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The syntax and semantics of helping: Sociative causation in Kinande

  • Patricia Schneider-Zioga EMAIL logo and Philip Ngessimo Mutaka


We investigate the syntax and semantics of the sociative causative in Kinande (D42), a Bantu language spoken in eastern DRC. We present our discovery that Kinande, apparently unique among Bantu languages, grammaticalizes this type of causation with a specialized morpheme. In sociative causatives, the causer causes through social interaction rather than physical manipulation (direct causation) or words (indirect causation). We propose sociative causation in Kinande more exactly means ‘y carries out a subevent of P to help x do P.’ Helping here is by doing and is not comitative: rather, it is partitive – each actor does part of the action. This accounts for the classes of verbs that can undergo sociative causation. We establish that the construction is mono-clausal and note that the sociative morpheme is closely related to the benefactive applied morpheme. A second extension that occurs in this construction marks transitivity. We observe that the transitive extension can co-occur with the passive extension which tells us there is more than one voice projection in Kinande. Finally, we look more closely at the partitive reading of the caused event and note that the partitivity can be morpho-syntactically manifested either through partitive marking of the object of the caused event or through partitive marking of the caused event itself.

Appendix A

The extended verb in Kinande: Extensions, in order (does not accurately capture co-occurrence restrictions between some morphemes) based on Mutaka and Safir (2007), Kinande: A grammar sketch

-ul--ik-is-ir-u- (pass)

-an- (rec)

-ik- (nt)
-i̹-a, e



utterance judged ungrammatical by native speaker


marginal utterance, with more question marks indicating increasing marginality


pragmatically strange utterance


singular person

1 … 19

noun class


discontinuous tense morpheme with phantom consonant (C)








external argument


final vowel
















past tense








subject marker


sociative causative


tense marker


transitive (short causative)


We and this paper benefitted from the contributions and insights of a number of people. We wish to thank Ken Safir for his comments and for his Afranaph project, whose workshops and support of the Kinande dictionary provided us with a first pass at understanding sociative causation. We are grateful to Marcel den Dikken for numerous insightful comments and illuminating discussion; to Larry Hyman for his careful reading of our paper and his edifying comments; and to Monica Alexandrina Irimia for her thoughtful and extensive comments in response to our paper. We also thank Sebastian Dom, Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, Claire Halpert, Jacky Katsuva, Sarah Ouwayda, Greg Scontras, and participants of the 47th Annual Conference of African Linguistics, as well as the anonymous reviewers at JALL. All mistakes are ours.


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Published Online: 2019-12-10
Published in Print: 2019-12-18

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