Article published in:Development of tense and aspect systems
Edited by Jadranka Gvozdanović
[Journal of Historical Linguistics 10:2] 2020
► pp. 251–288
Kisikongo (Bantu, H16a) present-future isomorphism
A diachronic conspiracy between semantics and phonology
The North-Angolan Bantu language Kisikongo has a present tense (Ø-R-ang-a; R = root) that is morphologically more marked than the future tense (Ø-R-a). We reconstruct how this typologically uncommon tense-marking feature came about by drawing on both historical and comparative evidence. Our diachronic corpus covers four centuries that can be subdivided in three periods, viz. (1) mid-17th, (2) late-19th/early-20th, and (3) late-20th/early-21st centuries. The comparative data stem from several present-day languages of the “Kikongo Language Cluster.” We show that mid-17th century Kisikongo had three distinct constructions: Ø-R-a (with present progressive, habitual and generic meaning), Ø-R-ang-a (with present habitual meaning), and ku-R-a (with future meaning). By the end of the 19th century the last construction is no longer attested, and both present and future time reference are expressed by a segmentally identical construction, namely Ø-R-a. We argue that two seemingly independent but possibly interacting diachronic evolutions conspired towards such present-future isomorphism: (1) the semantic extension of an original present-tense construction from present to future leading to polysemy, and (2) the loss of the future prefix ku-, as part of a broader phenomenon of prefix reduction, inducing homonymy. To resolve the ambiguity, the Ø-R-ang-a construction evolved into the main present-tense construction.
Keywords: Bantu, Kikongo Language Cluster, Kisikongo, historical corpus linguistics, tense-aspect, present-future isomorphism
Published online: 21 August 2020
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