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Lecture | This Time for Africa! Series

Semantic diversity across dialects: Dynamics of verb semantics in Ewe varieties

Friday 22 October 2021
This Time for Africa!
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Semantic features of dialect variants such as synonymy, general vs. specific readings; and differences in figurative extensions have been touched upon in the semantic rather than the dialectology literature. In this talk I discuss variations in polysemic structure of three auto-antonymous verbs in Ewe (Kwa, Niger-Congo): dró ‘put up/down from head’, klã́ ‘attach/detach, separate’ and tú ‘close/untie’. I show that while the semantic variant of the lexical units is shared across the dialects, some readings and extensions are specific to some varieties. For instance, in the Inland dialects the verb tu has a reading of ‘migrate, move house’ which is absent in the other dialects. I argue that this difference in the dialects is due to different histories of contact with Akan which has a lexical unit tú with similar semantic structure. Contact induced semantic change thus triggers diversification of varieties.

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