PhD research: A diachronic and spatial analytical approach to linguistic micro-variation in the Kikongo dialect continuum

January 2014 to December 2018
Kikongo (dialect cluster)
Research fields
Languages and Literatures

The wider Lower Congo region in Central Africa is home to the Kikongo language cluster (KLC), a vast cluster of regiolects spoken in four neighbouring countries: Angola including Cabinda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Gabon. Since 2012, the KongoKing research group has collected and digitized a diversified corpus of language data in some thirty different Kikongo varieties representative of linguistic variation within the KLC. Although this corpus is still too unequal and unbalanced to allow for true fine-grained dialectological study, it is definitely suitable for corpus-driven and multi-level comparative study of micro-variation in the KLC along the lines of the surface-parametric approach which Marten et al. (2007) developed to examine parameters of morpho-syntactic variation in Bantu. Parametric variation in linguistic theory pertains to the systematic grammatical variation permitted by the human language faculty (Biberauer et al. 2010). There are currently two major approaches to parameters: a macro and a micro approach (van Gelderen 2011). While initial research in the world’s languages on parameters rather focused on broad cross-linguistic variation, recent emphasis has shifted to micro-variation within particular languages, such as Dutch (e.g. Barbiers 2002) or Italian (e.g. Egerland 2010). Apart from the relatively few existing studies in African dialectology (e.g. Möhlig 1974; Heine and Möhlig 1980; Lafkioui 2007), such a study of micro-variation within a single African language is uncommon. On-going research on dialectal variation in the KLC along a number of phonological, morphological and syntactic parameters in Kikongo has so far resulted in some promising patterns of spatial structuring (Dom & Bostoen 2015; Bostoen & de Schryver 2015). This research project aims at a systematic quantitative and spatial analytical study of micro-variation in the KLC both synchronically and diachronically and focus on a set of lexical, phonetic, phonological, morphological and syntactic parameters along which Kikongo varieties manifest significant micro-variation.