Against expectations – the rise of adverbs in Swahili phasal polarity


  • Aron Zahran University of Gothenburg
  • Eva-Marie Bloom Ström University of Gotheburg



phasal polarity, Swahili, adverbs, grammaticalization


This article provides a first analysis of the expression of phasal polarity in Swahili. Phasal polarity (henceforth PhP) refers to linguistic concepts which express the phase of a given situation in relation to a prior and/or subsequent phase, as well as expressing whether a certain situation holds or not. These concepts, represented here in English as a meta-language with already, no longer, still and not yet, are interrelated in interesting ways and form a semantic sub-system. In contrast to many other Eastern Bantu languages, we show that the dedicated expressions for PhP concepts in Swahili are mainly adverbs, with limited use of verbal affixes. It also stands out in the area by not having any gaps in the expressibility of PhP concepts, and by making use of internal negation. In order to target present-day spoken Swahili, the results are based on speaker interviews, through the use of carefully introduced contexts. The main strategy for expressing already was through the verbal affix sha-. There is also an adverb tayari ‘ready’ to express this concept, which occurs not infrequently in our results. We show that there are differences in their distribution, and hypothesize that this could be related to an ongoing change in the use of (me)sha- in relation to perfective me-. For all other PhP concepts, adverbs are used as the main strategy. There was variability in speaker responses in the use of constructions which we have considered contextual paraphrases rather than dedicated PhP expressions. The current work is inspired by a recent increase in interest in PhP systems in languages of the African continent, previously relatively unexplored (Kramer 2021). The analysis is based on the parameters for cross-linguistic comparison as presented by Kramer (2017)


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