Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences | Department of Asian and African Studies | Regional Departments | African Studies | Events | Upcoming Events | 22.11. Colloquium on African linguistics: Deriving S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X word orders (Kerr)

22.11. Colloquium on African linguistics: Deriving S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X word orders (Kerr)

“Deriving S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X word orders in Central/West Africa” - Talk by Elisabeth J. Kerr (Leiden University/Potsdam University) given within the colloquium of African linguistics and languages
  • When Nov 22, 2022 from 04:15 to 05:45
  • Where Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften, Invalidenstr. 118, room 410 & via Zoom
  • Contact Name Christfried Naumann (christfried.naumann (AT), please contact for Zoom access information)
  • iCal

The word order Subject‑Auxiliary‑Object‑Verb‑Other (S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X) is crosslinguistically rare (Dryer and Gensler 2005; Güldemann 2008), but is found in various languages of central and West Africa, including Mande languages (Claudi 1993; Nikitina 2011), Kru (Gensler 1994), the Senufo branch of Gur (Gensler 1994), and a handful of Benue‑Congo languages in Cameroon (Mous 2005). Despite all having S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X word order on the surface, it has been noted that there are differences between these languages in the properties of these word order patterns (see e.g. Gensler and Güldemann 2003). Examples of differences include the relation with TAM (TAM‑conditioned VO alternations vs S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X across the board), different placement of objects (only theme objects in the O slot vs all objects preverbal; differential placement of pronominals vs lexical objects conditioned by information structure), and the extent of head‑finality in the syntax (otherwise head‑initial vs truly head‑final). Further complications include the definitional criteria of the Aux slot and variation in placement of different types of adjuncts. This talk will first present an updated descriptive typology of S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X word order patterns in Africa, paying attention to the variables mentioned above. Next, I will show how these different types of S‑Aux‑O‑V‑X syntax can be derived through different formal derivations, providing the first formal analysis for S-Aux-O-V-X in Benue‑Congo on the basis of data from my fieldwork in Cameroon.


Claudi, U. (1993). Die Stellung von Verb und Objekt in Niger‑Kongo‑Sprachen: Ein Beitrag zur Rekonstruktion historischer Syntax. Universität zu Köln.

Dryer, M. S. and Gensler, O. (2005). Order of object, oblique, and verb. In Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil & Bernard Comrie (eds.), The world atlas of language structures, pages 342–345. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gensler, O. D. (1994). On reconstructing the syntagm S‑Aux‑O‑V‑Other to Proto‑Niger‑Congo. Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: Special Session on Historical Issues in African Linguistics, pages 1–20.

Gensler, O. D. and Güldemann, T. (2003). S‑Aux‑O‑V‑Other in Africa: Typological and areal perspective, Paper presented at the 4th World Congress of African Linguistics (WOCAL), Rutgers University, June 2003.

Güldemann, T. (2008). The Macro‑Sudan belt: Towards identifying a linguistic area in northern sub‑Saharan Africa. In A linguistic geography of Africa, pages 151–185. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mous, M. (2005). The innovative character of object‑verb word order in Nen (Bantu A44, Cameroon). Studies in African Comparative Linguistics with Special Focus on Bantu and Mande. Tervuren: MRAC, pages 411–24.

Nikitina, T. (2011). Categorial reanalysis and the origin of the S‑O‑V‑X word order in Mande. Journal of African Languages and Linguistics (JALL), 32:251–273.