Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 265–308 | Cite as

Auxiliary vs INFL in Bantu

The syntactic and phonological complexity of Ndebele verbs
  • Asia PietraszkoEmail author


A distinctive property of Bantu verbs is the division into two domains: a cluster of inflectional prefixes (infl) and a lexical verb stem. This claim has been supported by a range of multidomain effects which single out infl as an independent constituent. Such effects led to the hypothesis that infl in Bantu is of the same category as auxiliary verbs found in auxiliary–participle constructions. This paper investigates syntactic, morphological and phonological complexity effects in Northern Ndebele verbs and concludes that infl in this language cannot be treated as a type of auxiliary. This conclusion is reached through a detailed comparison of infl and verbal auxiliaries, revealing striking asymmetries, syntactic and phonological, between the two. The autonomy of infl is argued to be a reflex of how verbal morphology is organized into complex heads in Bantu languages.


Bantu Syntax Morphology Phonology Compound tenses Ndebele 



For valuable comments and discussion I would like to thank Karlos Arregi, Laura Downing, John Goldsmith, Brent Henderson, Deo Ngonyani, Galen Sibanda, Alan Yu and two anonymous NLLT reviewers. I am especially grateful to my Ndebele consultants: Lily Dubé, Galen Sibanda and Nkululeko Sibanda, and the University of Chicago Rella Cohn Fund donors for supporting this research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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