(upcoming) BaSIS Brainstorm Workshop

The BaSIS project is organising an informal brainstorming workshop on 8th-9th November with talks from BaSIS team members and invited advisors – please see this page for more information!


(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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