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From:    Chris Bates <[log in to unmask]>
> Okay, so I've doing some more swahili recently.. and more and more I've
> been wondering how the gender system actually survives in its current
> form. With the amount of agreement there is in a sentence, with
> adjectives agreeing in class (and thus in number) with their nouns, the
> verb agreeing with both the subject and object and also having
> compulsory indication of tense/aspect and mood (well, in bantu verbs,
> the -a at the end of the dictionary form is an indicative mood marker,
> although some verbs borrowed from arabic don't change to indicate mood)
> and all of these being separate morphemes glued together instead of
> merging... It seems to me that the need to be concise would have led to
> either some of the affixes fusing, or just being dropped, a long time
> ago, especially since word order in swahili is generally fixed so the
> agreement seems to serve little purpose.

Is Swahili a pro-drop language?  If so, you won't always see those
nominal arguments in the surface forms, and so the redundancy drops
markedly.

> Its very interesting just... I
> would have thought that the need to state things in the most concise way
> possible (allowing for sufficient redundancy to make communication
> reliable) would be one of the primary driving forces of language
> evolution. The one thing that the gender system seems to have going for
> it is the fact you can use it to derive new words sometimes, ie:

You're forgetting that language is not just about concision; it's
also about making sure your interlocutor heard you correctly.  Lots
and lots of languages put up with massive redundancy because a language
conveyed by sound will always have lots of noise that needs to be
filtered out.  More redundancy can thus be a means to ensure you're
actually communicating rather than just mouthing off, so to speak.

 =========================================================================
Thomas Wier	       "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally,
Dept. of Linguistics    because our secret police don't get it right
University of Chicago   half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of
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Chicago, IL 60637