The marking of grammatical relations in Swahili


  • Mayrene Bentley


Swahili, typology, grammatical relations, morphology


This paper investigates the place of Swahili within a typological classification based on the morphological marking of grammatical relations as proposed by Nichols [1986]. Within Nichols' classification, Bantu languages are considered to be "split-marked" because the grammatical marking of a member of a clausal constituent is on the head while, in a phrase, the marking is on the dependent member. Although select clauses and phrases from Swahili support Nichols' claim, a closer examination of the data reveals an interesting variety of morphosyntactic marking in Swahili as well as in two other Bantu languages, Kikuyu and Chewa. Function words playa key role in marking genitive, instrumental, and locative relations in these languages. Function words also regularly occur as markers of object noun phrases with animate referents. Moreover, instrumental, locative, applicative, and some accusative relations in Swahili show considerable flexibility with respect to head- and non-head-marking.