25.2854, Diss: Swahili; Computational Ling, Pragmatics, Text/Corpus Ling: Mwamzandi: 'Swahili Word Order Choices...'

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LINGUIST List: Vol-25-2854. Mon Jul 07 2014. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 25.2854, Diss: Swahili; Computational Ling, Pragmatics, Text/Corpus Ling: Mwamzandi: 'Swahili Word Order Choices...'

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Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2014 21:13:32
From: Mohamed Mwamzandi [mohamed.mwamzandi at mavs.uta.edu]
Subject: Swahili Word Order Choices: Insights from Information Structure

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Institution: University of Texas at Arlington 
Program: PhD in Linguistics 
Dissertation Status: Completed 
Degree Date: 2014 

Author: Mohamed Yusuf Mwamzandi

Dissertation Title: Swahili Word Order Choices: Insights from Information

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
                     Text/Corpus Linguistics

Subject Language(s): Swahili (swh)

Dissertation Director(s):
Laurel Smith Stvan
Joseph Sabbagh
Jeffrey Witzel
Jason Kandybowicz

Dissertation Abstract:

In pragmatics, cross-linguistics studies have shown non-canonical 
word order can often be explained if information structure is taken into 
consideration. In this dissertation, I explore the role of information 
structure on word order variation in Swahili, an SVO language 
belonging to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo languages. In 
particular, I explore how the notion of topic may explain word order 
variation in adnominal demonstratives phrases and reciprocal 
constructions, as informed by a corpus-based analysis. The term 
‘adnominal demonstrative’ is used to distinguish pronominal 
demonstratives such as huyu ‘this’ from demonstratives that co-occur 
with nouns such as huyu mtu ‘this person’. Aside from a brief mentions 
(Ashton 1944; Givon 1976; Leonardo 1985, 1987; Wilt 1987; Carstens 
1991, 1998), the pragmatic function and syntactic position of 
adnominal demonstratives have not yet been investigated in Swahili via 
corpus analysis. Another instance where word order variation rests on 
information structure is that of Swahili Discontinuous Reciprocal (DR), 
and the Simple Reciprocal (SR). While other studies have discussed 
the DR as a syntactic derivative of the SR (Vitale 1981); or the DR as a 
syntactic strategy to resolve unbalanced coordination (Mchombo and 
Ngalande 1980, Mchombo 1993); or the DR and SR as distinct 
structures that are underivable from each other (Seidl & Dimitriadis 
2002), I argue that the variation is motivated by the principle of 
givenness which requires familiar information to come first in a 
sentence before new information. Though these constructions present 
word order variation that warrants an explanation, they have received 
little attention in information structure studies.
Class 1 (animate nouns) adnominal demonstratives from the Helsinki 
Corpus of Swahili are examined in the two attested word orders: 
NP+DEM and DEM+NP. Statistical analysis of the dataset indicated 
that the NP+DEM order was more frequently used if the topic was 
active (used in previous sentence), p<0.001, while the DEM+NP order 
was more frequently used if the topic was semiactive or inactive 
(referents within the utterance situation or after topic shift in texts), 
Corpus examples from two distinct verb categories, namely 
conversation and “marry” verbs (Levin 1993), were analyzed to 
investigate the effect of givenness and verb category on reciprocal 
variation. To complement the tokens found in the corpus, I also set 
about eliciting native speaker judgments on controlled sets of 
grammatical constructions using questionnaires administered via the 
DMDX software. The corpus and accessibility ratings results indicated 
that givenness, rather than verb category, is the main predictor of 
Swahili reciprocal variation.
As mentioned above this study addressed Swahili reciprocal and 
adnominal demonstrative word order variation, which to the best of my 
knowledge have not been analyzed under the auspices of information 
structure, or approached via corpus analysis. This research will be of 
interest to those studying information structure, deixis, reciprocals, and 
syntax. Further, the results of this study will help those interested in 
Swahili grammar such as Swahili language instructors and Swahili 
second language learners understand the different pragmatic value of 
these constructions.

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