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Language Log

Monday, Apr. 03, 2006 - 2:02 p.m.

Now, let's talk about object agreement in Swahili. I was taught that it's a)obligatory for animate objects, optional for non-animate objects, and b) corresponds to definiteness in English.

Now, today I emailed mwalimu and was all like, "okay, so haw do you say 'the student read the article for an hour'? and how about, 'she read the article in an hour'?" The answers? Nearly identical, except the 'in an hour' version (telic!) was marked with the object on the verb, while the 'for an hour' (atelic!)one wasn't. No, there were no differences in the prepositions used.

Telicity in English is mainly signalled by the direct object-- singular objects and definite plurals are telic, mass nouns and bare plurals, atelic. Roughly speaking. So it's no wonder the Sw. textbook writers just called linked the object marking up to definiteness and left it at that.

*small dim light blinks on in head*

Not that that's ALL the object marking does, of course. But still. It was cool to see such a clear demonstration of the fact that there's more to it than definiteness. Frankly, I have yet to be convinced that it has ANYTHING to do with definiteness. Swahili textbooks are, generally speaking, full of it.

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