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Morphosyntactic variation in the dialects of Xhosa

The research project is funded by the Swedish Research Council

Researcher: Eva-Marie Bloom Ström

Period: 2014-2017

This project is a survey of linguistic variation in the dialect cluster of Xhosa, a Bantu language of South Africa; one of the very first morpho-syntactic surveys of a dialect continuum in any Bantu language. The standard variety of Xhosa is – for historical reasons – based on three dialects in Eastern Cape. The standard often differs considerably from the variety spoken in the home, as identified by researchers at Rhodes University trying to address the linguistic reasons behind low scores on foundation phase literacy in South Africa. However, publications on these differences are scarce and outdated.

The aim of the study is to fill this knowledge gap by means of a study of morpho-syntactic variation in the area of Eastern Cape. This means that it will not focus on phonology or lexicon. The reason for this is that the existing literature on variation gives us some information on just that, but not on grammar. Moreover, initial fieldwork for this project has not revealed the same phonological differences as those reported. Maybe such differences have lost in significance?

Xhosa is not only spoken in the Eastern Cape but it is at the heart of the language and culture of Xhosa speakers, and it was necessary to limit the scope of the project geographically. Moreover, it is not possible to cover all aspects of grammar. The project focuses on certain grammatical constructions like relative clause formation, the expression of focus and the so-called temporal mood; areas where variation is expected. The selection is furthermore based on the expertise and research interests of the researcher as well as of researchers in the host institutions.

Rhodes University, the outgoing host of this project, is situated in Grahamstown in the heartland of the Xhosa speaking area where fieldwork will be carried out. Research in the official languages of South Africa is crucial for an inclusive and democratic language policy, in order to implement the ambitious selection of 11 official languages in this young democracy.

Page Manager: Annika Andersson|Last update: 6/7/2016
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