Clause Chaining and Word Order in the Kiswahili Clause

  • Basilio Gichobi Mungania
  • Helga Schröder


Kiswahili has been presumed to be an SVO language by many scholars (Polome, 1967; Myachina, 1981; Vitale, 1981; Habwe & Karanja, 2004; Jerono 2012, etc.). However, a closer analysis of the Kiswahili clause tends to discount this widely held view. What are normally referred to as subjects and objects in Kiswahili are not subjects and objects per se but they may have other functions. The real subjects and objects in Kiswahili are the incorporated subjects and incorporated objects. This paper uses clause chaining to argue for the basic word order in Kiswahili as being V(O) and not SVO. Clause chaining is the process of linking together many clauses in which it is only the main (independent) clause that is inflected for tense, aspect and mood (TAM) while all the other (i.e. dependent) clauses lack these inflections. The dependent clauses cannot stand on their own but the main (independent) clauses can. The dependent clauses rely on the independent clauses for their tense or aspect and mood markers and hence the term used to refer to them, i.e. dependent clauses. The main clause, which controls the dependent clauses is normally referred to as the controlling clause. Clause chaining, a feature which is traditionally associated with SOV languages, is also found in Kiswahili clauses, a language usually referred to as an SVO language. In this paper, clause chaining, a pragmatic principle, is used to argue for pragmatic word order in Kiswahili as well as to illustrate that Kiswahili is not an SVO language but rather it is a V(O) language.

Abbreviations used: Aug = Augmentative, Ben = Benefactive, Cl = (noun) Class, Cond = Conditional, Conj = Conjunction, Dem = Demonstrative, Fv = Final vowel, Fut = Future (tense), Inf = Infinitive, Intens = Intensifier, Narr = Narrative, Neg = Negative, Pass = Passive, Perf = Perfect, Pl = Plural, Poss = Possessive, Prog = Progressive, Pron = Pronoun/Pronominal, Pst = Past, Rec = Reciprocal, Refl = Reflexive, Rel = Relative (pronoun), Sg = Singular, Simult = Simultaneous


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eISSN: 0023-1886