The talk explores the diversity and complexity of the world’s languages and some of the academic approaches to understanding it. It looks at some key aspects of the debate such as multilingualism, language endangerment, language history and language contact, and language typology and universals. Against this background I focus on Bantu languages – one of Africa’s largest language group – drawing on a database of Bantu morphosyntactic variation with data from about 40 languages. I will discuss different examples of microvariation within the language family and how they can best be represented and explained. Through this, the talk introduces interesting features of Bantu languages and at the same time reflects on the nature of morphosyntactic variation.
Lutz Marten is Professor of General and African Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, where he works on the description and analysis of structural, social and functional aspects of language, with a specific focus on African languages. He is interested in linguistic theory, description and analysis, in the syntactic model of ‘Dynamic Syntax’, in comparative and historical linguistics, and in questions of language and identity. He recently completed a Leverhulme-funded research project on ‘Morphosyntactic Variation in Bantu: Typology, contact and change’.