South African Journal of African Languages

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Merger of noun classes 3 and 1: A case study with bilingual isiXhosa-speaking youth

Tessa Dowling, Somikazi Deyi, Emma Whitelaw


Class reduction (the loss of a noun class) in Southern Bantu languages is an acknowledged but under-researched phenomenon. A recent study of isiXhosa concords suggests an incipient merger of noun classes 11 and 5, but no research to date has examined other possible concord mergers or concord flux in the language. This study focuses on the speech of bilingual isiXhosa-speaking youth in urban areas of Cape Town and the extent to which they fail to use the concords generally associated with class 3, preferring instead to adopt those of class 1. We make use of questionnaires eliciting class 3 responses, transcriptions of natural dialogues on a topic in which a class 3 noun dominates, and examples from social media. Findings suggest that the use of class 1 concords for class 3 is becoming a widespread phenomenon for urban speakers of isiXhosa.

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