Subject marking, object-verb order and focus in Mbuun (Bantu, B87)

  • Koen Bostoen
  • Leon Mundeke


In this paper it is demonstrated that the marking of argument focus in Mbuun (B87), a western Bantu language from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), relies on syntactic and morphological devices that deviate from common tendencies reported in eastern and southern Bantu languages. Focalising a non-verbal constituent in Mbuun obligatorily involves deviations from the canonical SVO order. A focused object is fronted immediately before the verb in Mbuun, resulting in a SOV word order, which runs counter to the narrow focus site immediately after the verb in many other Bantu languages. The object also moves in Mbuun when other non-verbal clause constituents are focused. Both subjects and oblique arguments are focused in situ but their focalisation triggers a movement of the object to clause-initial position resulting in OSV. Morphologically speaking, Mbuun argument focus is peculiar, because it involves a Class 1 á- versus ká- allomorphy in the verbal subject-concord slot, which co-varies not only with focus, but also with tense/aspect. This morphological focus device has not been reported in eastern and southern Bantu, where the so-called ‘conjoint/disjoint’ distinction in the Tense-Aspect-Mood (TAM) slot is more common. It is, however, a wider western Bantu feature, which may have its origin in an identification copula.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2012, 30(2): 139–154

Author Biographies

Koen Bostoen
KongoKing Research Group, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University/Université libre de Bruxelles, Rozier 44, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
Leon Mundeke
Centre de Linguistique Théorique et Appliquée BP 4956, Kinshasa-Gombe, DR Congo

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614