usually marked by segmental morphology in at least one tense, Rukiga is unique in showing only tonal reduction. Nevertheless, our analysis shows that tonal reduction in Rukiga is not merely a phonological rule, but it encodes the conjoint/disjoint alternation. Furthermore, we show that tonal reduction in Rukiga is determined by constituent-finality, and there is no direct relation to focus.

(26/05/20) talk at Syntax Lab Cambridge

Jenneke presented joint work with Patrick on Kîîtharaka pseudoclefts at the virtual Syntax Lab of the University of Cambridge. Here are the ppt slides and the handout of the talk – comments are welcome!

(02/03/20) Research assistant Jane Gacheri Njagi

The project has a new Research Assistant, in Marimanti, Kenya: Jane Gacheri Njagi. Jane’s task is to enter the recorded and transcribed Kîîtharaka stories into the database Dative, and to gloss them, so that those working on the language can also have easy access to longer stretches of tekst. Welcome, Jane!

(13/02/20) Reading group ‘Syntactic features of information structure and case’

The BaSIS team at Leiden are organising a reading group around the question ‘Which features (of IS and Case) are in the syntax, and what arguments have been used to decide whether they are?’. We get together on Wednesdays at 15:30 at Van Wijkplaats 4, 003A.

  1. 19 February: Strong Uniformity Thesis
    Miyagawa 2010, 2017 – chapter 1 from both
    further reading: Boeckx 2011
  2. 11 March: Strong Modularity Thesis
    Fanselow 2006
    further reading: Horvath 2010
  3. 25 March: The Syntax-Pragmatics interface
    Trotzke 2015 ch4
    further reading: Trotzke 2015, ch.3, Trotzke 2017
  4. 1 April: IS features and inclusivity
    each reads one: Snyder 2000, Kratzer & Selkirk 2018, Aboh 2010 (plus, if we have enough people, part of Slioussar 2007)
  5. 15 April: Case
    Diercks 2012, Baker 2018
  6. 29 April: IS features in neuro/psycholinguistics
    (date and reading tbd)

(30/01/20) “Field school in Kenya gives students experience of collaborative linguistic fieldwork”

The LIKE has finished and was very successful! Read the Leiden University report here.

(06/01/20) Start LIKE

At Tharaka University College we just started the Linguistics in Kenya Experience, a three-week field school, funded by the Africa Studies Association in Leiden. Lecturers and students from TUC, Chuka University and Leiden University collaborate here, and learn together about primary data collection and linguistic features of Kenyan languages. See the LIKE tab for more information!


(21/12/19) Data collection Kîîtharaka

Peter got on board another collaborator on the project: Patrick Kanampiu (welcome!). Together with Jenneke and the fantastic Onesmus Muambi Kamwara, Philip Murithi Nyamu and Dennis Muriuki Katheru, we discovered no less than three predicate doubling constructions (with the same interpretations as we also found for Rukiga, Makhuwa, and Copi), some funny idioms, and thanks to Onesmus’ stories we now know why the cock crows.

i kû-rííngá tû́-rííng-iré ng'-óombé - tû-tí-ra-cí-thaik-a
foc 15-hit 10-cows
'We HIT the cows, we didn't tie them.'
kû-ííná n'  á-íín-iré    bai!
15-sing foc 1sm-sing-pfv friend
i. 'Boy did she sing!'
ii. 'Well she sang at least...'
iii. 'She did sing (even if you think she didn't)'
w-aá-bútî-îre       kû-bútî́ra 15-swim
'You really swam!'

“Long ago, the guinea fowl and the chicken lived together. At some point, they thought it would be good to have fire, so they could roast their maize, like the humans. They sent out the cockerel. He came to the humans, who were grinding maize, and was happily eating some of the kernels that fell down. Then they were harvesting grain, and again the cockerel was eating and feeling happy. Suddenly he remembered what he was sent to do, and he shouted to the guinea fowls ‘There is no fiiiiire! There is not fiiiiire!’. And then when back to eating, remembering every once in a while to call that he still hadn’t found the fire. And that is why the cock crows!”


(9/11/19) BaSIS Brainstorm Workshop

The BaSIS project organised an informal brainstorm workshop on 8th-9th November with talks by BaSIS team members and invited advisors. First results were presented and many aspects of information structure, agreement, Case, and Bantu languages were discussed in a fruitful way. Many thanks to András Bárány, Lutz Marten, Stavros Skopeteas, Patricia Schneider-Zioga, and others who visited the workshop for sharing their insights with the team!

(25/10/19) Rukiga talk on marker -o at TTFA Leiden

Allen presents her work on the particle -o in Rukiga at a meeting of This Time For Africa. Here are the details:

TOPIC:          The pronoun -o as a contrastive topic marker in Rukiga?
DATE:           Friday, 25 October 2019
VENUE:        LIPSIUS 235
TIME:            15:30-16:30


(24/10/19) Rukiga augment talk at ComSyn Leiden

Allen and Jenneke present their work on the Rukiga augment at the Com(parative) Syn(tax) group; see for more information.
The slides can be found here: ComSyn augment Rukiga 2019 handout.

Title: Rukiga augments are like Greek
Date: Thursday 24 October
Venue: Lipsius 2.28
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs (drinks afterwards at Café de Keyser)

(06/10/19) Escape from Linguistics

Many enthusiastic visitors of the Nacht van Ontdekkingen (Night of discoveries) have helped our imaginary professor A. Kirfa solve African language puzzles, while learning about tones in Kukuya, the number system of Yoruba, and word order in Kinyarwanda. Together with the Taalmuseum (Language museum), Laura, Lis, and Jenneke organised a real escape room experience in Leiden. We were very pleased with how many people showed their interest in African languages and learned about them in a playful way!
Afterwards, we were invited to also participate at the start of the ‘Weekend van de Wetenschap’ (Science weekend), where children between 5-12 years old did their best to find the answer to prof. Kirfa’s riddle ‘What falls without making a sound?’.

(13/09/2019) Leiden team together

Zhen, Lis, and Jenneke are all back in Leiden from their respective fieldwork sites, and Allen has just started her two-month visit to Leiden University. The team is looking forward to a good semester of collaboration!


(06/09/2019) Escape from Linguistics

At the ‘Nacht van Ontdekkingen’ (Night of Discoveries) in Leiden you are challenged to solve African language puzzles in our ‘escape room’. Laura, Lis, and Jenneke are looking forward to seeing many non-linguists and showing them the wonders of African languages! The activity will be in Dutch; see for more information the Escape from Linguistics site.

(15/08/2019) Data collection Copi

Nelsa and Jenneke ventured out to Chidenguele (Gaza province, Mozambique) to collect data on Copi (S61). With the help of Gomes, Constância, and Arlindo we discovered that Copi allows multiple wh questions, which is unexpected for a Bantu language:

Vhalério  á-xávh-eté       cá:ní mâ:ni?
1.Valerio 1sm-buy-appl-pfv what  who
‘Valerio bought who what?’

Another interesting and so far confusing feature is the interaction between the present conjoint form, the original disjoint (but now also habitual) form, and the present progressive. Where other languages have just the opposition between conjoint and disjoint, it seems that the progressive is entering into the mix here.

ni-bhik-a      *(mpunga)              conjoint 3.rice
‘I cook/am cooking rice.’

n-a-bhik-a        (mpunga)            disjoint 3.rice
'I cook (rice).'

n-o-bhik-a          (mpunga)          progressive 3.rice
'I am cooking (rice).'

(08/08/2019) Data collection Changana

Aurélio and Jenneke spent two weeks in the small town of Magude (Mozambique), asking José, Mateus, and Jovito all about their language Changana (S53). José shared some great stories about the lessons he learnt when he was young. We also found a particularly interesting construction with the auxiliary -za, which indicates that the action is the least expected:

ni-z-é            ní:-ja        ni  kaláw!á:tla and 5.melon
‘I ended up eating even melon.’


(photo: Mateus explaining when to use the -ze construction)

(19/06/2019) Start collaboration UEM Maputo

In the week of preparation for fieldwork on Changana and Copi fieldwork, Jenneke gave a talk on information structure in Bantu languages for the linguists and students and Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo.


(14/05/2019) Elisabeth and Zhen on fieldwork

Since 10 March, Lis has been in Cameroon to discover information structure in Tunen, and since 10 May, Zhen is in Congo Brazzaville to study Teke (Kukuya). Both languages show interesting information structural mechanisms, for example the particle á in Tunen, which Lis is testing for properties of exhaustivity using the BaSIS methodology.PHOTO-2019-05-17-10-46-35

(photo: Elisabeth and one of the Tunen language consultants)

(Spring 2019) BaSIS reading group on information structure in Bantu languages

For anyone who is interested, the BaSIS project organises a fortnightly reading group on information structure in Bantu languages, at the LUCL. See here for the schedule and further information.

(01/02/2019) An intense month of Rukiga information structure

In Kabale, Allen and Jenneke were fortunate to find the wonderful Ronald, Joel, and Pamellah, native speakers of Rukiga, to discover how information structure is expressed in their language. In a bit more than 2 weeks time the team worked their way through a list of diagnostics, recorded stories about wise owls and recipes for traditional porridge, and already entered more than 1,000 sentences in the Dative database.

Linguistic highlights were the discovery of an agreeing contrastive topic particle (as in 1), the residue of a conjoint/disjoint alternation, and the augment on adjectives and other modifiers triggering exclusive focus on the modifier (as in 2). Analyses for these phenomena are currently being written up!

(1)  e-nté             z-ó,     a-ryá-zi-rí-is-a
     aug-10.cows 10-ct 1sm-fut-10om-eat-caus-fv
     ‘As for cows, he will graze them.’ 
     - implying that other animals or other jobs he won't do.
(2)  páápa  (#o-)mu-kúru  y-aa-h'                 ó-ru-bázo
     1.pope (aug-)1-old       1sm-n.pst-give  aug-11-speech
     ‘The old Pope gave a speech.’
     - if the augment o- were present, it means that there are young Popes as well
(with thanks to Wilbert van Vliet for the photos)

(09/01/2019) Allen and Jenneke start their work

This January Allen and Jenneke will investigate information structure in Rukiga! The first week Allen learned a lot about information structure, and Jenneke learned about Rukiga and gave a talk for the department at Makerere University, Kampala (see picture). The next three weeks will be spent in Kabale to gather data from other native speakers of the language.


(12/11/18) Leonie Barabas-Weil starts internship

As part of her MA in Linguistics at Utrecht University, Leonie will spend 3 months at the BaSIS project, investigating inversion constructions and agreement in Lubukusu (JE31c, Kenya). Welcome, Leonie!

(15/10/18) Zhen Li starts as PhD candidate

We welcome Zhen Li as a new team member to the project! Zhen will focus on information structure in the Teke languages (B70, Congo, Gabon). Zhen completed his BA studies at Peking University and his MA thesis in African linguistics at SOAS (London), studying comparative verb morphology in Bantu languages of Cameroon and Gabon. Zhen’s experience and wide linguistic knowledge will no doubt help the project, and we are happy to have him at Leiden University!

(3/9/18) Elisabeth Kerr starts as PhD candidate

The project has a new member with Elisabeth Kerr starting her PhD research! Lis will focus on information structure in Tunen (A44, Cameroon), a language that is particularly interesting because of its unusual basic word order (SOV). Lis has completed her BA at the University of Cambridge and her MA at SOAS (London), with theses on information structure in Ekegusii (JE42, Kenya) and the conjoint/disjoint alternation in Zulu (South Africa). We are very happy to welcome her at Leiden University!

(9/7/18) Sintu 7 workshop on information structure

Allen and Jenneke organised a workshop on information structure within the Sintu 7 conference, held in Cape Town. The presentations were livestreamed and can still be accessed on the ALASA/Sintu7 facebook event page.

Using tekst constituent charts to investigate information structure in Bantu languages Steve Nicolle
Focus and theticity across Bantu Yukiko Morimoto
Topic-based flexible nominal licensing in Bantu Jenneke van der Wal
The augment as an exclusive focus marker in Runyankore-Rukiga Allen Asiimwe
Activation states and word order in relation to definiteness Eva-Marie Bloom-Ström
Adverbial clauses and word order in Mozambican Ngoni Heidrun Kröger


(18/4/2018) Amani at Dar es Salaam research week

Amani Lusekelo presented the BaSIS project in the research week at the University of Dar es Salaam, 18-20 April 2018. Many linguists and non-linguists showed interest in the poster showing the main points of the project.


PhD position open

We’re happy to announce that the BaSIS project has a 4-year fully funded position for a PhD student, starting on 1 September 2018. This PhD subproject is intended to describe and analyse the morphosyntax of information structure in Tunen, spoken in Cameroon. For full details on the position and how to apply, see the advertisement by Leiden University; for more information on the content of the project, see the project description; and for other questions please contact Jenneke van der Wal.

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