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Swahili Loanwords in Gorwaa and Iraqw: Phonological and Morphological Observations

Andrew Harvey
Abel Yamwaka Mreta


When Swahili words are borrowed into Gorwaa and Iraqw, they are typically nativized according to a series of observable patterns. This work offers an account of how Swahili borrowings are integrated phonologically and morphologically into these languages. Phonologically, non-native phonemes are typically replaced by native sounds, which are featurally similar to the original Swahili phoneme, and where no such similar phoneme exists, the non-native sound is tolerated. In order to repair words whose etymon begins with a syllabic nasal, either a vowel is inserted to break up the cluster, or the initial nasal is deleted. Vowels are very often lengthened on the stressed (penultimate) syllable. Where Swahili words do not violate any phonological rule, they are adopted without change. Morphologically, borrowed verbs are assigned a verbal derivational ending to identify the forms as verbs. The gender system of Swahili differs markedly from Gorwaa and Iraqw, and, as such, every borrowed noun must be assigned a gender. Typically (but not always), this is done according to the phonetic form of the noun. Nouns ending in round vowels are assigned masculine gender and nouns ending in the front vowel are assigned feminine gender. Pluralizing forms whose base is singular, or singularizing forms whose base is plural are more complicated, with a series of weakly productive rules operating to assign number suffixes to base forms. This results in a high number of irregular forms.