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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

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Volume 53, Issue 1 (Jan 2015)


How ‘person’ got into focus: Grammaticalization of clefts in Lingala and Kikongo areas

Jenneke van der Wal
  • Corresponding author
  • Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DA, United Kingdom
  • Email:
/ Jacky Maniacky
  • Royal Museum for Central Africa, Leuvensesteenweg 13, 3080 Tervuren, Belgium
  • Email:
Published Online: 2014-12-24 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2014-0033


In several Bantu languages in the regions where Kikongo and Lingala are spoken, we encounter sentences where the word ‘person’ can appear after the subject of a canonical SVO sentence, resulting in a focused interpretation of the subject. Synchronically, we analyze this as a monoclausal focus construction with moto ‘person’ as a focus marker. Diachronically, we argue, the construction derives from a biclausal cleft, where moto functioned as the head noun of the relative clause. This is a crosslinguistically rare but plausible development. The different languages studied in this paper show variation in the properties indicative of the status of the ‘moto construction’, which reflects the different stages of grammaticalization. Finally, we show how contact-induced grammaticalization is a likely factor in the development of moto as a focus marker.

Keywords: focus; cleft; Lingala; Kikongo; Bantu; grammaticalization

About the article

Published Online: 2014-12-24

Published in Print: 2015-01-01

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2014-0033. Export Citation

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