Lexico-Phonological Comparative Analysis of Selected Dialects of the Meru-Tharaka Group

by Fridah Kanana Erastus (Author)
©2015 Thesis 350 Pages


This study is an investigation into the comparative phonology and lexicon of six barely-known Bantu varieties spoken in Kenya. These varieties (Imenti, Igoji, Tharaka, Mwimbi, Muthambi and Chuka) belong to the so-called Meru group. The study develops a new classification of these six dialects. Therefore, a dialectological approach is used, which includes the analysis of wordlists and lists of short phrases elicited in the field. From the data, isoglosses and similarities concerning morpho-phonological processes are drawn. The results show in which respects the dialects differ from each other. Thus, the present work contributes to comparative Bantu linguistics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Tables
  • List of Rules
  • Definition of Terms
  • Abbreviations, Conventions and Symbols
  • Chapter 1: Introduction – Background to the Study
  • 1.1 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.2 Research Questions
  • 1.3 Research Objectives
  • 1.4 Research Assumptions
  • 1.5 Scope and Limitations
  • 1.6 Rationale of the Study
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review
  • 2.1 General Studies on Classification
  • 2.1.1 Comparative Bantu
  • 2.2 Dialectology
  • 2.2.1 Some Pioneers of Dialectology
  • 2.2.2 Recent Approaches to Dialectology
  • 2.2.3 Examples of Dialectology in Bantu
  • 2.3 Linguistic Research on “Meru”
  • 2.3.1 Grammar: Morphology, Phonology and Syntax
  • 2.3.2 Dialectology
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • 3.1 Research Approach
  • 3.2 Study Area and Target Population
  • 3.3 Sampling and Sample Size
  • 3.4 Data Analysis, Presentation and Interpretation
  • Chapter 4: Description of Dialects
  • Introduction
  • 4.1 Imenti
  • 4.1.1 Consonants
  • Dahl’s Law
  • Consonant Lenition
  • Weakening of Stops
  • Continuant Strengthening
  • Nasal Assimilation
  • 4.1.2 Vowels
  • Vocalic Processes
  • Glide Formation
  • Vowel Lengthening, Height Assimilation and Coalescence
  • 4.2 Tharaka
  • 4.2.1 Consonants
  • Dahl’s Law
  • Homorganic Nasal Assimilation
  • Continuant Strengthening
  • 4.2.2 Vowels
  • Vocalic Processes
  • Glide Formation
  • Vowel Lengthening
  • Height Assimilation/Vowel Heightening
  • Coalescence
  • 4.3 Chuka
  • 4.3.1 Consonants
  • Consonantal Processes
  • Palatalisation/Fricativisation/Devoicing
  • Devoicing
  • Consonant Dissimilation: Dahl’s Law
  • Neutralisation
  • Homorganic Nasal Assimilation
  • Continuant Strengthening
  • 4.3.2 Vowels
  • Vocalic Processes
  • Glide Formation
  • Height Assimilation and Vowel Lengthening
  • Vowel Coalescence
  • 4.4 Muthambi
  • 4.4.1 Consonants
  • Consonantal Processes
  • Dahl’s Law
  • Homorganic Nasal Assimilation
  • Consonant Weakening and Strengthening
  • 4.4.2 Vowels
  • Vocalic Processes
  • Glide Formation
  • Vowel Lengthening
  • Vowel Assimilation in Height
  • Coalescence
  • 4.5 Mwimbi
  • 4.5.1 Consonants
  • Consonantal Processes
  • Consonant Weakening and Strengthening
  • Homorganic Nasal Assimilation
  • Dahl’s Law
  • Noun Class Morphophonemics: Class 7/8 and 11/10 Nouns
  • 4.5.2 Vowels
  • Vocalic Processes
  • Glide Formation
  • Vowel Raising
  • Coalescence
  • Vowel Lengthening
  • 4.6 Igoji
  • 4.6.1 Consonants
  • Consonantal Processes
  • Dahl’s Law
  • Homorganic Nasal Assimilation
  • Weakening and Strengthening
  • The Morphophonology of Class 11/10 Plural Forms
  • Chapter 5: Morpho-Phonological Comparison of the Dialects
  • 5.1 Phonetic Realisation of a Dental Fricative /ð/ as an Alveolar Stop [d] or Alveolar Tap [ɾ] in Muthambi, Mwimbi and Igoji
  • 5.2 Deletion, Glide Formation and Compensatory Lengthening
  • 5.2.1 Deletion of /β/
  • 5.2.2 Deletion of /r/
  • 5.2.3 Deletion of /ɣ/
  • 5.3 Devoicing
  • 5.4 Neutralisation
  • 5.5 Palatalisation/Fricativisation/Devoicing of Class 8 Plural Forms
  • 5.6 Class 1/2 Nouns
  • 5.7 Class 11/10 Plural Forms
  • 5.8 Alveolar Trill and Its Phonetic Variant
  • Chapter 6: The Lexicon
  • 6.1 C-Category
  • 6.2 P-Category
  • 6.3 CX-Category
  • 6.4 CXX-Category
  • 6.5 PP-Category
  • 6.5.1 Maps Summarising the Morpho-Phonemic Changes
  • Deletion of Fricatives Word-Initially or Intervocalically
  • ʝ vs. c (Neutralisation in Chuka and/or Muthambi) (cf. also table 48)
  • y vs. ʝ as Free Variants and Independent Phonemes
  • Noun Class Morphophonemics (cf. table 42)
  • 6.6 PPX-Category
  • Chapter 7: A Typology of Dialect Transitions
  • 7.1 An Overall Typology of Dialect Differences and Dialect Transitions
  • 7.1.1 Transitional Areas
  • 7.1.2 Relic Areas
  • 7.1.3 Border Dialects
  • 7.1.4 Gradual vs. Abrupt Transition
  • 7.1.5 Dialect Relations in Kikuyu-Kamba Group
  • Chapter 8: Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation
  • 8.1 Summary and Conclusion
  • 8.1.1 Areas of Convergence
  • 8.1.2 Dialectal Divergences
  • Phonological Differences
  • Morpho-Phonological Differences
  • Lexical Differences
  • 8.2 Areas of Further Research
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices
  • Appendix I: Map 1
  • Appendix II: Map 2
  • Appendix III: Map 3 (given as map 7 in the text)
  • Appendix IV: Map 4. The Languages of Kenya
  • Appendix V: Wordlist (English-Swahili)


In writing this work, I have depended upon steadfast colleagues, educators, leaders, mentors, friends, and family. I, therefore, wish to thank all those who in one way or another have contributed towards the success and completion of this work. I wish to mention some individuals and groups/organisations that have, in one way or another, influenced the success of this work directly or indirectly. My thanks go to the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD) for awarding me a scholarship that enabled me to lead a comfortable life throughout my stay in Germany. I also thank my employer, Kenyatta University, for granting me study leave.

Special recognition is due to my supervisor Prof. Dr. Rainer Vossen for guiding me through this work and allowing me to knock at his door any time I had troubling questions and concepts to discuss with him. Thanks to him for his critical reading, advice and discussion from which I benefited greatly. He was not only a “Doktorvater” to me but also a father, who patiently listened and advised me accordingly, not to mention his jokes that soothed a heavy heart when the going got tough. His diverse and critical comments, patience, and friendship provided the guidance I needed to complete this work.

I am greatly indebted to Dr. Erhard Voeltz, who helped me “understand” my own mother-tongue and provided me with reading materials that were so rare and difficult to come by. I thank him for not only reading through several versions of the manuscript, editing the entire work, but also for the numerous discussions we had every week, more precisely every Wednesday, in addition to providing impetus for this work. I also thank Prof. K. Wamberia for his advice and comments, especially concerning Tharaka of which he is a native speaker and a specialist. I would like to thank Prof. Dr. Rose-Juliet Anyanwu, who also read sections of this work. I owe lots of gratitude to my friend and mentor Dr. E. Nyamasyo, who challenged me to research on my own mother-tongue and change the notion that “Meru” is nothing special but only a variety of “Kikuyu” as often dismissed by ignorant non-linguists! I cannot fail to mention and acknowledge Dr. L. Vikiru who tirelessly worked and supervised the initial proposal from which this research is borne today. I owe her a lot for the time she spared to help me put my ideas together into a working proposal that was accepted at Kenyatta ← 13 | 14 → University. It is this initial proposal that won me the scholarship to study in Germany.

My heartfelt thanks go to friends and colleagues who spared their time to call, write e-mails and send words of encouragement when I got too busy to communicate. My special thanks go to Ambassador Adyeri, Prof. Amuka, Prof. Aseka, Prof. Dr. Erdmann and his wife Daniella, Prof. Obura, Dr. Amanja, Eng. Gituma & Family and Dr. Kamau, for their sense of humour, love, encouragement, friendship and moral support. I also thank Purity for her love and sacrifice. She made a lot of effort to look for any materials I needed from Kenya. Special gratitudes go to Mbaya’s family, Cate and Eric for hosting me during my field research in Kenya. I thank my colleagues at the Department of English and Linguistics, Kenyatta University, for shouldering my workload for the duration I was on study leave. This work would not have been a success without the informants who provided me with useful data. I thank them all for sacrificing their time and persevering long hours of tape-recording and interviews.

Needless to say, I benefited a lot from my student colleagues at the Institute of African Linguistics, University of Frankfurt. Thanks to Clarissa, who took her time to help me learn and understand the computer softwares I needed to analyse data; Bernhard, who particularly read all my drafts; Patricia, Anna and Mirka, who assisted me in the Institute’s Library. Patricia and Clarissa also contributed a lot to my success in the Latin Examination. I particularly thank them for sacrificing their precious time to give me weekly tutorials. I also thank Heike and Ulrike for the moral support. I am indebted to Dr. Schreiber for harbouring solutions to all my computer and technical problems. Thanks to Sandra, the secretary, who provided the administrative assistance.

I thank the family that hosted me for six months during my language course – Peter and Hannah Streitenberger. They not only took care of me when I lived with them but also kept “checking on me” long after I had joined the University to be sure all was well. I am grateful to my Church members in Frankfurt, more specifically Pastor Dorothy Wilson, Faith & Caroline, and the entire Atterberry family for their prayers.

Last, but not least, I thank my family members mum and dad, who from my early childhood introduced me to the tune of academics and relentlessly provided all that I required with abundant love without complaining. Thanks to my dad whose great character and words of encouragement have influenced me directly. He encouraged me to stay on course even in situations where I felt overstretched. I thank my siblings – Peter, Jotham and Mercy – for their love and the ← 14 | 15 → many sacrifices they have made for me. They especially sacrificed a lot of their “rightful comfort” to make sure I never lacked during my academic pursuits. Over and above all, I am grateful to God, who has given me strength and grace to weather many storms. ← 15 | 16 →

← 16 | 17 →

List of Tables

Table 1:   Distribution of Stops and Fricatives

Table 2:   Distribution of Stops and Fricatives in Different Environments

Table 3:   Dahl’s Law in Imenti

Table 4:   Vowel Combinations

Table 5:   Phonemically Long Vowels

Table 6:   Glide Formation/Vowel Dissimilation

Table 7:   Vowel Lengthening, Height Assimilation and Coalescence

Table 8:   Distribution of Free Variants

Table 9:   Homorganic Nasal Assimilation

Table 10: Continuant Strengthening in Tharaka

Table 11: Phonemic Long Vowels vs. Short Vowels

Table 12: Palatal Glide Formation [y]

Table 13: Dorso-Velar Glide Formation [w]

Table 14: Vowel Lengthening

Table 15: Vowel Assimilation in Height

Table 16: Devoicing of the Palatal Fricative in Chuka

Table 17: Neutralisation

Table 18: Homorganic Nasal Assimilation

Table 19: Continuant Strengthening

Table 20: Plural Markers of Nominal Class 11/10 in Chuka

Table 21: Glide Formation

Table 22: Summary of Vowel Changes: Height Assimilation, Coalescence, Glide Formation and Exceptional Cases

Table 23: Distribution of Free Variants

Table 24: Dahl’s Law in Muthambi

Table 25: Homorganic Nasal Assimilation in Muthambi

Table 26: Weakening and Strengthening

Table 27: Palatal Glide [y] and Dorso-Velar Glide [w]

Table 28: Length Assimilation

Table 29: Height Assimilation

Table 30: Consonant Phonemes and Their Free Variants

Table 31: Weakening and Strengthening in Mwimbi ← 17 | 18 →

Table 32: Homorganic Nasal Assimilation

Table 33: Class 11/10 Plural Forms with a Singular Prefix {ro-}

Table 34: Glide Formation [y] and [w]

Table 35: Vowel Raising

Table 36: Vowel Lengthening

Table 37: Distribution of Free Variants

Table 38: Dahl’s Law in Igoji

Table 39: Homorganic Nasal Assimilation

Table 40: Weakening and Strengthening

Table 41: Morphophonology of Class 11/10 in Imenti and Igoji

Table 42: Noun Class Prefix Morphophonemics

Table 43: Change of the Voiced Interdental Fricative /ð/ to a Voiced Alveolar Stop [d] or Voiced Alveolar Tap [ɾ] in Muthambi, Mwimbi and Igoji

Table 44: Homophony

Table 45a: Deletion of /ß/ (Part I)

Table 45b: Deletion of /ß/ (Part II)

Table 46: Consonant Deletion, Vowel Lengthening and Glide Formation

Table 47: Deletion of /r/

Table 48: Voiced Palatal Fricative /ʝ/ vs. Voiceless Palatal Stop /c/ or Its Free Variants

Table 49: Neutralisation of /p/ vs. /b/ in Chuka

Table 50: Fricativisation, Palatalisation and Devoicing of Class 7/8 Nouns

Table 51: Class 1/2 and 1b/2b Plural Forms

Table 52: Class 1/2 Plural Forms

Table 53: Basic Class 11/10 Plural Forms

Table 54: Plural Forms of Words with Prefix {ro-} and Consonant-Initial Stems

Table 55: Plural Forms with a Palatal Nasal and a Stem-Initial Palatal Stop

Table 56: Plural Forms with Palatal Nasals and Vowel-Initial Stems

Table 57: Even Distribution of Forms

Table 58: Shared and Isolated Lexical Forms in Tharaka and Imenti in the CX-Category

Table 59: Symbols and Their Phonetic Equivalents in the Maps

Table 60: /y/ and /ʝ/ as Free Variants and Independent Phonemes

Table 61: Semantic Shifts

Table 62: Forms Shared between Chuka and Dialects of Southern Mt. Kenya (data adopted from Mutahi 1983: 267–72) ← 18 | 19 →

List of Rules


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
Dialektologie Phonetik Phonologie Tonologie Morphologie Lexik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 350 pp., 180 b/w fig., 63 tables

Biographical notes

Fridah Kanana Erastus (Author)

Kanana Fridah Erastus is a lecturer in the Department of English and Linguistics at Kenyatta University (Kenya). She holds degrees in Arts and General Linguistics from Kenyatta University and did linguistic research at the University of Frankfurt am Main (Germany).


Title: Lexico-Phonological Comparative Analysis of Selected Dialects of the Meru-Tharaka Group
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352 pages