This semester, I’m taking a class in the Linguistics department called Typology. Typology involves looking at trends in morphology and syntax across languages and using them to make predictions about the behavior of language in general. 

The final paper in this class is a typological study of one language in particular, and for my language I chose Digo, a Bantu language spoken in areas of Kenya and Tanzania by only 300,000 people. I’ve never studied an African language before; I have experience with Chinese, Spanish, and Arabic, but from the beginning of my research it became clear that this Bantu language was unlike anything I’d seen before. 

For one thing, Digo has 18 nominal classes – like the two genders in Romance languages. Each noun belongs in a nominal class, and any adjective or verb that refers to that noun carries a unique nominal concord that indicates the noun’s class. For native speakers of Digo, this is internalized and natural; for me, a native speaker of a language that has no classes at all, it sounds impossible to keep all these classes and concords straight.

Digo is also synthetic, which means that a lot of meaningful parts go into each individual word. For example, there are 9 parts to a verb in Digo, including things like noun concords, passive markers, tense markers, and more. This is another contrast with English, which is an analytic language, which means that most meaningful parts of the language are separate from each other.

Although learning about the typological properties of the Digo language itself hasn’t given me much insight to Digo culture, it has been interesting to see just how different a language can be from the ones I know. Additionally, in researching data in Digo, I’ve had the opportunity to read several short stories and essays translated into English. The moral lessons and storytelling techniques in these has been interesting to observe. 

I’ll be doing my capstone for Linguistics next semester, and I’m hoping that in my final paper I get the chance to look at another new and unique language – who knows what I’ll learn then!

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