Instrument Marking and Binary Contrasts in Bantu Verb Suffixes

Josephat M. Rugemalira


The description of the applicative and causative suffixes is usually cast in terms of the semantic (thematic) roles associated with each suffix. The applicative is often associated with the beneficiary and goal roles, while the causative suffix is described as introducing a higher agent (causer). Such analysis is situated within the framework of an assumed finite set of semantic roles, which include agent, patient/theme, instrument, goal, beneficiary, locative, etc. Dowty (1991) showed the traditional problems involved in the identification of semantic roles. The problems include role fragmentation and unclear boundaries, improper application of syntactic or semantic criteria in semantic role identification, and the failure of semantic roles to adequately distinguish arguments, especially in cases where the same role can be assigned to two arguments of the same predicate structure. Dowty proposed that instead of the “traditional system of discrete roles” linguistic theory should make use of two macro-roles, viz. protoagent and proto-patient.

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