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Word order variation in Datooga (working title)

Researcher: Mandy Lorenzen
Supervisor: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Alice Mitchell, Prof. Dr. Birgit Hellwig

Datooga is a dialect cluster that belongs to the Southern Nilotic branch of the Nilotic languages and is spoken in northern and central Tanzania. It is one of several other languages of East Africa, belonging to such different phyla as Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic, in which word order interferes with case marking. In these languages, only postverbal agents receive case marking.  In contrast to that, there is no case marking for the same constituents in preverbal position. That is, the languages exhibit differential subject marking on the agents. The geographical distribution of the languages in which the feature has already been observed extends across South Sudan, Ethiopa, Uganda, Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Factors that are known to have an effect on word order variation are animacy, agentivity, referentiality, definiteness, prosody, as well as information structural categories, such as focus, topic and givenness. However, there is yet only little knowledge of the exact factors for variation and of the actual impact that they have in the languages of this region.

The aim of my research is twofold: First, I will carry out a survey on word order variation in East African languages through an extensive literature survey of descriptive grammars that are available for languages of that area. The second part will then consist of a comprehensive case study of word order variation and its conditioning factors in the Datooga dialect Barabaiga-Gisamjanga, which I will conduct using a corpus of natural speech data.

My research seeks to give an extensive insight on the word order variation in Datooga, as well as on the impact of factors, such as the information structure.