Morphology in Niger-Congo Languages
- Denis CreisselsDenis CreisselsDynamics of Language, Université Lumière Lyon 2
This chapter is an overview of the structure of words belonging to the major lexical categories (nouns and verbs) in Niger-Congo languages, with an emphasis on the morphological patterns typically found in the core Niger-Congo languages commonly considered as relatively conservative in their morphology: rich systems of verb morphology, both inflectional and derivational, and systems of gender-number marking with a relative high number of genders, and no possibility to isolate number marking from gender marking. As regards formal aspects of the structure of words, as a rule, verb forms are morphologically more complex than nominal forms. The highest degree of synthesis is found in the verbal morphology of some Bantu languages. Both prefixes and suffixes are found. Cumulative exponence is typically found in gender-number marking. Multiple exponence is very common in the verbal morphology of Bantu language but rather uncommon in the remainder of Niger-Congo. Consonant alternations are common in several groups of Niger-Congo languages, and various types of tonal alternations play an important role in the morphology of many Niger-Congo languages. The categories most commonly expressed in the inflectional morphology of nouns are gender, number, definiteness, and possession. The inflectional morphology of verbs commonly expresses agreement, TAM, and polarity, and is also widely used to express interclausal dependencies and information structure. As regards word formation, the situation is not uniform across the language groups included in Niger-Congo, but rich systems of verb-to-verb derivation are typically found in the Niger-Congo languages whose morphological patterns are commonly viewed as conservative.