Article

Object marking in Swahili: Definiteness, specificity, or both?

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 38, issue 1, 2018, pages: 27–35
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2018.1429862
Author(s): Gerald Eliniongoze KimamboDepartment of Foreign Languages and Linguistics, Tanzania

Abstract

This article examines the role of object marking in relation to definiteness and specificity in Swahili. Object marking in general has attracted the attention of many scholars in the field of Bantu linguistics due to the complex nature of object markers (OMs) and varying functions they fulfil in Bantu. Opinions differ on the role of object marking in relation to the parametric variation of definiteness and specificity in Swahili. Consequently, further scrutiny is needed. This article therefore examines whether the Swahili OM denotes definiteness, specificity or both. It also examines whether the Swahili OM is obligatory or optional. A close examination of the Swahili data in this article provides evidence that the OM is obligatory for personal pronouns and proper human names – these elements being inherently definite. More importantly, the OM occurs with non-specific objects in definite contexts. Also, it does not occur with specific inanimate objects in indefinite contexts. It is thus argued that the OM is an agreement marker which does not denote specificity, but interacts with definite objects in Swahili.

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