The Bantu Languages

By Dr. Derek Nurse and Gerard Philippson

Derek Nurse

The 500 Bantu languages, roughly a tenth of the world's total, are spoken in sub-Saharan Africa from Cameroon to southern Somalia to Cape Town by 250 million people, a third of the continent's population. Some, such as Congo, Swahili, and Zulu have been mentioned and described since early colonial days, a century and a half ago. Most are unknown and unwritten, and increasingly the languages of smaller communities are dying out. Despite an increase in scholarship during the last century, no general overview has ever been published, so this reference work represents a timely landmark in linguistic studies in Africa.

The Bantu Languages, edited by University Research Professor Derek Nurse and Gerard Philippson of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, has 31 chapters, written by 27 authors. It is divided into two parts. The first is shorter, containing chapters on general topics, such as the phonetics, phonology, tones, morphology of the noun, morphology of the verb, syntax, grammaticalization, acquisition, history, and historical classification of Bantu languages, use of lingua francas, and an updated taxonomy, to replace the one used for the last 30 years. This part might have been enriched by including topics such as the emergence of new urban language varieties, and language death.

The second part attempts to provide descriptions or analyses of the languages themselves. As it is impossible to cover 500 languages adequately in 400 pages, individual chapters deal with groups of languages or lesser known languages, while providing a bibliography for readers who want to dig deeper. The book is intended as an introduction to Bantu languages, and should be of interest to students, linguists, and non-linguists wanting to know more of Africa. General readers will find some chapters easy to read, others daunting.

The Bantu Languages is published by Routledge.

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