Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

The Basse Mandinka "Future"

Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

The Basse Mandinka "Future"

Article excerpt

The present paper provides a detailed analysis of the semantic content of the BE...LA formation found in the Basse Mandinka language. It demonstrates that the meaning of this locution corresponds to a complex set of various temporal, aspectual and modal senses: perfective and imperfective future, future perfect, future-in-the-past, intentional future, future with imperative and prohibitive nuances, real factuality as well as real and unreal counterfactuality. The semantic potential of the construction composed of all the atomic values is explained as a consistent whole, i.e., as a manifestation of three typologically plausible evolutionary scenarios: future predestination path, conditional path and modal contamination path.

1. Introduction Mandinka, a language widely spoken in Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau, is frequently classified as the westernmost variety of the Manding group (Wilson 2000:109) which, in turn, belongs to the Western branch of the Mande family (Kastenholz 1996:281, Vydrine et al. 2000 and Williamson et al. 2000). Manding, itself, includes various regional variants, such as, the above-mentioned Mandinka, Bambara, Malinké or Jaahanka. In 2006 Mandinka speakers numbered some 1,346,000, of whom 510,000 lived in Gambia (cf. Lewis 2009). The present paper deals with Gambian Mandinka, and as will be explained below, the variety of Basse. It examines the semantics of a Gambian Mandinka verbal construction, which is usually referred to as 'future tense/aspect'. In this study, however, a denomination that does not imply any semantic connotations will be employed. This alternative label, i.e., the BE...LA gram1, makes an exclusive reference to the form. The formation is composed of the non-verbal predicator (or locative copula) be 'be' (cf. Creissels 1983) followed by an infinitive of the main verb and the infinitive marker la 'to' (cf. 1.a). The unit la is sometimes analyzed as a postposition (cf. Mandinka English Dictionary 1995:100 and Colley 1995:15) or a locative element (Wilson 2000). Following Creissels (1983), we will understand it as an infinite marker. In accordance with the grammatical tradition of the analysis of the BE...LA form in Gambian Mandinka and respecting the official orthography of this language, the entity la in the BE...LA form will not be viewed as a suffix but will be glossed as an independent slot 'to'.

The negative variant of the analyzed construction employs the lexeme te 'not be' instead of the positive be (1.b). It should also be noted that with certain verbs, such as taa 'go' or naa 'come', alternative forms of the auxiliaries are commonly used, i.e. bi and ti (1.c). The relevant BE...LA forms (i.e. auxiliary be + infinitive of a meaning verb + postposition la) are rendered in bold here and elsewhere.

(1) a. Ì be a ke la2

they be it do to

'They will do it.'

b. A te a ke la

he not.be it do to

'He will not do it.'

c. Ntel bi naa la

we be come to

'We will come.'

The issue of the semantics of the BEcLA construction in Gambian Mandinka has not received adequate attention in the literature published thus far. The formation has been quite sketchily described in certain general . though still excellent . grammar books, and almost invariably classified as an expression of future activities. For instance, Rowlands (1959) and Creissels (1983) regard the gram as a future, being aware, however, of its continuous, modal and future-in-the-past uses (see also, Drame 2003). Hamlyn (1935) understands the construction as a contextual variety of the continuous aspect, a gram that functions both as a present and future. Also Gamble (1987) argues that the BEcLA formation expresses both continuous actions (approximating a present continuous) and future activities. Luck & Henderson (1993) and Mandinka Learning Manual (2002:17-18, 20) defines it as a "future aspect". The formation may introduce activities that are regarded as prospective from both the present (future tense) and past perfective (future in the past). …

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