The first speaker in our English Language and Linguistics research seminar series this semester is Hannah Gibson from the University of Essex.

The talk takes place online at 2.30-3.30pm UK time on Thursday 20th of January. Please email me for a link: Billy Clark,

The full title is:

‘An incremental account of the light verb piga in Swahili

Hannah’s research is concerned with linguistic variation, particularly why and how languages change. She is an expert on Dynamic Syntax framework, a parsing/production-oriented approach to natural language processing which aims to capture the way in which meaning is established in real time. Her talk adopts this perspective.

The talk is free and open to all. Here is the abstract for the talk:


The East African Bantu language Swahili employs a light verb construction based on the verb piga. In its transitive usage, piga means ‘hit’, as can be seen in example (1) below. However, –piga also frequently combines with nominal forms to render meanings which are non-compositional. An example of this usage is shown in (2), while further Verb +Noun combinations involving piga are shown in (3).

Under the Dynamic Syntax (DS, Kempson et al. 2001, Cann et al. 2005) approach, the use of piga ‘hit’ in (1) can be modelled as a transitive verb which constructs and annotates a ?Ty(e→e→t) node, as well as building the associated argument node. See for example Marten (2001), Marten & Kempson (2002) Gibson & Marten (2016) and

However, the Verb+Noun combination exemplified in (2) and (3) present a challenge for formal modelling. From the DS perspective, analysing these uses as constructing a ?Ty(e→e→t) node and its associated argument node does not yield the correct interpretation since the nominal is not an object of a transitive predicate. Instead, the interpretation is the result of the idiomatic meaning associated with the piga +Noun combination, which in most instances results in an intransitive predicate.

This talk develops a Dynamic Syntax account of the modelling of the piga construction found in Swahili. The analysis harnesses the concepts of underspecification and update which lie at the heart of the framework. It is argued that the differences in structure building that result from these different uses of piga must stem from the complex lexical entry with which it is associated and the attendant process of tree growth, thereby reflecting the centrality of context-dependence in the framework.


Cann, R., R. Kempson and L. Marten. 2005. The Dynamics of Language: An Introduction. Academic Press.

Kempson, R. W. Meyer-Viol and D. Gabbay. 2000. Dynamic Syntax: The flow of language understanding. Wiley Blackwell.

Marten, L. & R. Kempson. 2002. ‘Pronouns, agreement and the dynamic construction of verb phrase interpretation: A Dynamic Syntax approach to Bantu clause structure’. Linguistic Analysis 32(3-4). 471-504.

Gibson, H. & L. Marten. 2016. ‘Variation and grammaticalisation in Bantu complex verbal constructions: The dynamics of information growth in Swahili, Rangi and siSwati’ In Nash, L. & P. Samvelian (eds.) Approaches to Complex Predicates. Brill.

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