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Typological Features Template for Luganda

By Medadi Erisa Ssentanda

Feature Description
Phonological Features
Vowel inventory Luganda has only 5 vowel phonemes: / a e i o u /. Any of them can be long or short.

/i/ high, front; /u/ high, back; /e/ mid, front; /o/ mid, back; /a/ front, low.

Vowel harmony

Nominal Vowel harmony

Vowel harmony in Luganda relates to the Luganda vowel chart, which contains only five vowels. The vowel on the noun class determines the initial vowel that the noun takes on. The Luganda noun classes allow only three vowels, namely /u i a/. The occurrence of any of those vowels on a noun class determines the initial vowel in this manner /u/ harmonizes with /o/, /i/ harmonizes with /e/ and /a/ harmonizes with /a/. Examples, omuti, emiti, amata.
Verbal Vowel harmony This harmony occurs on suffixes only. It follows this manner: verbs roots whose last syllable has /a u i/ harmonize with /i/ in the suffixes. Verbs whose roots last syllable has /e o/ harmonize with /e/ in the suffixes.

Examples: sab-a = sab-ir-a, fun-a = fun-ir-a, sib-a = sib-ir-a, som-a = som-er-a, sek-a = sekera, simool-a = simool-er-a.

Consonant inventory There are 19 consonants in Luganda: /p b m w f v t d n l s z c ɟ ɳ k g ŋ /. Bilabials /p b m/, labiodentals /f v/, alveolars /t d n l s z/, palatals/ /c ɟ ɳ/, velars /k g ŋ/, semivowels /w, j/. Each of those consonants can combine with any vowel to form a syllable. All consonants can be long with the exception of /w y l/. /b/ has the allophone [β] between vowels, /n/ has the allophone [ɱ] before labiodentals /f v/.
Consonantal Combinations Nasals which preceed plosives have to have the same place of articulation as plosives. /m/ is followed by bilabials. [n] is followed by all other consonants except [l/. /n/ is followed by all alveolars except /l/. /ŋ/ is followed by all velars.
Semi vowel combinations All consonants can be followed by a semivowel except labiodentals /f v/. /f v/ cannot be followed by /w/. /s z c ɟ] are not followed by /j/. /ŋ/ does not allow combining with /j/.
Tone Luganda is a two tone language with two tone levels. A third falling tone can be analysed as a combination of HL. Tone in the roots of uttarances can be arranged as HL or HH. The two basic tones are modified by downstepping and downdrifting. Changes in the pitch of a syllable triggers a change meaning of a word. For instance, the word okubala can be marked in two different ways: when all the syllables are marked with high tones, òkúbálá, the word will mean 'to count'; when only the penultimate syllable is marked high, òkùbálà, the word will mean 'to yield' or 'to bear fruit'.
Syllable Structure Basic syllable structures: V, CV, CV:, C:V, C:V:, NCV, NCV:, CWV, C:WV, C:WV:, NCWV, N. (N stands for any nasal, W stands for the glides /w j/)
Morpho-syntactic Features
Morphological classification (1) Luganda is principally/basically agglutinative, which in many cases exhibit modifications in the roots of verbs when particular affixes are added. Among the affixes present in Luganda are: prefixes, suffixes and infixes. However, as to whether Luganda has infixes or not is a contetious issue.
Morphological classification (2) Luganda is generally a head-marking language at both phrase and sentence level. For instance, Omwana (N) omuto (Adj)akuba (V) embwa (OBJ).

See this annotation:

Omwana omuto akuba embwa
“The young/little child is beating a dog”

In pronominalisation forms, it is possible to have a dependent marking in the verb phrase. For instance, Omwana omuto agikuba. [A little child is beating it]. A- [Subj], -gi- [Obj], kub-a [V].

Nominal Phrases In the following fields we aim for a description of some of the basic morpho-syntactic properties of nominal constituents.
syntactic structure The unmarked constituent order is SVO.
Nominal modification Luganda is one of the Bantu languages with a noun class system (sometimes referred to as gender). Of the 23 Bantu noun classes, Luganda has 21. For further information about the Luganda noun class system, consult the following page: A comparative analysis of Runyankore Rukiga and Luganda pronominal agreement.
Nominal specification To specify a noun, Luganda uses determiners, demonstratives, numerals, quantifiers and nominal specifiers.
Possession Luganda possessor roots are specified as suffixes in in different grammatical persons.
Person Singular Plural
1st -ange -affe
2nd -o -ammwe
3rd -e -abwe
Pronominal system Luganda has both free and bound pronoun forms. All pronouns are marked for their grammatical functions: there are subject and object pronouns. All pronouns in Luganda appear also as prefixes. They also function as subject and object markers.
The free pronoun forms are:
Person Singular Plural
1st Nze Ffe
2nd Ggwe Mmwe
3rd Ye Bo
Subject and Object Personal pronouns Subject Pronouns
Person Singular Plural
1st n- tu-
2nd o- mu-
3rd a- ba-
Object Pronouns
Person Singular Plural
1st -n- -tu-
2nd -ku- -ba-
3rd -mu- -ba-
Subject pronouns: example sentences
Nsoma ekitabo
“I am reading a book”
Basoma ekitabo
“they are reading a book”
Object pronouns: examples
“S/he is beating me”
“You are beating him/her”
Verbal Phrases In the following fields a description of some of the basic morpho-syntactic properties of verbal constituents is given.
Word order The word order in Luganda is SVO.
TAM A Luganda verb is agglutinable for 3 tenses (this is however still debatable, some scholars say the tenses are six): the present tense, the past and the future. See the examples here: http://typecraft.org/TCEditor/1225/. However, there are different aspects within these tenses.
Mood Luganda makes use of the following moods: imperative mood, conditional mood, subjunctive mood, indicative mood and infinitive mood. There are notable changes that occur on application of imperative mood. In second person singular, the person is not manifest on the verb; second person plural, third person singular and plural, the person is manifest. In subjunctive mood, the notable change is that, the FV "a" changes into "e" in all persons. Conditional mood is both morphhologically and periphrastically marked on the verb.
Infinitival forms Luganda has one infinitive form marked by (o)ku-. It should be noted that all Luganda verbs are bound morphs, except about two only that appear as free morphs. The infinitive (o)ku- relates to the 15Oku noun class.
Verbal constructions Luganda has transitive, intransitive, ditranstive and auxiliary verbs. A Luganda verb is glutinable for person, tense, aspect, and mood. Luganda verbs are also known to take on verb extensions common in Bantu languages including causative, applicative, reflexive, reciprocal, capable, passive. Here we only illustrate the applicative.
Basekulira omwami kasooli
“They are pounding maize for the chief/husband”
Matovu yasengukira wa?
“Where did Matovu shift to?”


Adpositions Luganda has prepositions at both word and phrase level. E.g mu ‘in’, ‘among’, ‘within’, ‘to’, ‘from’; ku ‘at’, ‘on’, ‘to’; e ‘to’ etc. At phrase level, they appear as, waggulu ku… ‘on top of…’, waggulu wa… ‘above’ etc.

In indicating the grammatical relation between the verb and the noun, Luganda concordial agreements based on the noun class system.

Complementation In this field you describe complementation strategies. Does [your language] make use of complementizers?
Special Properties of Luganda Negative sentences in Luganda are usually formed by prefixing si- for 1st person singular (this replaces the 1st person personal pronoun, n-). For all other persons, the prefix te- is used coming before the subject pronoun. Depending on the morpho-phonological environment, the negators, si- and te- change. In environments where the negator comes but not next to a verb, it is an independent entity.
Demonstratives Luganda, has different forms of demonstratives that correspond to the Luganda noun class system. These demonstratives express spatial relations in three distinct ways: proximate [-no], intermediate [-o] (distal) and most distal [-li] (non-proximal).

Examples: Omuti guno gwange, This tree is mine; Omuti ogwo gwange, That tree is mine; Omuti guli gwange, The other tree is mine.

Luganda Orthography The current Luganda orthography was standardised 1947. This orthography uses the Roman Alphabet. In this spelling system short and long vowels as well as short and long consonants are indicated. The short vowel and consonant are written singly while long vowels and consonants are written double. All vowels (a, e, i, o, u) can be double, see these examples: omukeeka (mat), maama (mummy), ekibiina (class/group), omuwuulu (bachelor), emmeeme (soul). All consonants can be double except /l, r, h, w, y). For example: omubbi (thief), ettama (cheek) etc.
Short Bibliography
  1. Ashton, Ethel O., and others (1954) A Luganda Grammar, London: Longmans, Green.
  2. Murphy, John D. (1972) Luganda-English Dictionary. Catholic University of America Press
  3. Chesswas, J. D. (1963) Essentials of Luganda. Oxford University Press
  4. Kiingi, K.B. (2009) Enkuluze ya Oluganda eya e Makerere, olusunsula 2a, Kampala: Fountain Publishers.