, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 177-206,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The natural history of verb-stem reduplication in Bantu

Abstract

In this study I present a comparative and historical analysis of “frequentative” Bantu verb-stem reduplication, many of whose variants have been described for a number of Eastern and Southern Bantu languages. While some languages have full-stem compounding, where the stem consists of the verb root plus any and all suffixes, others restrict the reduplicant to two syllables. Two questions are addressed: (i) What was the original nature of reduplication in Proto-Bantu? (ii) What diachronic processes have led to the observed variation? I first consider evidence that the frequentative began as full-stem reduplication, which then became restricted either morphologically (by excluding inflectional and ultimately derivational suffixes) and/or phonologically (by imposing a bisyllabic maximum size constraint). I then turn to the opposite hypothesis and consider evidence and motivations for a conflicting tendency to rebuild full-stem reduplication from the partial reduplicant. I end by attempting to explain why the partial reduplicant is almost always preposed to the fuller base.