Relative constructions and the Bantu Relative Agreement Cycle in Western Serengeti


  • Rasmus Bernander University of Helsinki
  • Antti Laine University of Helsinki
  • Lotta Aunio University of Helsinki



Bantu, relative construction, BRA cycle, demonstrative, Mara


This article offers the first comprehensive study of relative constructions among the members
of the Western Serengeti (WS) group, a group of closely related Great Lakes Bantu language
varieties spoken in the Mara region in northern Tanzania.
The study has both a synchronic and a diachronic angle. First, we offer a systematic
description of the various relativization types found in these varieties with regard to the
phonological (prosodic) and (morpho-)syntactic traits of both subject and non-subject
relativization. Next, we situate our findings within a historical-comparative framework, with
particular reference to Van de Velde’s (2021, forthcoming) Bantu Relative Agreement (BRA)
Cycle. Linking the source of the main relative marker to the proximal demonstrative, we offer
a fine-grained reconstruction of its development into a relativizer.
We propose that the WS relative constructions instantiate Stage 1b of the BRA cycle while
simultaneously showing remnants of what is either the direct reflex of the relative
construction reconstructed for Proto-Bantu (Van de Velde forthcoming) or the final Stage 3b
of an earlier cycle. In this endeavor we are able to zoom in to the processes at play at the
turning point where an old and a new relative cycle intersect.


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2024-04-28 — Updated on 2024-05-13