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


Fridah Kanana Erastus

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.
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Chapter 5: Morpho-Phonological Comparison of the Dialects


Chapter 5: Morpho-Phonological Comparison of the Dialects

It is a common phenomenon that dialect clusters within a given geographical area tend to be more intelligible than dialects that are more distant, even though they belong to the same language. This has made it difficult for many researchers who have attempted to draw linguistic boundaries. For instance, what some scholars have grouped as different languages has been questioned by other scholars as to whether they are separate languages or simply dialect clusters; Sukuma/Nyamwezi and Zulu/Xhosa are examples of such cases. Other examples of such clusters include: Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Pokomo and Mijikenda languages in Kenya.

The argument in this study is that the phonological and lexical systems of dialects are largely responsible for reduced degrees of intelligibility. Dialect clusters within a given geographical area exhibit common phonological characteristics for that particular cluster. Within this sharing of phonological characteristics, there exist features that are peculiar to individual dialects. That is, there are idiosyncratic features inherent in a given dialect that set it off from the other dialects in the same cluster. The existences of these peculiar features, therefore, enable us to draw dialect boundaries from a phonological point of view. The existence of morphological features as well as lexical differences that are unique to one dialect also provide a firm basis for drawing linguistic boundaries. The total of these diversities in unity, therefore, constitute a language continuum.

In this chapter we will endeavour to clearly exemplify...

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