Prosody and the disjoint alternation in Tshivenda


Tshivenda (Bantu, Guthrie S21) is similar to other Southern Bantu languages in displaying the conjoint / disjoint alternation: The simple present / habitual is expressed either with the prefix /a-/ or with a bare verb stem. While in related languages (e.g. Zulu, Hapert 2016) these two forms are in complementary distribution based on the syntactic environment, in Tshivenda I will show they show an interesting three-way distribution depending on the post-verbal material: The prefix /a-/ is obligatory in some contexts, impossible in others, and optional elsewhere. Strikingly, the same three-way split turns up in the distribution of penultimate lengthening. Penultimate lengthening is a prosodic phenomenon common to many of the Bantu languages which causes the penult of some prosodic unit to be lengthened; this unit is typically taken to be the intonational phrase (Hyman 2009). I will present the results of a production experiment showing that in Tshivenda sentence-internal penult lengthening occurs variably and shows a three-way split: In some syntactic contexts it shows frequent lengthening; in others, infrequent; and in still others, no lengthening at all. The syntactic contexts which condition this distribution are the same as those that condition the conjoint / disjoint alternation. I will present an analysis of the Venda conjoint / disjoint alternation whereby the disjoint prefix appears exactly when the verb is last in an intonational phrase. Based on the distribution of penultimate lengthening, I argue that Tshivenda shows variability in both the prosodic structure itself and in the marking of that structure; the variability in the structure itself accounts for the contexts in which either conjoint or disjoint form is available.

Presented at the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics, held at the University of California, Berkeley.