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Three areal phenomena in northern sub-Saharan Africa: clause-final negation, possessee-like qualifiers and stem-initial consonant length

Abstract : This paper provides an overview of work in progress in the Labex project LC2 Areal phenomena in northern sub-Saharan Africa, which seeks to test claims on the existence of a Sprachbund in the northern part of sub-Saharan Africa. We will present the conclusions of well advanced work on two morphosyntactic phenomena that are clearly areal, viz clause-final negation and possessee-like qualifiers and we will discuss our hypotheses, methods and initial findings on the topic of stem initial accent realised by means of consonant length. Clause-final negative markers, although typologically rare, can be found in a very wide range of central and west African languages. This has previously been attributed to the somehow “pragmatic” rather than “semantic” nature of the negative markers by Dryer (2009) or, focusing on the frequent co-occurrence of the clause-final negative markers and multiple negative exponence, to the “inherent focal nature of negation” (Beyer 2009). We argue against these accounts and explain the clause-final position of the negative markers by their origin in other clause-final markers. Furthermore, we argue that the fact that such negative markers are so common in this area is related to another typological feature of the relevant languages, viz a grammatical category of clause-final markers whose core function is the expression of intersubjective meanings. Combined with the fact that negation is exactly one of those situations, propitious for the use of intersubjective markers, when the speaker’s assertive authority is at stake, frequency effects would account naturally for the tendency to conventionalize clause-final negative markers. Possessee-like qualifiers, as illustrated in (1), are extremely rare crosslinguistically, but abound in the northern part of central sub-Saharan Africa (an area smaller than that where clause final negation is recurrent). (1)ìŋgúŋgwál í môd ì-ŋgúŋgwálí=m-òd 7-miserableVII.GEN=1-person ‘a miserable person’ We will show that possessee like qualifiers are typologically very diverse. The only thing they have in common, viz the abstract constructional resemblance between possessees and qualifiers, must be the feature that spreads through contact. Finally, stem initial accent has been identified in a number of north-western Bantu languages (Hyman 1989), but its phonetic correlates have never been the subject of instrumental analysis. Our goals are to test the hypothesis that this accent is realised only or mainly through consonant length, to establish the geographical distribution of the phenomenon and to identify any correlations with other areal features, such as the occurrence of labio-velar stops and maximality constraints on stems.
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Conference papers
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01481237
Contributor : Dmitry Idiatov <>
Submitted on : Thursday, March 2, 2017 - 12:53:40 PM
Last modification on : Monday, May 11, 2020 - 9:52:02 AM

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Dmitry Idiatov, Mark van de Velde. Three areal phenomena in northern sub-Saharan Africa: clause-final negation, possessee-like qualifiers and stem-initial consonant length. Workshop "Typologie: phonologie et syntaxe", Nov 2012, Paris, France. ⟨halshs-01481237⟩

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