Morphology is the study of morphemes, the smallest units of language that carry meaning. The word morphology itself contains 2 morphemes: morph (‘form’) + ology (‘science of’). Processes of word formation, word derivation, and inflection all fall under the scope of morphology. What is most striking about morphology from a comparative linguistic perspective is that human languages use dramatically different formal devices to solve some of the same conceptual needs. For example, some languages use prefixes to form plurals while others use suffixes.
The linguistic analysis and material featured here was developed by Debra Spitulnik Vidali and Mubanga E. Kashoki. How to cite this page.
Bemba, like most Bantu languages, has a very elaborate noun class system which involves pluralization patterns, agreement marking, and patterns of pronominal reference (Spitulnik 1987, 1988). There are 20 different classes in Bemba: 15 basic classes, 2 subclasses, and 3 locative classes. Each noun class is indicated by a class prefix (typically VCV-, VC-, or V-) and the co-occurring agreement markers on adjectives, numerals and verbs.
he/she- just arrived
|‘one good person has just arrived’|
|‘three good people have just arrived|
|‘three good trees are growing’|
The noun consists of a class prefix and a stem: umú-ntú ‘person’ (Class 1), abá-ntú ‘people’ (Class 2). Noun classes have some semantic content, and there are regular patterns of singular/plural pairing and non-count classes (Spitulnik 1987, 1988). Class 1/2 nouns denote human beings; Class 3/4 nouns tend to be animate, agentive, or plant-like (úmu-tí ‘tree’, ími-tí ‘trees’); and Class 9/10 nouns represent wild animals (ín-kalamo ‘lion’, ín-kalamo ‘lions’). Things that occur in pairs or multiples are denoted by Class 5/6 nouns (i-lúbá ‘flower’, amá-lúbá ‘flowers’); nouns for long objects are in Class 11/10 (úlu-séngó ‘horn’, ín-sengo ‘horns’); and diminutives are in Class 12/13 (aká-ntú ‘small thing’, utú-ntú ‘small things’). Class 7/8 is the general class for inanimate nouns (icí-ntú ‘thing’, ifí-ntú ‘things’) and also augmentatives; abstract nouns occur in Class 14 (ubú-ntú ‘humanity’); and verbal infinitives occur in Class 15 (úku-lyá ‘eating, to eat’).
Some class prefixes have a derivational semantic function; they either replace the basic class prefix or occur as a secondary prefix on the noun form. The locative class prefixes function in an analogous manner.
The Bemba verb has the following basic structure:
Subject Marker + Tense/Aspect/Mood Marker + Object Marker + Verb Root + Extension + Final Vowel + Suffixes
The only obligatory morphemes are the subject marker (except in imperatives), the root, and the final vowel. The final vowel (indicated as FV) marks tense and/or mood, and sometimes co-varies with the preceding tense marker. Some past tense forms are represented by –ile or a modified root instead of a single FV. Bemba distinguishes numerous different tenses on the verb form, including: Today Past, Recent Past, Remote Past, Present, Today Future, Later Future.
|‘I found it (today)’
(‘it = Class 7; e.g. icípé ‘basket’)
|‘I am finding/looking for it’
I will find it (today)’
|‘I found it (a long time ago)’|
For more on Bemba grammar, click here.
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