Niger-Congo linguistic features and typology


In this chapter, we will outline the major phonological, morphological, and syntactic properties of Niger-Congo, paying attention especially to areas of particular typological interest. We will start by discussing two problems: (i) disagreement over what is Niger-Congo; (ii) linguistic features are rarely limited to Niger-Congo (except perhaps noun classes). Our attention will be particularly on the following topics: (i) Consonant systems, usual and unusual systems, e.g. implosives, labiovelars; (ii) vowel systems, especially ATR and nasal contrasts on vowels; (iii) tone and accent: systems of varying degrees of complexity with respect to inventory, rules etc.; (iv) syllable, stem and word structure: open vs. closed syllables, consonant clusters, stem-initial prominence, syllable minima and maxima, distributional constraints, prefixes vs. suffixes; (v) noun classes: are they unique to Niger-Congo? (vi) verb extensions: variation across subgroups, different functions (valence vs. aspect etc.), what can be reconstructed? (vii) word order, especially Africa-specific S-AUX-O-V-X and its three diachronic sources: serial verbs, nominalization, defocusing; distribution, discussion of whether it is recent or old; (viii) serial verbs: different functions and syntactic properties of SVCs. To address these issues, a team of researchers on the project “Areal features and linguistic reconstruction in Africa” will be coordinated, as the above have featured centrally among our concerns. At various stages we will point out which parts of Niger-Congo have the property in question and whether our findings are restricted to Niger-Congo or are found outside in other groups in Africa. We also will indicate what the outstanding questions are and where future work can or should be directed.

Nicholas R. Rolle
Hannah L. Sande
Emily C. Clem
Florian A. J. Lionnet
John Merrill
Nico Baier
Publication date: 
January 1, 2019
Publication type: 
Recent Publication
Hyman, L. M., Rolle, N., Sande, H., Clem, E., Jenks, P., Lionnet, F., Merrill, J. & Baier, N. (2019). Niger-Congo linguistic features and typology. In E. Wolff (ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of African Linguistics & A History of African Linguistics, pp.191-245. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.