We are very happy to announce the next talk in the Phonology Colloquium, which will take place on Wednesday, July 10, 4 – 6 pm in IG 4.301.

Fatima Hamlaoui (Toronto) will present „Pre-Stem Object Markers and the Verb-Subject Word Order in (Proto-)Bantu“.


Inversion constructions are a widespread phenomenon in Bantu languages. Some languages, like Basaá (A43, Cameroon), however do not allow postverbal subjects, neither in matrix nor in embedded clauses. In a family in which word order is generally considered flexible, the question arises as to why some languages have a fairly rigid word order and which type of word order characterized Proto-Bantu. This talk concentrates on SV/VS order in relative clauses, a type of clause in which word order can hardly be motivated by the information status of its arguments. Based on a sample of 150 Narrow Bantu languages, 6 (non-Bantu) Bantoid languages and 9 (non-Bantoid) Niger-Congo languages, we first discuss issues relating to the most frequent word order in the family and whether there is a correlation with the possibility of inversion in matrix sentences. Our main proposal is that Proto-Bantu had both SV and VS relative clauses and that the loss of VS in present-day Bantu A (as represented in the sample) is related to the loss of the pre-stem object markers (i.e. OM-V order). The idea is that by losing pre-stem object markers, languages would lose the word order flexibility typically associated with the head-marking property. In a language like Basaá, in which there is no head or case marking and little morpho-syntactic flagging, nothing would formally distinguish a postverbal subject from a complement. Additionally, we propose that losing these markers would also lead to the loss of opposition between so-called “weak” and “strong” objects, resulting in the loss of association between being after the verb and being “strong” or focused. This would explain why a language like Basaá only shows remnants of an IAV focus position (with wh-pronouns) and focuses subjects in their canonical preverbal position rather than postverbally.

You are cordially invited!