Probing the interaction of language contact and internal innovation

four case studies of morphosyntactic change in Rangi


  • Hannah Gibson University of Essex
  • Lutz Marten SOAS, University of London


Bantu languages, Cushitic languages, language contact, morphosyntactic change, grammaticalisation, negation, word-order, auxiliary constructions, deictic particles, inclusive/exclusive distinction


The Bantu language Rangi is spoken at the northern borderlands of Tanzania, where Bantu, Cushitic and Nilotic languages meet. In many regards, Rangi exhibits the morphosyntax typically associated with East African Bantu: SVO word order, an extensive system of agreement and predominantly head-marking morphology. However, the language also exhibits a number of features which are unusual from a comparative and typological perspective, and which may have resulted from language contact. Four of these features are examined in detail in this paper: 1) Verb-auxiliary order found in the future tense, 2) clause-final negation, 3) a three-way distinction in verbal deictic markers, and 4) an inclusive/exclusive distinction in personal possessive pronouns. These features are assessed with reference to three criteria: syntactic structure, lexical/morphological form and geographic distribution. The examination shows that two of the unusual features result from a combination of internal and external factors, while the other two appear not to be related to external influence through contact. The results of the study show the complex interaction between internal and external factors in language change, and the importance of investigating potentially contact-induced change in detail to develop a more complex and fine-grained understanding of the morphosyntactic process of innovation involved.