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A comparative analysis of Runyankore-Rukiga and Luganda pronominal agreement

by Medadi Erisa Ssentanda and Allen Asiimwe


A Comparative study of Runyankore-Rukiga and Luganda noun class system


Runyankore-Rukiga (RR) and Luganda: an overview

Runyankore-Rukiga (ISO 639-3 nyn for Runyankore and ISO 639-3 cgg for Rukiga) is a central Bantu language spoken in the South-Western part of Uganda in the Kigezi (Rukiga) and the Ankore (Runyankore) regions by four million speakers (Uganda Population and Housing Census: 2002). Earlier scholars (e.g. Ladefoged et al 1971) named these languages according to ethnic groups; but the high lexical similarity that these languages share motivated a merger into "one language" called Runyankore-Rukiga. The term Runyakitara was coined at Makerere University to comprise of Runyoro, Rutoro, Runyankore and Rukiga. Students of these languages study together at Makerere under a subject name, Runyakitara.

Luganda (ISO 639-3: lug) is a Bantu language which belongs to the subgroup of the Benue-Congo of the Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken in central, and some other parts of Uganda by four million native speakers and four million non-native speakers (Uganda Population and Housing Census: 2002). In the Ugandan context, Luganda is grouped with Lusoga, Lunyole and Lumasaba, as the Eastern inter-lacustrine Bantu languages of Uganda and Runyankore-Rukiga together with Runyoro-Rutooro constitute the Western inter-lacustrine Bantu languages.


Like other Bantu languages characterized by agglutination, RR and Luganda have a noun class system that involves singular and plural patterns as well as agreement marking triggered by these noun classes. The agreement markers (or, concords) manifest on syntactic constituents like adjectives, numerals, verbs and others. It is generally the case in Bantu languages that concords play an important role in separating one noun class from another. An example in the case is class 1 and class 3 whose prefix is (o)mu-. The two classes are only distinguishable by concords in syntactic constructions. For instance: RR sentence:

Omuntu wangye yaagyenda
“My person has gone”
Omuntu
omuntu
IV1person
N
wangye
wangye
1myPOSS
ADJ
yaagyenda
yaagyenda
3SGPASTimgoFV
V
Omuti gwangye gwagwa
“My tree has fallen”
Omuti
omuti
IV3tree
N
gwangye
gwangye
3POSS
ADJ
gwagwa
gwagwa
3PRESfallIND
V
Luganda:
Omuntu wange yagenda
“My person went”
Omuntu
omuntu
1person
N
wange
waange
ofGENminePOSS1P
PRTposs
yagenda
aagenda
3PPASTgoFV
V


Omuti gwange gugudde
“My tree has fallen”
Omuti
omuti
IV3SGtree
N
gwange
gwaange
ofGENminePOSS1P
PRTposs
gugudde
gugu-įle
3SBJfallPFV
V


These two nouns, omuntu, person and omuti, tree are only distinguishable by the possessive prefix wa- for class 1 and gwa- for class 3 together with other pronominal concords like the subject prefix, a- for class 1 and gu- for class 3.

Generally speaking, RR and Luganda share many features regarding agreement, as it is with other Bantu languages. For Instance, both languages show subject and object agreement in their pronominal morphology. This article is however centered on those instances where Luganda and RR differ in their pronominal concordial agreement marking; but first we would like to give an overview of the noun class systems of both languages.

Bantu noun classes are categorized into noun classes on the basis of the prefixes that they take and it is the system of noun class prefixes that is the hall mark of Bantu nominal morphology(Katamba 2003).

A noun class is signalled by:

  1. a pre-prefix and a prefix attached to the nominal stem for both singular and plural cases.
  2. grammatical agreement elements including: subject pronouns, object pronouns, possessive pronouns, adjective prefixes , and other sentence elements.


Table 1 showing a juxtaposition of noun classes in Luganda and RR with examples.

Noun class number RR Luganda RR example Luganda example Gloss
1 (o)-mu- (o)-mu- omuntu omuntu person
2 (a)-ba- (a)-ba- (a)bantu (a)bantu persons
3 (o)-mu- (o)-mu- (o)muti (o)muti tree
4 (e)-mi- (e)-mi- (e)miti (e)miti trees
5 (e)-ri- (e)-li- (e)riisho (e)riiso eye
6 (a)-ma- (a)-ma- (a)maisho (a)amaaso eyes
7 (e)-ki- (e)-ki- (e)kitabo (e)kitabo book
8 (e)-bi- (e)-bi- (e)bitabo (e)bitabo books
9 (e)-n- (e)-n- (e)mbuzi (e)mbuzi goat
10 (e)-n- (e)-n- (e)mbuzi (e)mbuzi goats
11 (o)ru- (o)lu- (o)orurimi (o)olulimi tongue
12 (a)-ka- (a)-ka- (a)kasyo (a)kaso knife
13 (o)-tu- (o)-tu- (o)turo (o)tulo sleep
14 (o)-bu- (o)-bu- (o)bushera (o)buugi porridge
15 (o)-ku- (o)-ku- (o)kuguru (o)kugulu leg
16 (a)ha- wa- waggulu (above) locative prefix
17 (o)ku- ku- kungulu (on top) locative prefix
18 (o)mu- mu- munda (inside) locative prefix
19 - - - - -
20 (o)-gu- (o)-gu- ogushaija ogusajja a big ugly man(augumentative)
21 - - - - -
22 (a)-ga- (a)-ga- agashaija agasajja big ugly men (augumentative)
23 - e - eka (at home) locative


NOTE: Both RR and Luganda share some nominal items. For exemplification purposes in table(1), we have used names which are similar in both languages. For instance we cannot use a noun like 'snake' because in RR it belongs to class 9 (e-n-joka) and in Luganda it is in class 3 (o-mu-sota).

Table 1 shows two particular phonological differences between RR and Luganda in the noun class system. RR has class 5 as (e)-ri- while Luganda has it as (e)-li-; and RR has class 16 as ha while Luganda has it as wa. For class 5 of RR to have ‘r’ and not ‘l’ is a fact of phonology of RR and Luganda. Generally, RR has no sound /l/ while Luganda has no sound /r/ (even when it is used in orthography). RR is rich in sound /h/ while Luganda has no such sound in speech except in exclamations and in borrowed nouns (where one may choose to pronounce it, otherwise they pronounce 'k' for sound 'h'). Wherever RR has /h/ Luganda has /w/, for instance RR, hanu here, Luganda wano here.

Bantu noun classes normally group into 10 or more singular/plural pairings. For RR and Luganda, classes 1 to 10 pair up as 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10 to form singular and plural forms respectively. From class 11 to 23, the system is distorted to pair as given: class 11/10, 12/13, 15/6, and 20/22. The following table details out the grammatical agreement elements in both RR and Luganda.


Table II showing noun classes and their concords: RR

Noun class number Noun class Subject Prefix Direct object Genitive Adjective prefix
1 (o)-mu n-, o-, a- -n-, -ku-, -mu- wa (o)mu-
2 (a)-ba tu-, mu-, ba- -tu-, -ba, -ba- ba aba-
3 (o)-mu- gu -gu- gwa omu-
4 (e)-mi gi- -gi- eya emi-
5 (e)-ri- ri- -ri- erya eri-
6 (a)-ma- ga- -ga- aga ama
7 (e)-ki- ki- -ki- ekya eki
8 (e)-bi- bi- -bi- ebya ebi-
9 (e)-n- e-/ya -gi- eya en-
10 (e)-n- zi- -zi- eza en-
11 (o)-ru- ru- -ru- orwa oru-
12 (a)-ka- ka- -ka- aka aka-
13 (o)-tu- tu- -tu- otwa otu-
14 (o)-bu- bu- -bu- obwa obu-
15 (o)-ku- ku -ku- okwa oku-
16 wa wa- - wa wa-
17 ku ha- - - ha-
18 mu ha- - (o)mu- ha-
20 (o)-gu- gu- -gu- ogwa ogu-
22 (a)-ga- ga- -ga- aga aga-
23 - - - - -


In RR and Luganda the SM and OB are the same except for class 9 where the SM in RR is either e- or ya- depending on either tense, aspect or mood of the verb. Below are examples to illustrate this divergence:

1a) RR
Esaati yangye ejubire
“My shirt is wet”
esaati
esaati
IVshirt9
N
yangye
yangye
9mine
PNposs
ejubire
ejubire
9wetSTAT
V
1b) Luganda
Essaati yange mbisi
“My shirt is wet”
Essaati
ensaati
IV9shirt
N
yange
yaange
ofGENminePOSS1P
PRTposs
mbisi
nbisi
9wet
ADJ
2a) RR
Esaati yangye yaajuba
“My shirt has become wet”
esaati
esaati
IVshirt9
N
yangye
yangye
9mine
PNposs
yaajuba
yaajuba
9PRESwetIND
V
2b) Luganda
Essaati yange ebisiwadde
“My shirt has become wet”
Essaati
ensaati
IV9shirt
N
yange
yaange
ofGENminePOSS1P
PRTposs
ebisiwadde
ebisiwal-įle
9AGRwetADJ>VPFV
V
3a) RR
Ente ebaagwe
“The cow should be slaughtered”
ente
ente
IV10cow
N
ebaagwe
ebaagwe
9slaughterPASSSBJV
V
3b) Luganda
Ente ebaagwe
“Let the cow be slaughtered”
Ente
Ente
IV9SGcowSG
CN
ebaagwe
ebaagwe
9AGRslaughterPASSSBJV
V


As example (1) shows, the subject marker for nouns in class 9 is e- when the verb is in stative or perfective aspect and the progressive aspect. The near past tense and indicative mood trigger ya- as the subject marker as shown in (2). As exemplified in (3) above, if the verb is in subjunctive mood the SM is e-.

Table II showing noun classes and their concords: Luganda

Noun class number Noun class Subject Prefix Direct object Genitive Adjective prefix
1 (o)-mu n-, o-, a- -n-, -ku-, -mu- wa (o)mu-
2 (a)-ba tu-, mu-, ba- -tu-, -ba, -ba- ba aba-
3 (o)-mu- gu -gu- gwa omu-
4 (e)-mi gi- -gi- egya emi-
5 (e)-li- li- -li- elya eli-
6 (a)-ma- ga- -ga- aga ama
7 (e)-ki- ki- -ki- ekya eki
8 (e)-bi- bi- -bi- ebya ebi-
9 (e)-n- e- -gi- eya en-
10 (e)-n- zi- -zi- eza en-
11 (o)-lu- lu- -lu- olwa olu-
12 (a)-ka- ka- -ka- aka aka-
13 (o)-tu- tu- -tu- otwa otu-
14 (o)-bu- bu- -bu- obwa obu-
15 (o)-ku- ku -ku- okwa oku-
16 wa wa- - wa wa
17 ku ku- - kwa ku
18 mu mu- - mu-/mwa- mu-
20 (o)-gu- gu- -gu- ogwa ogu-
22 (a)-ga- ga- -ga- aga aga-
23 e wa- - wa(-) wa-

Agreement is a well studied phenomenon in Bantu languages. Bantu language noun classes form a basis for agreement marking. Although there are known principles for agreement in Bantu languages, each language has a somewhat unique behavior that form restrictions to applying these principles; this could be morphological or phonological in nature. This comparative article/discussion presents natural languages contexts in which RR and Luganda differ in the adnominal agreement.

We will first illustrate how the noun’s class prefix is reflected on all adnominals and the verb: It is a general characteristic to identify nouns in Bantu languages as belonging to semantic classes, identified by the prefix attached on the nominal stem, and the agreement concord attached on the nominal modifiers as well as the verb. Many Bantu languages employ strict grammatical agreement i.e. all concords are governed by the inherent noun class of the head noun. For instance, in Kagulu, noun class 5 triggers agreement of noun class 5 yet this noun is animate (Petzell: 2008): di-bwa di-swanu di-kudia The good dog eats.

In RR and Luganda, such a phenomenon is not possible. The only instance that somewhat resembles this phenomenon is class 4 and class 9 that have similar OM as given in table II.

In RR, just like the case in other Bantu languages, the noun triggers corresponding agreement markers on all elements in the nominal domain. The verb too supports subject and object concordial markers which are traditionally known to be identical with the nouns in subject and object positions as illustrated below:

4a) RR
Ebijuma byangye bibiri bihango birungi bikagwa
“My two nice big fruits fell”
èbìjùmà
ebijuma
IV8fruit
N
byàngyè
biangye
8mine
PNposs
bìbírí
bibiri
8two
NUM
bìhángò
bihango
8big
ADJ
birungi
birungi
8good
ADJ
bíkàgwà
bikagwa
8PASTfallIND
V
4b) Luganda
Ebibala byange ebibiri ebinene ebirungi byagwa
“My two nice big fruits fell”
Ebibala
ebibala
IV8fruit
CN
byange
biange
8AGRmine
PNposs
ebibiri
ebibiri
IV8AGRtwo
NUM
ebinene
ebinene
IV8AGRbig
ADJ
ebirungi
ebirungi
IV8AGRgood
ADJ
byagwa
biagua
8AGRPASTfallFV
V
5a) RR
Abaana baaguteera omupiira
“Children have kicked the ball”
Abaana
abaana
IV2child
N
baaguteera
baaguteera
SM2PRESOMkick 
V
omupiira
omupiira
IV3ball
N
5b) Luganda
Abaana bagusambye (omupiira)
“The children have kicked the ball”
Abaana
abaana
IV2PLchild
N
bagusambye
bagusamb-ile
3PLSBJ3OBJkickPFV
V
(omupiira)
omupiira
IV3ball
N


The noun in sentence 4 belongs to class 8 (plural). The prefix bi- triggers agreement on all elements in the sentence as indicated. The same case is registered in Luganda: 6) Ebitooke byange ebibiri baabibbye Gloss: My two bananas were stolen. In (5) ba-is a verbal subject prefix corresponding to abaana (child), and -gu- is an object concord marker for omupiira (ball). In (2), the subject prefix is obligatory while the object is not:

7a) RR
Abaana baateera omupiira
“Children have kicked the ball”
Abaana
abaana
IV2child
N
baateera
baateera
SM2PRESkickIND
V
omupiira
omupiira
IV3ball
N
7b) Luganda
Abaana basambye omupiira
“The children have kicked the ball”
Abaana
abaana
IV2PLchild
N
basambye
basamb-ile
3PLkickPFV
V
omupiira
omupiira
IV3ball
N

The object marker may be included for a specific reading, e.g. emphasis. The harmony that exists between the noun and other lexical categories as indicated in (4) may not be adhered to in all contexts in RR and/or Luganda.