South African Journal of African Languages

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The morphosyntactic status of zamu- and ku- in Malawian Tonga

Winfred Mkochi


Tonga is a language that is spoken in many Bantu communities. This paper, however, focuses on the Malawian Tonga, a southern Bantu language spoken mainly in Nkhata Bay, a lakeshore district in northern Malawi. The paper investigates the morphosyntactic status of the morpheme zamu- (commonly viewed as a future tense marker), and the morpheme ku- which is found only between zamu- and monosyllabic verb stems or vowel-initial verb stems or object markers in the distant future and not in any other verb tense/aspect (e.g. the simple past, the present perfect and the distant past verb formations) within the verbal morphosyntax. This type of ku- has been analysed previously as an epenthetic syllable [ku]. This paper makes three fresh suggestions: (1) that the distant future morpheme zamu- is an auxiliary verb, rather than a tense marker; (2) that the morpheme ku- is an infinitive marker, rather than an epenthetic syllable; and (3) that zamu- subcategorises for an infinitival complement, rather than it being selected for by ku-. The fact that ku- is an infinitive marker is supported by a number of factors. The suggested analysis also solves the problem of what appears to be bidirectional dependencies by ku-, which is untypical of affixes.
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