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Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Antidisestablishmentarianism

July 26, 2013

We have a new candidate for longest Nsenga word in the NT:

venzevikaliyokonkhololewa (25 letters)

It means, roughly, “the things which have not yet been set out in order.”

It comes from Titus 1:5 – “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished…”

The morphemes break down thusly:

  • v- the subject-agreement marker
  • enze- the past-continuous tense marker
  • vika- another subject-agreement marker (I’ll admit I’m not exactly sure about this one yet. It’s rather rare. It definitely shows subject agreement, since it changes for noun-class, but it might also have another function.)
  • liyo- the “never/not yet” aspect marker
  • konkholol – the stem, meaning “set in order” or “explain”
  • -ew – the passivizing morpheme
  • -a – the final vowel, marking realis mood

The second-place finisher, as of now, is:

angakusimikizyilenilini (23 letters)

Which means, roughly, “they can not confirm it to you” (from Acts 24:13).

The morphemes:

  • a- the subject-agreement marker (a portmanteau morpheme which also shows tense)
  • nga- the “can” or “potentiality” aspect marker
  • ku-…-ni – the 2nd person plural object circumfix
  • simikizy – the stem, meaning “prove” or “confirm”
  • -il – the applicative suffix, which adds another argument to the verb (like an indirect object, roughly meaning “for someone’s else’s benefit”)
  • -e – the final vowel, marking irrealis mood
  • -ni – the other half of the 2nd person plural object circumfix
  • -lini – the simple negative suffix “not”

Even an apparently simple word like munipa ‘you give me’ is made up of four different morphemes:

  • mu- 2nd plural subject marker (also shows tense)
  • ni- 1st singular object marker
  • p – stem, meaning “give”
  • a – final vowel

This is why Nsenga (and other Bantu languages) are called “agglutinative.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Lawrenz permalink
    July 26, 2013 10:50 am

    Friday, July 26, 2013.

    Dear Chris,

    I have always been fascinated by the agglutinative nature of the Bantu languages. That’s why I found in interesting the way you broke up that long word, venzevikaliyokonkhololewa, and explained its parts.

    However . . .

    I suspect that an inner part may not be –kaliyo-, but rather, –kuliyo-.”

    I’ll explain.

    If it is –kuliyo-, it is a shortening of “kuliye ku” followed by the verb root. I am familiar with this because of an experience I had, which to most people would be boring linguistics, but perhaps not to you.

    But instead of –kuliyo- as I claim, it very well might be –kaliyo-, as you wrote,which would mean it is a shortening of “kaliye ku” followed by the verb root.

    Here’s the story.

    When I was in my first two or three years in Zambia, I had learned the structure and inner workings of Chewa. Then I set out to learn Lusaka Nyanja. One day I with with Rev. Bismark Kalyobwe. He was at that time a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute we used to have in Chelstone, Lusaka, and he was working with me at St. Mark’s of Kapete, east of Chongwe in the Chongwe District.

    I remember where we were when this experience took place. We were in my truck in Chongwe passing some buildings in that town.

    I asked Kalyobwe how a person says in Lusaka Nyanja, “the door is shut.” He said door as do (sounding like doh), which is typical of Lusaka speech. The whole expression was “Do iliyoseguka.” (-seguka means to be open, but in Chewa is written and pronounced as –tseguka.) It made no sense to me that “iliyoseguka” meant the door is shut because in Chewa that would have something to do with the door being open.

    I kept this mystery in mind for a long time, longer than ten years, as I was always trying to figure out that expression linguistically, but never to my satisfaction. No one could explain it to me. It was only when I read the Chinsenga grammar that I understood what it was and how it truly meant that the door was shut. The expression was Lusaka Nyanja using Chinsenga.

    (Chinsenga is very much a part of Lusaka Nyanja.)

    As I related above, –kaliyo- is a shortening of -kaliye ku- (unless it is actually –kuliyo- at which time it is a shortening of -kuliye ku-.)

    Kuliye in Chinsenga is kulibe in Chewa. You have it right when you wrote that –liyo- is “the ‘never/not yet’ aspect marker.”

    So, when Kalyobwe said that “Do iliyoseguka” meant “the door is shut,” literally it meant, “The door is not open.”

    You wrote that –vika- is the subject agreement marker and –liyo- is the never/not yet aspect marker. Rather, I would say -vi- is the subject agreement marker and -kaliyo- is the never/not yet aspect marker.

    As for –vi-, that is –zi- in Chewa. Vi is used in Chitumbuka and may have come from that language into Chinsenga, or maybe the other way around. Sometimes in Lusaka I would hear people say vinthu vonse (all things) which is zinthu zonse in Chewa. I even spoke that way at times.

    Okay, I thought this might all be of interest to you, especially if you check to see if the particle is not –kaliyo- but rather is –kuliyo-. I could be right or I could be wrong, but I do know for sure that –liyo- is a shortening of –liye ku-.

    If you ask Nsenga people if it is ka or ku, they may not know. Many people aren’t sure of the grammar and workings of their own language. They just speak it. They can’t explain the inner working of their language just as for more than ten years I could not find anyone who could explain “do iliyoseguka” to me. You would have to ask a real expert. You can also check up on this in that circa 1928 grammar of Chinsenga written by Mr. Sydney Ranger. (I think his first name is Sydney.) I know you have that grammar. It’s the one that twice I read through carefully.

    The shortening of –liyeku- to –liyo- is reminiscent of Chewa where “chitseko chotsekedwa” (door closed) is a shortening of “chitseko chakutsekedwa.”

    Oh, here’s something else that only a linguist like you can appreciate.

    The long word you explained uses –ew- as a passivizing morpheme, as you correctly wrote. In Chewa -ew- becomes -edw-. It is just one of several examples for why Lusaka Nyanja is called “Light Nyanja.” The Lusaka tongue is not light in the sense of easy. It is light in the sense that its letters are not strongly pronounced as is the case with Chewa. This is especially where Chinsenga has changed the Lusaka language. Other examples are s for ts and na and ni for nda and ndi.

    When I first learned Chewa, I found Lusaka Nyanja difficult to understand because it was as if Lusaka speakers didn’t want to enunciate. Compared to Chewa, it was like they were mumbling.

    Chinsenga is “light.”

    Steve Lawrenz, Blantyre, Malawi

  2. July 26, 2013 11:34 am

    Steve, that’s a fascinating hypothesis-explanation for the origin of the prefix -aliyo- (It’s definitely kaliyo-, by the way. That’s how it’s spelt now, whatever the origin. But vowels tend to be flexible and subject to harmonization, especially when the morpheme ceases to be its own word and becomes an affix.)

    Anyway,I had never made the connection with paliye / kuliye / etc. before, but of course it makes sense. Like I wrote, I am sketchy on the vika- vs vi- issue — as in, I wasn’t sure where if the ka went with vika- or with kaliyo-, but now I have a better guess. There are other “liyo-” words without the ka-, like muliyofwane ‘you never found’, niliyopasa ‘I never gave’ — but of course, that would be “muliye” or “niliye” + the verb stem, which is why you don’t consistently find a ka- with all of the -liyo- words. Thanks for the tip! I will adjust my analysis in my grammar work.

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