A Comparative Analysis of Kiswahili and Echijita Noun Classes

  • JS Mdee
Keywords: Kiswahili, Echijita, noun classes, Tanzania.


Kiswahili and Echijita are both Bantu languages spoken in Tanzania. Kiswahili is essentially a language of coastal people of East Africa although today it is widely spoken in East and Central Africa. Echijita on the other hand is a language spoken by the Jita who leave in Mara region of Tanzania along the eastern shores of lake Victoria in what is called Musoma rural. The lexical items of these languages are cognates, that is they are derived from the same origin. With the passage of time, each has developed differently, either by acquiring new features specific to itself or losing some linguistic features which they had initially shared. This difference is remarkable in their lexical items. Syntactically both languages have remained the same. Kiswahili and Echijita as Bantu languages exhibit grammatical characteristic which is shared by all Bantu languages, namely the extensive use of prefixesin nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and demonstratives. Each noun belongs to a class, and each language may have about ten classes all together. Because the objective of our paper was to compare the noun classes of these two languages, we examined the morphology and morphosyntax of both languages in order to collect data for our discussion. An examination of the morphology of the languages, provided us with nouns which were categorized into different noun classes. Morpho-syntactic information gave us syntactic relations of the nouns and other lexical categories in a construction namely their relationship with the adjectives or locatives and verbs through concordial agreements. Suffice to say that in all Bantu languages a noun that appears as a subject in a construction controls all elements in the sentence which are syntactically related to it through prefixes attached to them as concords. An examination of the nouns of these languages reveals the following characteristics: (i) Every noun belongs to a class. (ii) The class is indicated by a prefix on the noun. (iv) Plural is indicated by a change of prefix of a singular noun. The singular or plural prefix of a noun is a class marker for that noun, hence singular and plural forms constitute different noun classes. (v) A noun class marker is always attached to an adjective or locative where they all appear in a construction. (vi) The verb in a construction has a pronominal prefix which represents the subject in the verb. The pronominal prefix is sometimes referred to as subject prefix. Although both languages have the above morphological features, Echijita has affixes attached to the nominal prefixes of the nouns commonly known as pre-prefixes. Kiswahili does not have the pre-prefix feature. With an exception of the kinship terms which both languages have zero prefix for such nouns, Echijita has prefixes for all other noun classes while Kiswahili has zero prefixes in noun classes 9 and 10 as well. Both languages share common features for NC1 - NC 10 except that in some  prefixes, the two languages exhibit different forms of the same item. For example NC2 is wa- in Kiswahili but bha-in Echijita. The same for ki- and chi-, vi- and bhi-, u- and  lu-Whereas NC 15 is essentially a class of infinitives in both languages Echijita includes also body parts such as –o-ku-bhoko (hand) and o-ku-gu (leg). Since preprefix is a feature in both nouns and verbs in Echijita, this feature is also found in Echijita infinitives, e.g. o-ku-bhooja – ku-okota ‘picking’; o-ku-bhúsya –ku-uliza ‘asking’. One remarkable feature which distinguishes the two languages is the absence of NC12/13 in Kiswahili which is vividly observable in Echijita. This is a dimunitive prefix found in many Bantu languages. Kiswahili uses NC7/8 prefixes to express diminutive sense. Semantically NC1 and NC2 in Kiswahili constitute nouns denoting animates (humans inclusive) because all the nouns share same concords although the kinship terms lack the NC prefix. Echijita has similar feature for NC1 nouns but has NC2 prefix for its kinship terms. Moreover Echijita has NC 9 and NC10 predominantly class for animates excluding humans.

Key words: Kiswahili, Echijita, noun classes, Tanzania.


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eISSN: 0856-6739