The Morphological and Phonological Structure of Determiners in Lwitaxo

By Kevin Seitz and Caroline Smith

Indiana University

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Lwitaxo is a previously undocumented Bantu language spoken in Western Kenya.  Lwitaxo is one of 17 varieties of the Luyia language group.  For this study, we elicited data from a native speaker of Lwitaxo during approximately 75 individual and group sessions spanning four months.  From this data, we produced preliminary grammatical sketches of the entire language.  In this paper, we now analyze and draw conclusions about the morphological and phonological structures of determiners in Lwitaxo. 


We find that Lwitaxo, like other Bantu languages, has a noun class system.  Agreement prefixes in Lwitaxo are found on all adjectives, determiners, and verbs.  However, the agreement patterns found in determiners are somewhat unique from those found elsewhere in the language.


We examine both the proximal and distal demonstratives and identify a unique agreement structure of demonstratives compared to other noun modifiers in the language.  Demonstrative agreement is exceptional in that it is formed using a suffix, as opposed to a prefix.  In order to comply with the strongly preferred syllabic structure CVCV, the agreement marker becomes reversed from CV to VC.


We also examine the three possessive types (personal possessive adjectives, non-personal possessive adjectives, and noun-noun possession).  Second- and third-person singular personal possessive adjectives in particular provide interesting results.  In these forms, the prefix-root sequence is repeated.  Since reduplication is rare in Lwitaxo, and even more rare in cases without semantic relevance, this surface form is likely phonologically motivated.  We discuss the different analyses of this data, including the possibility that the root is in fact an illegal word-final long vowel, and the prefix is infixed to maintain the CVCV syllable structure. 


Both possessives and demonstratives can be examined both language-internally and cross-linguistically.  Six other Luyia languages have been documented to some extent, but there are no academic publications that specifically address determiners.  We compare our findings to two unpublished grammatical sketches that address determiners in the Luyia variety of Luwanga.  Lwitaxo has borrowed extensive vocabulary from the related kiSwahili language, in which determiners are well documented, and we compare our findings to that language.  We further compare our findings to another well-documented Bantu language, isiZulu.


The study of determiners in Lwitaxo is relevant to current linguistic work.  By looking at determiners alone, we can draw several interesting conclusions about the language as a whole.  The findings of this paper add to the inventory of our knowledge of Bantu languages, and of Luyia languages in particular, as Lwitaxo is previously undocumented.


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