Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Wh- Questions in Shona

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

Wh- Questions in Shona

Article excerpt


This paper tries an explication of wh-questions, also referred to as interrogatives, in Shona. A number of languages, including English, French and Buli, just to mention a few, have been noted to deal with question words differently. Shona belongs to the Bantu family and there are also studies that have so far been carried out on wh-question in other African languages (Igbo, Swahili and Sisotho) but a snap investigation of Shona has revealed that it deals with this aspect differently. I shall argue in this paper that when it comes to questions and question formation Shona has wh-movement, wh- in situ and it also has an enclitic, which functions in the same way as the Chinese question particle 'ma.' This paper seeks to analyze movement in direct questions as well as embedded wh-questions. The nature and reasons for movement are dealt with in this discussion. The results of this study go against the generalizations that wh-movement is binary therefore rendering this proposition untenable.

Keywords: Wh-movement, Wh-in situ, Question formation, Embedded clause

1. Introduction

The term Shona is used to indicate a definite language cluster belonging to the Bantu family. According to Guthrie's (1967) zonal classification of Bantu languages it is indigenous to the people of Zimbabwe but is also found in certain clusters in neighbouring countries namely, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and also as far as Malawi. This is zone S10 in which Shona also share a number of features with other languages of like nature (Ikalanga in Botswana and also Tawara and Tewe in Mozambique). Typologically Shona is an agglutinative language, which means that it uses a complex system of rules to morphologically add affixes to a base form each with a distinct meaning. For example:

1) famba (walk)

2) famb-is-a (cause to walk)

3) a-famba (someone walked)

4) a-ka-famba Someone walked in the past)

It is also important to note that this language has rich agreement marking which is influenced by the Noun classification system. The nouns in Shona (and other Bantu languages) are classified into 21 classes and this is based principally on meaning, singular-plural combination and agreement. In sentences verbs and adjectives have to agree with class prefix of the relevant noun and each class has its own concords which are attached to other words for agreement. Class examples are given here showing their prefixes and the nouns they include;

5) Class 1: mu- mukadzi, murume, mukomana (woman, man, boy)

Class 2: va- vakadzi, varume, vakomana (women, men, boys)

6) Class 9: i- mbudzi, nyoka, imba (goat, snake, house)

Class 10: dzi- mbudzi, nyoka, dzimba (houses, snakes, houses)

In example 5, Class 1 and 2 are based on meaning of the words which are nouns referring to people. The prefixes have control over the agreement when these nouns are used in a sentence as below; (I will here stick to Agreement Marker (AM) rather than the traditional distinction of Subject Marker (SM) and Object Marker (OM) to avoid unnecessary confusion).

7) Mukadzi a - ka - on - a mombe.

1woman AM Pst-see TV 10cattle

'The woman saw cattle.'

8) Vakadzi va - ka - on - a mombe.

2women AM- Pst - see TV 10cattle

'The women saw cattle.'

The same is true for class 9/10 as shown in the example below;

9) Mbudzi ya - mw - a mvura.

9goat AM-drink-TV 9water

'The goat drank water.'

10) Mbudzi dza - nw - a mvura.

10goats AM-drink TV 9water

'The goats drank water.'

2. Wh-questions

A wh-question is basically a content question, as opposed to a 'yes/no' question. Borsley (1991) defines wh-question as a question involving a question word (or a wh-word) of some kind and required a more specific answer than just 'yes/no.' Radford (2004) notes that wh-questions or expressions are those that contain an interrogative word beginning with whlike what, which, where, when, who and why. …

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