Link to the University of Pittsburgh Homepage
Link to the University Library System Homepage Link to the Contact Us Form

Retroflexion in Somali Bantu Kizigua: Language Shift and a Contact-Induced Explanation to What Looks Like an Internally Motivated Sound Change

Tse, Holman (2015) Retroflexion in Somali Bantu Kizigua: Language Shift and a Contact-Induced Explanation to What Looks Like an Internally Motivated Sound Change. In: Linguistic Society of America (LSA) Annual Conference 2015, 08 January 2015 - 08 January 2015, Portland, OR.

Available under License : See the attached license file.

Download (439kB)
[img] Plain Text (licence)
Available under License : See the attached license file.

Download (1kB)


As discussed by Thomason & Kaufman (1988: 111), there has long been a bias among historical linguists against explanations based on shift-induced interference and that this is partly due to a methodological problem that arises in shift situations: Language shift often means language loss and the loss of key linguistic evidence to support such analyses. In this talk, I present a case study in which sufficient diachronic evidence is available to show shift-induced interference involved in a sound change that looks like one due to internal motivation but is in fact not. The change in question is the retroflexion of historic alveolar NC clusters in Somali Bantu Kizigua (SBK), an under-documented dialect of the Zigua language from Tanzania that diverged from Tanzanian Zigua (TZ) during the 19th Century as a result of migration. I argue that what gives this appearance is the genetic relatedness (Epps et al 2013) of the contact language involved, Chimwiini. Data sources include dictionaries of TZ (Kisbey 1906, Mochiwa 2008), a 700-word lexicon of the present-day language compiled from consultant work, and published data from Chimwiini (Nurse & Hinnebusch 1993, Kisseberth & Abasheikh 2004). The linguistic data was complemented by various sources describing the socio-political history of southern Somalia. All words in the SBK data containing retroflex NC (/ɳʈ/ and /ɳɖ/) have corresponding forms with alveolar NC (/nt/ and /nd/) in both contemporary (Mochiwa 2008) and in turn of the 20th century (Kisbey 1906) TZ. This across-the-board change in inherited vocabulary suggests that retroflexion developed due to internal motivation. However, if we acknowledge the fact that there was historic contact with Chimwiini speakers and that some shifted to Kizigua, we can see two other possibilities by comparing the two languages: borrowing and interference through shift (following Thomason & Kaufman’s [1988] distinction). If this were a case of borrowing from Chimwiini, we would expect all words with retroflexion in SBK to have corresponding forms in Chimwiini, but this is not the case. Interference through shift, on the other hand, would have involved native Chimwiini speakers learning Kizigua thereby introducing substrate features including substitution of alveolar NC with retroflex NC. This would have applied across-the-board and since related languages are involved, the high degree of lexical similarity would have made this substitution process look like a Neogrammarian sound change. The retroflex pronunciation would have then been passed down to subsequent generations of Kizigua speakers. By showing how a specific type of contact-induced change can give rise to a pattern resembling one due to internal motivation, the larger implication of this study is in raising the question of how many other cases of sound change previously described as due to internal motivation may have actually been due to contact with languages (or dialects) for which we lack data.


Social Networking:
Share |


Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Tse, Holmanhbt3@pitt.eduHBT30000-0002-2398-5776
Date: 8 January 2015
Date Type: Publication
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Event Title: Linguistic Society of America (LSA) Annual Conference 2015
Event Dates: 08 January 2015 - 08 January 2015
Event Type: Conference
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Linguistics
Refereed: Yes
Official URL:
Related URLs:
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2015 17:34
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2019 05:55


Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item