Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 28, 2015

The long and short of verb alternations in Mauritian Creole and Bantu languages

Jenneke van der Wal and Tonjes Veenstra
From the journal Folia Linguistica


Mauritian Creole displays an alternation between a short and a long form of the verb, which is reminiscent of the conjoint–disjoint alternation found in some eastern Bantu languages. Based on comparison with other French-based creoles and socio-historical evidence, we conclude that the Bantu substrate must have had an impact on the grammatical system of Mauritian Creole. We compare the synchronic properties of the alternations in Mauritian Creole and the most likely substrate Bantu languages of northern Mozambique and examine two possible scenarios for the influence of Bantu on the Mauritian verbal alternation, concluding that probably only the (syntactic) basics of the Bantu alternation motivated the persistence of the alternation in Mauritian Creole.


We would like to thank Tore Janson, Ian Roberts, Philip Baker, Fabiola Henri, Muhsina Alleesaib and two anonymous reviewers for their comments, as well as the audiences at 40th Colloquium of African Languages and Linguistics (CALL 40) in Leiden (2010), the 6th International Contrastive Linguistics Conference in Berlin (2010), and Bantu 4 in Berlin (2011), where we presented this work. The points of view expressed here and any errors or misrepresentations are our own. The research for this paper was carried out when Jenneke was employed at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, within the GRAMIS project. Tonjes’ participation in this project was made possible through the support by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) of Germany (grant number 01UG0711). We hereby gratefully acknowledge the financial support of these institutions.


1/2/3 = 1st/2nd/3rd person; a = aspect, asp = aspect; cj = conjoint; CP = complementizer phrase; det = determiner; dj = disjoint; dur = durative; IP = inflectional phrase; lf = long form; loc = locative; m = mood; om = object marker; pass = passive; pfv = perfective; pl = plural; pro = (independent) pronoun; prog = progressive; prs = present; sf = short form; sg = singular; sit= situative tense; sm = subject marker; t = tense;


Allen, Richard B.2008. The constant demand of the French: The Mascarene slave trade and the worlds of the Indian Ocean and Atlantic during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Journal of African History49. 4372.10.1017/S0021853707003295Search in Google Scholar

Alpers, Edward A.1975. Ivory and slaves in East Africa. London: Heinemann.10.1525/9780520312197Search in Google Scholar

Arends, Jacques2008. A demographic perspective on creole formation. In SilviaKouwenberg & John V.Singler (eds.), The handbook of Pidgin and Creole studies, 309331. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781444305982.ch13Search in Google Scholar

Baker, Philip.1972. Kreol: A description of Mauritian Creole. London: C. Hurst & Company.Search in Google Scholar

Baker, Philip.2008. Elements for a sociolinguistic history of Mauritius and its Creole (to 1968). In PhilipBaker & GuillaumeFon Sing (eds.), The making of Mauritian Creole, 307334. London: Battlebridge Press.Search in Google Scholar

Baker, Philip & ChrisCorne.1982. Isle de France Creole: Affinities and origins. Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma.Search in Google Scholar

Batibo, Herman M., JamesMoilwa & Naledi M.Mosaka.1997. The historical implications of the linguistics relationship between Makua and Sotho languages. PULA Journal of African Studies11(1). 2329.Search in Google Scholar

Becker, Angelika & TonjesVeenstra.2003. The survival of inflectional morphology in French-related creoles: The role of SLA processes. Studies in Second Language Acquisition25(2). 283306.10.1017/S0272263103000123Search in Google Scholar

Brinton, Laurel & DieterStein.1995. Functional renewal. In HenningAndersen (ed.), Historical linguistics 1993: Selected papers from the 11th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, 3347. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/cilt.124.04briSearch in Google Scholar

Buell, Leston.2005. Issues in Zulu verbal morphosyntax. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA PhD dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Buell, Leston.2006. The Zulu conjoint/disjoint verb alternation: Focus or constituency?ZAS Working Papers in Linguistics43. 930.10.21248/zaspil.43.2006.283Search in Google Scholar

Buell, Leston.2009. Evaluating the immediate postverbal position as a focus position in Zulu. In MasanguMatondo, FionaMcLaughlin & EricPotsdam (eds.), Selected proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic theory and African language documentation, 166172. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.Search in Google Scholar

Cheng, Lisa L.-S. & Laura J.Downing. 2009. Where’s the topic in Zulu?The Linguistic Review26. 207238.10.1515/tlir.2009.008Search in Google Scholar

Cheng, Lisa L.-S. & Laura J.Downing. 2012. Against FocusP: Arguments from Zulu. In IvonaKucerova & AdNeeleman (eds.), Information structure: Contrasts and positions, 247267. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511740084.012Search in Google Scholar

Corne, Chris1982. Final vowel truncation in Indian Ocean Creole French. In PhilipBaker & ChrisCorne (eds.), Isle de France creole: Affinities and origins, 4963. Ann Arbor, MI: Karoma.Search in Google Scholar

Corne, Chris.1999. From French to Creole. London: University of Westminster Press.Search in Google Scholar

Costa, João & Nancy C.Kula. 2008. Focus at the interface: Evidence from Romance and Bantu. In CecileDe Cat & KatherineDemuth (eds.), The BantuRomance connection, 293322. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/la.131.16cosSearch in Google Scholar

Creissels, Denis.1996. Conjunctive and disjunctive verb forms in Setswana. South African Journal of African Languages16. 109115.10.1080/02572117.1996.10587127Search in Google Scholar

Demuth, Katherine & MarkJohnson.1989. Interactions between discourse functions and agreement in Setswana. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics11. 2235.Search in Google Scholar

Devos, Maud.2008. A grammar of Makwe (Studies in African linguistics 71). Munich: LINCOM Europa.Search in Google Scholar

Güldemann, Tom. 2003. Present progressive vis-à-vis predication focus in Bantu: A verbal category between semantics and pragmatics. Studies in Language27. 323360.10.1075/sl.27.2.05gulSearch in Google Scholar

Guthrie, Malcolm.1967 [1948]. The classification of the Bantu languages. London: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Halpert, Claire.2012. Argument licensing and agreement in Zulu. Cambridge, MA: MIT PhD dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Harris, Martin.1989. French. In BernardComrie (ed.), The world’s major languages, 210235. London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203214961-9Search in Google Scholar

Haudrère, Philippe. 1989. La compagnie francaise des Indes au XVIIIe siècle (1719–1795). Paris: Librairie de l’Inde.Search in Google Scholar

Henri, Fabiola.2010. A constraint-based approach to verbal constructions in Mauritian: Morphological, syntactic and discourse-based aspects. Paris: PhD Dissertation (University of Mauritius & Ecole Doctorale des Sciences du Langage, ED 132, Université Paris Diderot, Paris 7).Search in Google Scholar

Henri, Fabiola & AnneAbeillé. 2008. Verb forms alternation in Mauritian. On-line Proceedings of the HPSG-2008 Conference, Keihanna, Kyoto. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.10.21248/hpsg.2008.22Search in Google Scholar

Janson, Tore.1991–1992. Southern Bantu and Makua. Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika12–13. 63106.Search in Google Scholar

Klein, Wolfgang & ClivePerdue.1997. The basic variety. Second Language Research13. 301347.10.1191/026765897666879396Search in Google Scholar

Kraal, Peter.2005. A grammar of Makonde. Leiden: University of Leiden PhD dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Larson, Pier M.2007. Enslaved Malagasy and ‘Le Travail De La Parole’ in the pre-revolutionary Mascarenes. Journal of African History48. 45779.10.1017/S0021853707002824Search in Google Scholar

Maho, Juni.2009. NUGL online: The online version of the New Updated Guthrie List, a referential classification of the Bantu languages ( in Google Scholar

Meeussen, A. E.1959. Essai de Grammaire Rundi (Annales du Musée Royal du Congo Belge, Série Sciences Humaines 24). Tervuren: Musée Royal du Congo Belge.Search in Google Scholar

Mesthrie, Rajend.2006. Subordinate immigrant languages and language endangerment : Two community studies from KwaZulu-Natal. Language Matters: Studies in the Languages of Africa37(1). 315.10.1080/10228190608566249Search in Google Scholar

Nurse, Derek.2008. Tense and aspect in Bantu. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Nurse, Derek & GerardPhilippson.2003. The Bantu languages. London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Odden, David.1996. The phonology and morphology of Kimatuumbi. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Odden, David.2003. Rifiji-Ruvuma (N10, P10–20). In DerekNurse & GérardPhilipson (eds.), The Bantu languages, 529545. London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Rottet, Kevin.1992. Functional categories and verb raising in Louisiana Creole. Probus4. 261289.10.1515/prbs.1992.4.3.261Search in Google Scholar

Seedat, Zubeda Kassim. 1983. The Zanzibaris in Durban. Durban: University of Natal MA thesis.Search in Google Scholar

Seuren, Pieter1990. Verb syncopation and predicate raising in Mauritian Creole. Linguistics28(4). 809844.10.1515/ling.1990.28.4.809Search in Google Scholar

Seuren, Pieter1995. Notes on the history and the syntax of Mauritian Creole. Linguistics33. 531577.10.1515/ling.1995.33.3.531Search in Google Scholar

Smith, Norval S.H.2006. Very rapid creolization in the framework of the Restricted Motivation Hypothesis. In ClaireLefebvre, LydiaWhite & ChristineJourdan (eds.), L2 acquisition and creole genesis: Dialogues (Language Acquisition and Language Disorders 42), 4965. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/lald.42.05smiSearch in Google Scholar

Syea, Anand1992. The short and long form of verbs in Mauritian Creole: Functionalism versus formalism. Theoretical Linguistics1(18). 6197.10.1515/thli.1992.18.1.61Search in Google Scholar

Trudgill, Peter.2011Sociolinguistic typology: Social determinants of linguistic complexity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Vallduvi, Enric & MariaVilkuna.1998. On rheme and kontrast. In PeterCulicover & LouiseMcNally (eds.), The limits of syntax, 79108. New York: Academic Press.10.1163/9789004373167_005Search in Google Scholar

Van der Spuy, Andrew.1993. Dislocated noun phrases in Nguni. Lingua90. 335355.10.1016/0024-3841(93)90031-QSearch in Google Scholar

Van der Wal, Jenneke.2008. Agreement in thetic sentences in Bantu and Romance. In CecileDe Cat & KatherineDemuth (eds.), The BantuRomance connection, 323350. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/la.131.17walSearch in Google Scholar

Van der Wal, Jenneke.2009. Word order and information structure in Makhuwa-Enahara. Utrecht: LOT.Search in Google Scholar

Van der Wal, Jenneke.2011. Focus excluding alternatives: Conjoint/disjoint marking in Makhuwa. Lingua121(11). 17341750.10.1016/j.lingua.2010.10.013Search in Google Scholar

Van der Wal, Jenneke.2014. Subordinate clauses and exclusive focus in Makhuwa. In Rikvan Gijn, JeremyHammond, DejanMatić, Saskiavan Putten & AnaVilacy Galucio (eds.), Information structure and reference tracking in complex sentences, 4570. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/tsl.105.02vanSearch in Google Scholar

Van der Wal, Jenneke & Larry M.Hyman (eds.). In preparation. The conjoint/disjoint alternation in Bantu (Trends in Linguistics). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.Search in Google Scholar

Veenstra, Tonjes.2003. What verbal morphology can tell us about creole genesis: The case of French-related creoles. In IngoPlag (ed.), Phonology and morphology of creole languages, 293314. Tübingen: Niemeyer.10.1515/9783110929560.293Search in Google Scholar

Veenstra, Tonjes.2007. Verb allomorphy in French-related creoles and the syntax-phonology interface. In EmilyElfner & MartinWalkow (eds.), Proceedings of Thirty-Seventh Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 37), 1730. Amherst, MA: GSLA Publications.Search in Google Scholar

Veenstra, Tonjes.2008. Creole genesis: The impact of the language bioprogram hypothesis. In SilviaKouwenberg & John V.Singler (eds.), The handbook of Pidgin and Creole studies, 219241. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781444305982.ch9Search in Google Scholar

Veenstra, Tonjes.2009. Verb allomorphy and the syntax of phases. In EnochAboh & NorvalSmith (eds.), Complex processes in new languages, 99113. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.10.1075/cll.35.08veeSearch in Google Scholar

Watters, John.1979. Focus in Aghem: A study of its formal correlates and typology. In Larry M.Hyman (ed.), Aghem grammatical structure (SCOPIL 7), 137197. Los Angeles, CA: USC Department of Linguistics Publications.Search in Google Scholar

Zerbian, Sabine.2006. Expression of information structure in Northern Sotho. Berlin: Humboldt University PhD Dissertation.10.21248/zaspil.45.2006.331Search in Google Scholar

Zerbian, Sabine.2007. A first approach to information structuring in Xitsonga/Xichangana. In LutzMarten & NancyKula (eds.), SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics 15 (Bantu in Bloomsbury: Special issue on Bantu Linguistics), 6578. London: SOAS, University of London, Department of Linguistics.Search in Google Scholar

Zribi-Hertz, Anne & L. J.Li Pook Tan1987. Gouvernement et syntagme verbal: A propos de la truncation verbale en Creole Mauricien. Documents de travailUniversité Paris8(1). 5786.Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2014-7-25
Revised: 2013-8-8
Revised: 2014-5-23
Accepted: 2014-8-18
Published Online: 2015-4-28
Published in Print: 2015-5-1

©2015 by De Gruyter Mouton