Leston Buell

Lenart Graduate Travel Fellowship application

March 2002

Project Description

General description

This project relates to work on my dissertation on Zulu syntax and entails spending three months in a South African village for data collection, gaining language proficiency, meeting with South African linguists, and gaining access to Zulu materials, printed and audio, which are unobtainable in the United States.

Research topic

My main area of research is the syntax of Bantu languages and bringing data from Bantu languages to bear on general syntactic theory. The specific research topic of my dissertation is Zulu clause structure. Some of the issues are: Why do subjects and objects occur in the positions they do in Zulu? What are the details of verbal agreement with subjects and objects? How do particular constructions, such as default agreement constructions, relate to constructions in better-understood languages and what accounts for their distribution? What drives and inhibits the movement of arguments in Zulu? What information can phrasal phonology bring to analyses of constituent structure in Zulu and related languages?

Location and dates

Eluphepheni, Natal, South Africa (near Durban), approximately June 20 through September 20, 2002, with visits to universities in Durban, Grahamstown, and Johannesburg. Arrangements are being made through my Zulu instructor for me to live either in a home or in teachers' quarters. If accomodations cannot be arranged in Eluphepheni, the location will be the nearby town of Port Shepstone.

Specific goals and activities

Language proficiency. The topic of research requires subtle judgments of grammaticality and interpretation, and close work with a native speaker of the language under investigation is essential. However, the ability to make use of sessions with a speaker is greatly enhanced by intimate knowledge of the language. Language proficiency gives the researcher intuitions which guide the data elicited. In South Africa, I will immerse myself in a Zulu-speaking environment, gaining fluency in the language by engaging in activities such as volunteering at a local school, regularly reading Zulu periodicals, listening to Zulu radio and television broadcasts, and participating as a member of the local community at large. This will afford me a learning atmosphere I could not possibly duplicate here, where my interaction with speakers of the language amounts to less than three hours a week and where I have no access to Zulu media.

Performing volunteer work in a school is an important component of this project. It will put me in constant contact with Zulu-speaking children and teachers and provide an effective way to immediately become integrated into the community. While it will afford me an invaluable opportunity to learn and use the language, it will also give me the opportunity to give something back to the community. My Zulu teacher at UCLA has personally conveyed a letter of introduction from me to two schools (in Eluphepheni and Port Shepstone) in which I could volunteer. I have been assured that my presence will be quite sought after.

Data collection. I will conduct regular elicitation sessions with native speakers to collect data necessary for my dissertation and related research topics. The data to be collected will be of two kinds: syntactic and phonological. Aside from my dissertation topic, I am interested in the Zulu tonal system, both in and of itself and how it relates to syntactic constituency and theories of movement. All data collected will also be of use to other linguists, including linguists in Africa. Phonological data collection will include audio recordings.

Meeting with South African researchers. I plan to meet with other linguists who work on Zulu and related languages to exchange data and analyses. I have already made contact with linguists at Witwatersrand University and Rhodes University to this end. More arrangements will be made before my trip.

Accessing unavailable materials. Much work on Zulu and related languages is unavailable or difficult to access in the United States. This trip will allow me to read and acquire books and articles which are out-of-print or otherwise unavailable.

Background and preparedness

Language. I have been studying Zulu for two years now at UCLA and expect to quickly gain proficiency in the language after my arrival in South Africa. I also speak Swahili, a related language, which I studied for several years and which was the topic of my Masters thesis. I have a strong history of self-instruction in foreign languages. (I am self-taught in Arabic, a language which I have taught at the university level.)

Developing country experience. I have extensive experience in developing countries, having lived ten years in Egypt and having had long stays in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mexico.