Phasal Polarity in Swahili

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för filosofi, lingvistik och vetenskapsteori

Abstract: This scope of this essay is to investigate and systematically describe a set of linguistic items in Swahili expressing Phasal Polarity (PhP), i.e. the notions of ‘NOT YET’, ‘ALREADY, ‘STILL’, and ‘NO LONGER’. An extensive background chapter explains the theory behind PhP and how these four concepts encode phasal values, polarity values and speaker expectations. Moreover, it provides a comprehensive framework, adopted from Kramer (2017), on how to systematically map and categorize PhP. To collect the data necessary for the study, a survey was created and conducted with the participation of native Swahili speakers. The data was then analyzed using the provided framework and compared to other Bantu languages, based on existing data provided by Löfgren (2019). This framework and the collected data were used to clarify a common misconception regarding the ja- prefix in Swahili: although it has been described as a ‘not-yet tense’, it cannot be considered a PhP expression for NOT YET. Noteworthy findings were made particularly in relation to the concept of ALREADY, where several different PhP items were identified, some of which sensitive to speaker expectations and different categories of tense and aspect. The results further showed indications of Swahili somewhat deviating from what the most common PhP structures look like in other Bantu languages, mainly that Swahili has formally encoded expressions for all four concepts, that the morphological statuses of the expressions mainly were adverbs, borrowed from Arabic, and that the semantic relations between the different concepts were structured through internal negation.

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