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Agreement in coordinated noun phrases in Runyankore-Rukiga

by Allen Asiimwe

Noun class agreement is not always illiterative

Agreement morphology is one of the most pronounced and studied aspects of Bantu grammars. It is a cross-referencing mechanism between different parts of a sentence or a phrase. Agreement occurs depending on the arguments being cross-referenced. For example, for a verbal predicate the subject and object in a sentence trigger agreement on the verb. In the nominal domain all noun modifiers bear agreement markers, corresponding to the class of the noun they modify and this is exemplified in (1) below:

(1)
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


The subject ebijuma ‘fruits’ in (1) belongs to noun class 8; and the possessive, numeral, adjectives as well as the verb bear a corresponding agreement prefix.

In some cases, as for instance shown in the above example, the shape of the prefixes is identical, which is sometimes called ‘illiterative’ (Katamba 2003). However, agreement markers do not necessarily need to be identical with the class markers of the subject noun as for instance shown in (2a) below:


(2a)
Omuti muhango muraingwa gwagwa
“A big tall tree has fallen”
òmùtì
omuti
IV3tree
N
muhango
muhango
3big
ADJ
muraingwa
muraingwa
3tall
ADJ
gwágwà
guagwa
3PRESPFVfallIND
V


b)
Ogushaija guraingwa guhango gwagwa
“A tall big fat (ugly) man has fallen”
Ogushaija
ogushaija
IV20man
N
guraingwa
guraingwa
20tall
ADJ
guhango
guhango
20big
ADJ
gwagwa
gwagwa
20PRESPFVfallIND
V



Whereas omuti ‘tree’ in (2a) belongs to class 3, the agreement marker on the verb is accidentally identical to the agreement marker for class 20 as shown in (2b). Also note that identical class markers might represent different noun classes. Take examples involving agreement in adjectival phrases, as in (3) below:

3(a)
Omushaija muhango muraingwa
“A fat tall man”
òmùshàíjà
Omushaija
IV1man
N
mùhángò
muhango
1fat
ADJ
mùràíngwà
muraingwa
1tall
ADJ


b)
Omuti muhango muraingwa gwagwa
“A big tall tree has fallen”
òmùtì
omuti
IV3tree
N
muhango
muhango
3big
ADJ
muraingwa
muraingwa
3tall
ADJ
gwágwà
guagwa
3PRESPFVfallIND
V


Omushaija ‘man’ and omuti ‘tree’ belong to different noun classes i.e. class 1 (for humans) and class 3 respectively. Relying on the form of the concord marker, which is in both cases mu-, when identifying the noun class can therefore be misleading. In comparison, the following cases of subject-verb agreement are straightforward:

4a)
Omushaija yaagwa
“A man has fallen”
òmùshàíjà
omushaija
IV1man
N
yàágwà
yaagwa
1PRESPFVfallIND
V


b)
Omuti gwagwa
Omuti
omuti
IV3tree
N
gwagwa
gwagwa
3PRESfallIND
V


Under subject-verb agreement as shown in (4) the distinction between class1 and 3 is marked.

Noun class agreement and coordination

Turning to coordination, when two NPs, belonging to the same noun class, are coordinated the corresponding plural concord prefix is used to express agreement, e.g.:

5)
Omwana na nyina nibazaana
“A child and the mother are playing”
òmwànà
omuana
IV1child
N
na
and
CONJ
nyìnà
nyina
mother1
N
nìbàzàánà
nibazaana
PRES2playIND
V


The verb in the example above 'nibazaana' triggers class 2 agreement (plural marker for class 1), since the coordinated nouns belong to the same noun class (i.e. class1). Noun class agreement under coordination has been discussed for example by Schadeberg (1992) and Krifka (1995).

Interesting are those cases where two nouns belonging to different classes are coordinated. Take for example two nouns belonging to class 9 and 10; they may occur with either cl8 or 10, as illustrated below:

(6a)
Entaama n'embuzi nibirwana
“The sheep and the goat are fighting”
èntààmà
Entaama
IV9sheep
N
n'
na
and
CONJS
èmbùzì
enbuzi
IV9goat
N
nìbìrwánà
nibirwana
PRES8fightIND
V


(b)
#Entaama n'embuzi nizirwana
“The sheep and the goat are fighting”
èntààmà
entaama
IV9sheep
N
n'
na
CONJ
CONJS
èmbùzì
enbuzi
IV9goat
N
nìzìrwánà
nizirwana
PRES10fightIND
V


(c)
Entaama neerwana n'embuzi
“The sheep is fighting with the goat”
èntààmà
entaama
IV9sheep
N
 
nierwana
PRES9fightIND
V
nèèrwánà
na
with
PREP
n'èmbùzì
enbuzi
IV9goat
N


(6b) is not acceptable because though ente ‘cow’ and embuzi ‘goat' both belong to class 9, yet, they are different animals, which seem to make it impossible to use the plural agreement marker referring back to the two coordinated nouns. (6a) is acceptable but most natural is an expression as shown in (6c), where instead of using a coordinating construction, headed by the conjunction na, a prepositional construction is chosen.

The use of class8 is natural as an agreement marker under the coordination of inanimate nouns. Look at (7):

(7)
Emeeza n'entebe bihendekire
“The table and the chair are broken”
èmèèzà
Emeeza
IVtable9
N
n'
na
and
CONJ
èntèbè
entebe
IV9chair
N
bìhèndèkírè
bihendekire
8breakSTAT
V


The nouns coordinated in (7) are both inanimate and the plural agreement marker class 8 (-bi-) is appropriate. An interesting question is: what will happen when the coordinated nouns do not fall under the same noun class? Let us look at the following schema in (8), where the choice of verbal prefix is left open:

(8)
Omuhiigi n'embwa ?gyenda
“A hunter and a dog have gone”
Omuhiigi
omuhiigi
IV2hunterNMLZ
N
n'
na
and
CONJ
embwa
enbwa
IV9dog
N
?gyenda
?gyenda
 goIND
V


What prefix would a native speaker be inclined to add to the verb? Note that omuhiigi ‘hunter’ belongs to class 1 while embwa ‘dog’ falls under class 9. Ashton (1994) observes that in cases where two nouns, belonging to two different noun classes, are conjoined (and especially if they are concrete nouns) the verb agrees with the last named noun. Following Ashton’s observation, in (8), the verb should agree with embwa ‘dog’, as shown in (9) below:


(9)
#Omuhiigi n'embwa yaagyenda
“The hunter and the dog have gone”
òmùhììgì
omuhiigi
IV1hunter
N
n'
na
and
CONJ
èmbwà
enbwa
IV9dog
N
yàgyéndà
yaagyenda
9AGRPRESgoPFV
V


However, (9) leads to an unacceptable construction; if the plural marker class 10 ya- is chosen to be the agreement marker for both omuhiigi and embwa, it would mean thatomuhiigi also belongs to class 9 which is not the case. However, Ashton’s observation holds for constructions which involve nouns that are both inanimate, like in (10) below:

(10)
Emiyembe n'ebyokurya biri hanu
“Mangoes and food are here”
èmìyèmbè
emiyembe
IV4mango
N
n'
na
and
CONJS
èbyòkùryà
ebiokurya
IV8food
N
bìrì
biri
8be
COP
hánù
hanu
16here
ADVm


The plural agreement marker, namely bi- of class 8, covers both nouns since also cl4 is inanimate, and accidentally agrees well with the last named noun ebyokurya food. Another suggestion, close to Ashton’s, comes from Schadeberg (1992). He believes that agreement will be with the corresponding plural class of the closest conjunct. In fact, most scholars have argued that either the plural prefix of class 8 will be used or the plural class of the last noun (Schadeberg 1992, Krifka 1995) to express agreement with a coordinated subject NP. However, this generalisation only holds when the conjuncts do not involve humans, as again shown below:

(11)
Efuka n'omuhoro biri nkahe?
“Where are the hoe and the panga”
èfùkà
efuka
IVhoe9
N
n'
na
and
CONJ
òmùhòrò
omuhoro
IV3panga
N
bìrì
biri
8be
COP
nkàhé?
nkahe?
where
Wh


(12)
Amahuri n’ebijuma ni birungi aha baana
“Eggs and fruits are good for children”
àmàhùrì
Amahuri
IV6egg
N
n'
na
and
CONJS
èbìjùmà
ebijuma
IV8fruit
N
ni
are
COP
bìrùngì
birungi
8good
ADJ
àhà
aha
IVon
PREP
bàánà
baana
2child
N


(13)
#Omuhiigi n’embwa byagyenda
“The hunter and the dog have gone”
òmùhììgì
omuhiigi
IV1hunter
N
n'
na
and
CONJ
èmbwà
enbwa
IV9dog
N
byàgyéndà
biagyenda
8PRESgoIND
V


Again (13) is unacceptable because one of the conjuncts is human and bi- can only be used when both conjuncts are inanimate. Katamba (2003) argues for Haya that in case of gender conflict in coordination of human with an animal, the best solution is to avoid coordination and opt for a comitative construction, this works well in Runyankore-Rukiga as well, and thus constructions such as (8) (which is equal to (13) above) will most likely be presented as shown in (14):

(14)
Omuhiigi yaagenda n'embwa
“The hunter has gone with the dog.”
òmùhììgì
Omuhiigi
IV1hunterNMLZ
N
yààgyèndà
yaagyenda
1PRESPFVgoIND
V
n'
na
with
PREP
émbwà
enbwa.
IV9dog
N


Notice howeve that some of the meaning of (8) is not preserved in a comitative construction. (8) means that the hunter left and also the dog left: not necessarily meaning that they left together and for the same destination, while (14) clearly means that the hunter left together with the dog for the same destination; may be, they have gone hunting. Coming back to my original question, namely: Which prefix would a native speaker be inclined to add to the verb; the answer lies in the construction below:

(15)
Omuhiigi yaagyenda, n’embwa yaagyenda
“Lit: The hunter has gone, and the dog has gone”
òmùhíígí
Omuhiigi
IV2hunterNMLZ
N
yààgyèndà
yaagyenda
1PRESPFVgoIND
V
n'
na
and
CONJ
émbwà
enbwa
IV9dog
N
yààgyèndà
yaagyenda
9PRESPFVgoIND
V


Both conjuncts are coordinated but with a repetition of the verb. This would mean that both the hunter and the dog have left but not necessarily for the same destination which preserves the original meaning of (8).


References

Ashton, E. O. 1944. Swahili Grammar. Harlow: Longman

Clement, M. 1943. Outline Grammar of Bantu. Mimeographed: Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand (Revised 1982 as Communication No.2 from the Department of African Languages, Rhodes University at Grahamston)

Katamba, F. 2003. Bantu Nominal Morphology. In: The Bantu languages. Routlege. London and New York.

Krifka, M. 1995. Swahili. In Joachim Jacobs, Arnim von Stechow, Wolfgang Sternefeld & Theo Vennemann, eds., Syntax: Ein internationales Handbuch zeitgenoessischer Forschung, vol. 2, Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1397- 1418.

Schadeberg, T. C. 1992. A Sketch of Swahili Morphology, 3rd ed., Köln: Köppe.