Serge Sagna at LEL Seminar

Posted on April 26, 2022 by

This week’s LEL Seminar will feature our very own Serge Sagna, who will speak about noun classes in Eegimaa. The seminar will be today (Tuesday, 26th April) at 4pm in Sam Alex A201, and you can also follow it on Zoom. The abstract is below.

A new look into the world of noun classes: 

morphosyntactic classification and semantic categorisation 

Serge Sagna 

University of Manchester 

Typologically, noun class and gender systems belong to the same type of nominal classification system; they are identified based on agreement criteria. In these types of nominal classification, all nouns are assigned to one class or gender. Traditional accounts of Niger‑Congo noun class systems, in which singular and plural forms are assigned to separate classes, are strongly biased towards the reconstruction of Bantu languages (Güldemann & Fiedler 2019). Such analyses are also applied to Atlantic languages. For example, (1) and (2) below show the singular and plural forms of the same Eegimaa noun (Atlantic family, Niger-Congo), but they are assigned to different classes. 

(1) ji-ttaja  jajmati          jí-it 
 CL11-firefinch CL11.DEF FUT.NEG      CL11fly 
 ‘The firefinch will not fly.’   
(2) mu-ttaja  mammati          mí-it 
 CL10-firefinch CL10.DEF FUT.NEG      CL10fly 
 ‘The firefinches will not fly.’   

In the first part of this paper, I propose, using data from Eegimaa, an appraisal of the traditional accounts of noun class systems, which I compare to approaches proposed in the recent literature on African noun classes (Güldemann & Fiedler 2019; Sagna 2019; 2022). I argue that separating morphological classes from agreement classes is a more promising way of accounting for the complex interactions between gender and number features and their values, especially with lexical hybrids. 

The second part of this presentation addresses the controversial issues of the semantic properties of African noun classes. I argue that the morphosyntactic classification of both nouns and non-finite verbs reflects a semantic categorisation of entities and events. I conclude this section by presenting some early signs of awareness of the semantics of the Eegimaa noun class system by children.  


Güldemann, Tom & Ines Fiedler. 2019. Niger-Congo “noun classes” conflate gender with declension. In Grammatical gender and linguistic complexity:Volume I: General issues and specific studies, 95–145. Berlin: Language Science Press. 

Sagna, Serge. 2019. Syntactic and semantic agreement in Eegimaa (Banjal): An account of lexical hybrids in an African noun class system. Studies in Language 43(3). 585–627. 

Sagna, Serge. 2022. Cross-Categorial Classification: Nouns and Verbs in Eegimaa (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology [EALT]). Vol. 60. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 


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