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Journal of African Languages and Linguistics

Ed. by Ameka, Felix K. / Amha, Azeb

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Volume 32, Issue 2 (Jan 2011)


Categorial reanalysis and the origin of the S-O-V-X word order in Mande

Tatiana Nikitina
  • Freie Universität Berlin
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Published Online: 2011-11-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jall.2011.009


Mande languages are characterized by a typologically unusual rigid S-O-V-X word order pattern, and do not fit neatly into the traditional category of “verb-final” languages. While subjects and objects precede the verb, all oblique arguments and adjuncts follow it. Several diachronic hypotheses have been advanced to account for the word order type of Mande (Givón, Serial verbs and syntactic change: Niger-Congo, University of Texas Press, 1975, Heine and Reh, Grammaticalization and reanalysis in African languages, Helmut Buske, 1984, Claudi, Die Stellung von Verb und Objekt in Niger-Kongo-Sprachen: Ein Beitrag zur Rekonstruktion historischer Syntax, Universität zu Köln, 1993), none of which are fully satisfactory. This paper discusses new evidence from the syntax of modern Mande languages that may shed light on the historical development of the S-O-V-X word order. I argue, based on the unusual behavior of Mande postpositional phrases, that the development of S-O-V-X was a consequence of categorial reanalysis of constructions with deverbal nouns as verb phrases, with subsequent replacement of the older type of verb phrase by the newly introduced structure. The analysis is supported by a number of characteristic parallels between the syntax of Mande verb phrases and noun phrases, such as the absence, in some languages, of both verb-phrase-internal and noun-phrase-internal postpositional phrases, the absence of the genitive vs. accusative distinction, and identical restrictions on the number of complements of nouns and verbs.

About the article

Published Online: 2011-11-22

Published in Print: 2011-09-01

Citation Information: Journal of African Languages and Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-3811, ISSN (Print) 0167-6164, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jall.2011.009. Export Citation

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