Addressing gaps in Chichewa

One of the country’s finest language professors, Al Mtenje, has published a new book. The book is addressing gaps in Chichewa language, the major one being the sound of Chichewa words. The book, titled The Phonology of Chichewa, has been co-authored by professor Laura Downing who is a professor of African Linguistics at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Our Entertainment Editor EDITH GONDWE caught up with Professor Mtenje for more details.

The book cover

Q

: Introduce the book in its entirety?

A

: The book, which is titled The Phonology of Chichewa, presents a descriptive and analytical account of the sound system of Chichewa. It  discusses the consonant and vowel sound combinations and tone patterns of the language. It goes on to present in detail the various phonological (sound) processes and rules which apply to these segments and the tones when they occur in different grammatical contexts in the language. The rules and sound systems discussed show that Chichewa behaves like most other Bantu languages in that it shares the same rule systems with those languages. The book is deliberately written in such a way that it is both descriptive and theoretical so that it can carter for both linguists and students (undergraduates and postgraduates) who are interested in theoretical as well as descriptive aspects of the language.

 

Q

: What gaps in the Chichewa language is the book addressing?

A

: The book addresses a very important gap in the literature on Chichewa. Over the past 50 years or so, there have been a number of masters and doctoral dissertations, journal articles and other descriptions on various grammatical aspects of the language. However, none of these works has addressed all the key phonological (sound) aspects of the language in one publication. As a consequence, what we have are scattered publications and dissertations on the language which do not holistically deal with all the major phonological issues. Our knowledge of Chichewa grammatical structure is, therefore, fragmented. This book fills this gap in that for the first time, we have a publication which comprehensively presents all the crucial phonological issues of Chichewa in one volume. This makes it easy for any scholar or researcher who would like to consult one publication which has all the main phonological areas of Chichewa.

 

Q

: Chichewa has gone through a lot of transformation, that is to say in a lay man’s language it is constantly changing. Is it changing for the good? Or not?

A

: All languages undergo change. This is what makes language dynamic. The changes which Chichewa has undergone, have been triggered by many environmental (social, political, geographical, technological) factors. Speakers of languages introduce changes partly in order to satisfy certain social needs. For as long as language change assists the users to enhance communication in their communities, such changes should be viewed positively.

 

Q

: Introduce your co-author.

A

: The person I have co-authored the book with is Prof Laura Downing who is a professor of African Linguistics at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. I have worked with her on joint research projects in linguistics over the past 20 years and together we have published a number of linguistics papers on Chichewa. She has been to the University of Malawi as a visiting scholar on many occasions in the last 10 years to carry out research on Chichewa with me. On several occasions, I have also visited the institutions where she has been working during the same period as a research professor to do joint research with her. Prof Downing is a renowned researcher in African Linguistics and she has published extensively on other African languages besides Chichewa.

 

Q

: Talk about the logistics of the book. Where it was published? How one can get it and finally tell us a bit about the launch.

A

: The book has been published by the prestigious Oxford University Press in the UK and it has taken us more than two years to complete writing it. The book is already available on the Oxford University Press website and anyone wishing to procure a copy can buy it online through the website. The launch of the book will be today at 2pm at Chancellor College in Zomba. Academics and other stakeholders in the University of Malawi and other institutions have been invited to the launch. Anyone else who is interested to attend is very welcome. n

 

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