Title page for ETD etd-11032008-083302

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Hall, Linda
Email annfranc@mweb.co.za
URN etd-11032008-083302
Document Title The -be relative tenses of Zulu
Degree Master of Arts
Department African Languages
Advisor Name Title
Prof L C Posthumus Supervisor
  • semantic characteristics
  • descriptive terms
  • relative tenses
Date 2006-05-02
Availability unrestricted
From a literary review of the so-called continuous past tenses of the Bantu languages with special reference to Zulu it becomes quite clear that a number of misconceptions prevail amongst grammarians concerning these tense forms. Traditional grammarians refer to these verbal forms using labels such as continuous past tenses, compound tenses, the perfect form of the past tense, past compound tenses, contingent form/mood/tense, participial tenses, compound tenses and moods and imperfective aspect. These terms are all inappropriate names for these tenses.

Posthumus (1983, 1988, 1990, 1999) is the only Bantuist who refers to the relative tense forms of Zulu as the relative tenses. His analysis and description of the grammatical tenses of Zulu are based on the Reichenbach model for tense analysis. Even though a number of European grammarians (initially especially German researchers) followed the Reichenbach model, none of the Bantuists (except Posthmus) employed this model of tense analysis2. In fact, the Bantuists. analyses of tense (as contained in grammars, hand books and articles in scientific journals) are not scientifically grounded.

The distinction that Posthumus draws between absolute and relative tenses is also adhered to in this research.

It is essential to distinguish clearly between tense and time reference on the one hand and between tense and aspect on the other hand because grammarians frequently confuse these categories. A clear distinction must, furthermore, be made between absolute and relative tense.

Posthumus supplied a scientifically sound description of the structural and semantic characteristics of the relative tenses and has included a schematic representation of the array of relative tenses that occur in Zulu - however, three aspects of these tenses remain that have not been addressed adequately in his publications that will be scrutinized in this research.

Firstly, the full spectrum of relative tenses with .be will be given and a scientifically sound analysis will be given thereof. A relative tense is defined as the verb form that marks the relationship between coding time, reference time and event time.

Secondly, the contracted forms of the relative tenses are recorded and analysed systematically. The derivation of the abridged forms from the original full auxiliary verb groups is indicated and the various variants are listed in table form.

Thirdly, attention is devoted to finding an appropriate label for the so-called compound tenses (as a super ordinate term) and to finding suitable names for the individual relative tense forms.

The point of departure in this study is that the appropriate naming of scientific grammatical categories is of the utmost importance because that prevents misunderstanding. In fact, it is partly because of the use of inappropriate terms for the relative tenses collectively, and for the individual relative tense forms, that consecutive generations of Bantu grammarians have continued to offer inapt descriptions of these language forms. This state of affairs is quite evident from the literary survey.

A thorough literary survey of the traditional descriptions and the labelling of the relative tenses are also aspects that have not received adequate attention in Posthumus.s publications and will therefore be pursued in this research. From the literary survey of the relative tenses it transpires that different and sometimes opposing views exist concerning their description and that different names exist for the so-called compound tenses (most of them being totally inapplicable).

A comprehensive literary survey focussing on the description of the so-called compound past tenses is essential to put the traditional descriptions and analyses of these tenses in perspective. Such a literary survey was undertaken and included all the official Bantu languages of South Africa except South Ndebele. Southern Ndebele was not included in the survey because there is no grammar available on this language and information on the relative tenses of this language is not readily available either.

An outline distinction is drawn in this study between the categories tense, time reference and aspect (which are often confused by grammarians). A clear distinction is also drawn between absolute and relative tenses.

An exhaustive description of the structural characteristics of the individual relative tenses is offered. In this discussion the relative tense forms consisting of an auxiliary verb group (comprising the auxiliary verb stem .be diachronically derived from the copulative verb stem .ba) are discussed in detail. The structural and semantic characteristics of both the auxiliary verb part and the complementary part are discussed in detail in this study.

An exposition is supplied of the complement that may be a main verb (as for instance in the example zibe zigijima (> bezigijima) izingane ... .they were busy running, the children ....), an auxiliary verb group (as in the example zibe zinele zigijime (> bezinele zigijime) izingane ... .as soon as they are busy running, the children ....) or a copulative word group (as in the example zibe ziba zinkulu (> beziba zinkulu) izingane ... .they were busy becoming big, the children ... / they were becoming grown up, the children ....). However, it is not possible to discuss the different types of complements exhaustively in this research report, therefore the focus will be on those examples where a main verb occurs as complement.

The semantic traits of the relative tenses are discussed and finally names are proposed as labels for the individual relative tenses that occur in Zulu.

The names proposed for the individual relative tenses are descriptive terms based on the semantic characteristics of these tense forms. The terms suggested for the sixteen individual relative tenses are motivated and listed in a systematic exposition.

Due to the limited nature of a research report of this nature, the naming of the relative tense forms with a copulative as complement are not discussed. Furthermore, mere mention is made of the possible inclusion of the (deficient) auxiliary verb stem .se in the relative tense forms. A comprehensive discussion of this aspectual distinction also falls outside the scope this mini-dissertation.

University of Pretoria 2005


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