Vol 30 No 1 (2021): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Linguistics

The multifunctionality of -o in Rukiga: pronoun, contrastive topic, and mirative marker

Allen Asiimwe
Makerere University, Uganda
Jenneke van der Wal
Leiden University, Netherlands
Journal cover image for the Nordic Journal of African Studies. Image of Africa and the Nordic States
Published March 31, 2021
Keywords
  • focus,
  • contrastive topic,
  • information structure,
  • mirativity,
  • exclamative

Abstract

This paper discusses the particle -o in Rukiga (Bantu JE14, Uganda), aiming to establish its origin and function. At first sight, the particle appears to be an independent pronoun agreeing in noun class, reported in previous studies as an emphatic pronoun. Based on an extensive analysis of the particle, we argue that, through grammaticalisation, it has developed from a medial demonstrative via the independent pronoun to become a contrastive topic marker. This analysis is supported by various topic and focus tests carried out, which indicate that it combines with topics and is incompatible with focalised referents. We discovered that the particle is also used in exclamative/mirative contexts, expressing (a degree of) unexpectedness and surprise. Our findings indicate that independent morphological topic markers are present in East African languages just as they are in the more analytical West-African languages, and that exclamatives and miratives, which are extremely understudied in Bantu languages, may be associated with the morphological particle -o.