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Language Log

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006 - 9:20 a.m.

One of my favorite things to do with respect to my studies is to google words and phrases of interest in Swahili to see how people are using them. Every time I do this I discover something new (to me). 'kwisha', a verb meaning 'to finish' which has been grammaticalizing into an aspectual morpheme of completion these past 50 years or so, keeps popping up in combination with new tenses. First it was me+sha (perfective), then li+sha (past tense), then I saw a ki+sha (anaphoric progressive) and today I spotted a nge+sha (unreality marker). Wow!

Also people have always said that you couldn't put ki- on the first verb of the compound tense construction, because it has no inherent tense refrence. Yet yesterday I saw something like, "nikikuwa nimekaa". Awesome. It is predicted by my hypothesis, btw.

I feel like an entomologist in the Amazon. This is the fun part.

Only then you have to formalize it all and test the hypothesis and then say something of general interest about it, which is where I seem to have trouble getting my act together.

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