Sukuma Language - Phonology, Grammar, Identity and More

Sukuma Language – Phonology, Grammar, Identity and More

Sukuma language is a form of Bantu dialect spoken in Tanzania, between Mwanza, and Lake Eyasi, southeast of the Lake Victoria.

Sukuma language’s spelling, which is similar to Swahili‘s but employs Roman scripts without unique letters, has been utilized for Bible rephrasing and religious literature.

Dialects are easily interchangeable [KumunaSukuma in the western part, GinaNtuzu\GimunaNtuzu in the northeast of the country, and JimunaKyâ\Jnàkyâ spoken in the southeast].

Phonology of the Sukuma Language

There are a total of seven different vowel characteristics in the Sukuma language that can be found in both long and short vowels:

Front Central Back
High i   u
Near-high ɪ ɪː   ʊ ʊː
Mid e   o
Low   a  

/ɪ ʊ/, which are transcribed as ⟨ĩ ũ⟩, maybe nearer to [e o], and /e o/ may be nearer to [ɛ ɔ].

Sukuma language has passed through Dahl’s Law [ɪdàtʊ́ ‘3’, from proto-Bantu -tatʊ] and has nasal speech consonants.

  Bilabial Labio-
dental
Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain pren. plain pren. plain pren. labial plain pren. plain pren. labial plain labial
Nasal voiced m       n     ɲ   ŋ   ŋʷ    
voiceless           ɲ̊   ŋ̊   ŋ̊ʷ    
Plosive voiceless p ᵐp     t ⁿt c ᶮc k ᵑk    
voiced b ᵐb     d ⁿd ɟ ᶮɟ ɡ ᵑɡ ɡʷ    
Fricative voiceless ɸ   f ᶬf s ⁿs ʃ ᶮʃ       h
voiced β   v ᶬv z ⁿz              
Approximant         l     j       w    

It’s unclear whether /c ɟ/ should be thought of affricates as or as stops /tʃ dʒ/ or if they’re even palatal.

V or CV are syllables. Short vowels have four tones: low, rising, high, and falling.

Grammar in the Sukuma Language

The JinaKɪɪya language is used in the following illustration. One of the distinctive features of that language is that the Dahl’s Law-affected noun-category prefixes have already been leveled to voice consonants, and thus they don’t alternate anymore.

Dahl's Law Dictionary
Dahl’s Law Dictionary

Noun Concord in Sukuma language

Sukuma language noun-category titles are supplemented by pre-suffixes ɪ-, ʊ-, and a-, which are placed in specific constructions. The following are the noun categories and the agreements that they cause, with documented forms in different dialects included in parentheses:

[For compatibility, \j\ is written ⟨y⟩.

Class Prefix Example noun Adj. conc. Possessive Subject Object ‘one/two X’ ‘this X’ Semantic field
1 ʊ-mu mùùn̥ʊ̀ ‘person’ m- o- a- m- ʊ̀mô ʊ̀yʊ̀ human
2 a-βaa- βààn̥ʊ̀ ‘persons’ βa- βa- βa- βa- βaβɪlɪ àβà
3 ʊ-m- ntɪ̌ ‘tree’ m- go- gʊ- lɪ- gʊ̀mô ʊ̀yʊ̀ trees, etc.
4 ɪ-mi- mɪ̀tɪ̌ ‘trees’ mi- ya- i- i- ɪ̀βɪ̀lɪ́ ɪ̀yɪ̀
5 ɪ-lɪ- (ɪ) liisǒ ‘eye’ ɪ- lɪ- lɪ- lɪ- lɪ̀mô ɪ̀lɪ̀ Foods, liquids body parts,  common objects,
6 a-ma- mɪ̀sǒ ‘eyes’ ma- a- a- ga- àβɪ̀lɪ́ àyà
7 ɪ-ɟi- (kɪ) Jìsùgǔmà ‘Kɪsukuma’ ɟi- ɟa- ɟi- ɟi- ɟı̀mô ɪ̀ɟì Language, things, body parts, etc.
8 ɪ-ɟi- (sɪ) ɟítáβò ‘books’ ɟi- ɟa- ɟi- i- ɟìβɪ̀lɪ́ ɪ̀ɟı̀
9 ɪ-n- nùúmbà ‘house’ n- ya- i- i- yɪ̀mô ɪ̀yɪ̀ common objects, fruits, animals, etc.
10 ɪ-n- mbʊ̀lǐ ‘goats’ n- ɟa- ɟi- ɟi- ɪ̀βɪ̀lɪ́ ɪ̀ɟì
11 ʊ-lʊ- lʊ̀gòyè ‘rope’ lu- lo- lu- lu- lʊ̀mô ʊ̀lʊ̀ Body parts, common objects, etc.
12 a-ga- (ka) gàɪǎ ‘a little dog’ ga- ga- ga- ga- gàmô àkà diminutives
13 ʊ-dʊ- (tʊ) dʊ̀ɪǎ ‘little dogs’ dʊ- do- dʊ- dʊ- dʊ̀mô ʊ̀tʊ̀
14 ʊ-βʊ- βʊ̀sààdǔ ‘sickness’ βʊ- βo- βʊ- βʊ- βʊ̀mô ʊ̀βʊ̀ Insects, abstractions, i etc.
15 ʊ-gʊ- (kʊ) gʊ̀tʊ̌ ‘ear’ gʊ- go- gʊ- gu- gʊ̀mô ʊ̀yʊ̀ Infinitives, and body parts
16 a-ha- hààn̥ʊ̀ ‘place’ ha- ha- ha- ho- hàmô àhà location
17 a-gʊ- (kʊ) gʊ̀gàbáádi ‘on the cupboard’ gʊ- ya- gʊ- ko- ? ʊ̀kʊ̀
18 ʊ-mu- mʊ̀gàbáádi ‘inside the cupboard’ m- ya- mu- mo- ? ʊ̀mù

Many kin words in the Sukuma language have shortened forms of the nominal title, βa- and zero, known as class 1a/2a, as in βàmààyʊ̂ “mothers” mààyʊ̂ “mother” Concord has the same meaning as other class-1\2 nouns.

Singular\plural pairs are 1\2, 5\6, 7\8, 9\10, and 12\13, and locative categories 16, 17, and 18 don’t have plurals. Many other groups use class 6 for plurals: 11\6, 14\6, 15\6, and occasionally 7/6 and 12/6. There are also examples of inflected nouns such as 11/4, 11/14, 14/10, and 15/8.

Verbal Complex in the Sukuma Language

Infinitive verbs in Sukuma language take the pattern gʊ- object-ext-ROOT-ext-V-locative, where ext denotes several grammatical ‘extensions,’ and -V represents the final vowel. For instance, with the roots highlighted in bold and the tone deleted.

gũ-n-tĩn-ĩl-a

“To cut for her\him.”

gwĩ-tĩn-ĩl-a

“To cut for one another.”

-ĩl is the applied suffix, meaning “for.” The reflexive prefix ĩ has absorbed into the infinitive gũ.

gũ-fum-a-mo

“To get out there.”

-mo is a locative “within,” as in category 18 noun concord.

Finite verbs have the format subject-TAM-ext-object-ROOT-ext-TAM-V. For instance,

βa-lĩ-n-iiš-a

“They’re feeding him\her.”

The root iiš comprises a merge causative suffix. A prefix indicates the tense. According to the noun-concord chart above, the subject marker βa- shows that the object is human plural.

o-dũ-saang-ile

“He found us.”

A suffix indicates the tense in this case.

βa-gĩ-gunaan-a

“They assisted each other\themselves.”

Here the prefix is merged tense and reciprocal ĩ.

Language Identity

Even though Sukuma and Nyamwezi are highly similar, the speakers do not believe they are the same language.

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