Featured Linguist: Amani Lusekelo

For this week’s Featured Linguist we are pleased to present Professor Amani Lusekelo!

Associate Professor of Linguistics, University of Dar es Salaam

Amani Lusekelo

I cannot recall anytime that I had inspirations of becoming a linguist. That I shall never claim. But I cannot ignore the fact that I became a linguist by effort, mainly in search of full-time scholarship.

I was born in an administrative district called Rungwe in Southern Highlands of Tanzania in East Africa. Both parents of mine, Bernard Lusekelo and Janeth Ndambo, were born in the families of the Moravian church clergy-men Undule and Mwandambo, respectively. I am the seventh-born child in the family of ten children.

My father worked first as a primary school teacher and later as an office administrator in many parts of Tanzania but came to retire in the office of Rungwe District Council. My mother, remained home to care for us, her precious children. By 1983, when I joined Lupale Primary School, my father had already retired and moved to Nkunga village, some 25 kilometres from the district headquarters at Tukuyu. The village of Nkunga is the first landmark for me to acquire Nyakyusa Bantu (Guthrie’s group M31), the language of the majority in the village, and my future tongue of research specialisation. Swahili Bantu became my second language, as it was and has remained the language of primary schooling in Tanzania.

I learned much of spoken Swahili at Kipoke and Kantalamba schools where I attended secondary education in Tanzania. In the late 1990s, I trained for teacher education in Tanzania and I was stationed at Saba Secondary School in Tanzania, teaching Geography and English Language. Perhaps both, my college training and blood lineage allowed me to be passionate about teaching. Both my grandfathers were teachers in the church. My father was a teacher in a school. I, too, remained a teacher for more than two decades now! And I shall continue teaching and researching about African languages.

During my undergraduate programme at the University of Dar es Salaam (between 2001 and 2005), I double majored Geography and English Linguistics. I minored in education (pedagogy) studies. My best scores and interests were skewed towards Geography, perhaps having taught more Geography sessions in secondary schools in Tanzania. And I was training further as a secondary school teacher of Geography. At the end of my four-year bachelor degree programme in the mid-2005, I was awarded a full-time scholarship to undertake a master’s degree in linguistics, majoring in Bantu languages (Bantuistics). Now my life turned from that of a teacher of Geography to a student of advanced linguistics.

With regard to Bantuistics, my favourite specialisation, I received inspirations from my lecturers, specifically, Abel Mreta, Henry Muzale, Josephat Rugemalira, and David Massamba. In fact, Bantuistics became funny and enjoyable at the master’s level! The enjoyment continued when writing my thesis on the tense and aspect system of my mother-tongue Nyakyusa as both my late teacher, Abel Mreta, became the best supervisor, and my late mother, Janeth Ndambo, became the best informant! The funnier part was that I am a mother-tongue speaker of Nyakyusa, thus, I personally produced several useful datasets, which I then personally analysed! As I pointed out in my current publication (“Why did you choose Runyambo instead of Ruhaya for your research project? By the way, why not choose Kiswahili, the national language? ‘Forces’ acting upon the choice of language of research in Tanzania” Journal of Linguistics and Language in Education (2019)), I believe that research in mother-tongue language should be encouraged.

In between my studies for master’s degree programme, in 2006, I assumed a position in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature (Incorporating Communication Skills unit) at the Dar es Salaam University College of Education, the Constituent College of the University of Dar es Salaam. Then, I became a (formal) linguistics teacher (perhaps a linguist on training post as well). Today, I still teach linguistics at Dar es Salaam University College of Education!

The University of Cape Town in South Africa awarded me a two-year doctoral fellowship under the auspices of USHEPiA. By 2010, I was writing my doctoral thesis under the supervision of Herman Batibo, the distinguished scholar in African languages (https://linguistlist.org/studentportal/linguists/batibo.cfm). By December 2012, I graduated from the University of Botswana and returned to my working station, Dar es Salaam University College of Education in Tanzania. At that time, I became one amongst a handful of academics holding doctoral degrees at the university college.


As a teaching linguist at the university college, I generally teach three undergraduate courses: Introduction to Linguistics, Linguistic Morphology, and Syntactic Theory. I also teach four graduate courses: Contact Linguistics, Sociolinguistics of International Languages, Research Methods in Language Studies, and Advanced Morphology. To support my teaching of undergraduate students, I have written and published locally two course-books which include illustrative cases from Swahili and English, namely, “A coursebook of syntactic theories” and “Linguistic morphology”. A course-book on Introduction to General Linguistics remains a challenge that I have not realised. Perhaps a collaboration with my graduate students should be the target now because my focus has been on contact and anthropological linguistics.

Inspired by a paper produced by Josephat Rugemalira in 2007 (i.e. “The structure of Bantu noun phrase” SOAS Working Papers in Linguistics), I concentrated much attention on the structure of noun phrases of eastern and southern Bantu languages, but particularly my mother-tongue Nyakyusa. In this line, my earlier publications were really skewed towards Bantuistics, e.g. “The structure of the Nyakyusa noun phrase” Nordic Journal of African Studies (2009), “Criteria for identification of determiners in Bantu noun phrases” Journal of the Linguistics Association of Southern African Development Community Universities (2013), and “Distribution of ɸ-features in Bantu DPs and vPs: The case of concord and agree in Kiswahili and Kinyakyusa” Journal of Linguistics and Language in Education (2015).

My journey to the University of Botswana was very fruitful not only on my doctoral studies but also interests on Khoisan linguistics. Besides Herman Batibo, both Andy Chebanne (an African linguist from Botswana) and Chris Collins (an American syntactician and Khoisanist) invited me to field trips in the Khoisan villages in Botswana. Apart from enjoying the countryside in that country, I learned a lot on how to gather data from smaller communities. It was very fascinating to learn the intricate issues related to clicks, tone patterns, syllable structure, and sound systems of the Khoisan languages of Botswana. But being a new comer to Khoisan linguistics, I feared sound patterns of Khoisan languages. But I, too, got inspired to write a small-grant application and got funding from Endangered Language Fund. I had to undertake an investigation of personal names amongst the Hadzabe society of Tanzania.

The experience with the Hadzabe people in Mang’ola area (Karatu district) and Yaeda Chini village (Mbulu district) in northern Tanzania turned out to be very influential in my interests in sociolinguistics, onomastics, and linguistic anthropology. I submitted another application to African Humanities Program in order to continue the study of the culture of the Hadzabe. By 2015, after a fellowship stay at University of Ibadan in Nigeria, I published a book on the Hadzabe culture titled “The Hadzabe Society of Tanzania”.

With Hadzabe datasets, I could articulate a lot of issues related with contact linguistics in other publications of mine (see “Language contact in Lake Eyasi area in north-western Tanzania” Journal of Historical Society of Nigeria (2013) and “The consequences of the contacts between Bantu and non-Bantu languages around Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania International Journal of Society, Culture & Language (2015).

The exposure to the Hadzabe culture had shaped a lot my teaching of research methods to graduate students. This happens because Nyakyusa, my first research experience, had been associated with moving into villages where I was fully known. Gathering rapport with villagers is always smooth. But with the Hadzabe, I had to establish and maintain contacts, and use these contact personnel to recruit more informants. And this is not always an easy task!

My concentration on the Hadzabe slowed down in between 2005 and 2018. With funding obtained from the collaboration of the University of Dar es Salaam and Michigan State University, I shifted my attention to conducting research amongst school children in Maasai villages in Monduli district I northern Tanzania. Issues of language contact between Swahili Bantu and Nilotic Maasai became the centre of attention for my research (see “Education-induced borrowing in Tanzania: Penetration of Swahili nouns into Maa (Maasai) and Hadzane (Hadzabe). Language Matters 2017). Although I did not produce much on the Maasai, I still reserve some energy so that in future I shall return back to the Maasai people and conduct research on issues related to the spread of the Maasai in Tanzania and the linguistic and social outcome of their contacts with speakers of other languages.

In addition, in 2012, when I returned home from the University of Botswana, I was assigned to the position of Associate Chief Editor of the only journal available at Dar es Salaam University College of Education. Since all Chief Editors held administrative positions in the University of Dar es Salaam, I remained the key personnel to handle all matters arising from the submissions, reviews, acceptances, major corrections, and rejections! And from this exercise, I grew up exponentially, as regards journal article authorship.

Furthermore, in 2013, I participated fully in revamping the Journal of Linguistics and Languages in Education (Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics at the University of Dar es Salaam) as a co-editor, assisting the Chief Editor, by then my former teacher and supervisor, Abel Mreta. Besides the editorial tasks and review requests, I contribute articles to this journal, e.g. “DP-internal and V-external agreement patterns in eastern Bantu: Re-statement of the facts in eastern Bantu” Journal of Linguistics and Language in Education (2013).

Swahili, as the official language and medium of instruction in schools in the country, has tremendous impact on languages of East Africa. Since I teach contact linguistics, borrowing is one of my areas of interest. For the past ten years, I have researched on the impact of Swahili on Bantu languages (see “The spread of Kiswahili lexis into the interior Bantu: The case of names of New World cereals and tubers in Tanzanian Bantu” Kioo cha Lugha 2016) and non-Bantu languages of Tanzania (see “The incorporation of the Kiswahili names of cereals and tubers in the non-Bantu languages in Tanzania” Utafiti Journal of African Perspectives 2019). Some of the data is obtained from the assistant of undergraduate students, while a bulky of datasets had been elicited from graduate students in the University of Dar es Salaam. To me, my university college is both, the point of work where I teach linguistics, and the language laboratory where I gather a lot of data for my scholarship. In the way, I teach some of my students, with whom some I co-author (see “The linguistic landscape in urban Tanzania: An account of the language of billboards and shop-signs in district headquarters” Journal of Language, Technology and Entrepreneurship in Africa 2018).

Since 2018, Roland Kiessling and I (together with our graduate students) are engaged in the research project about the Nilotic Datooga, spoken in north-western Tanzania. In the first phase of the project (year 2018 through 2021), we focus on the speakers of Datooga dialect called Gisamjanga in Mbulu district and Taturu in Igunga district within the country. Since I am a new comer to the Nilo-Saharan family, I work with the peripheral topics associated with languages in contact in Tanzania. I personally visited other Datooga group called Rotigenga who settled in Bunda district in northern Tanzania.

So far the project has strengthened my knowledge of fieldwork practices because I have learned a lot from the exposure that Rolland Kiessling offers. Consequently, under the auspices of the Datooga project in the University of Dar es Salaam, I have worked on the impact of the Sukuma Bantu on Nilotic Datooga in Igunga district. I came up with the paper “Adaptation of Sukuma loanwords in the western dialects of Datooga (Taturu) and its dialectological implications” (Ethnologia Actualis 2019).

I have gained a number of new techniques towards establishing tools for data collection. I shall share an exemplary case here. Roland Kiessling and I wanted to investigate the internal structure of the noun phrase of Nilotic Datooga. I was assigned a task to come up with a research tool. I extracted a questionnaire developed by Language of Tanzania Project in the University of Dar es Salaam. Unfortunately it turned out that the questionnaire was designed to capture data for the noun phrases of Bantu languages. It did not fit the patterns of noun phrases in Nilotic languages. During the course of elicitation session, Roland Kiessling, had to construct question-items to suit the Datooga patterns. Had I been alone in the field, I would have abandoned this task!

Notice that I have not moved out of Khoisan linguistics. Currently, I am also engaged in a project sponsored by the University of Dar es Salaam that focuses on plants and crops amongst the Hadzabe people. It is my expectation that at the end of 24 months, I will be able to gather names and utilities of more than 250 plants and crops in this community. In collaboration with natural scientists (chemist Ebert Mbukwa and botanist Halima Amir) and a specialist of African literature (Micky Mgeja), we will be in the position to write some three articles. Currently, Micky Mgeja and I have this accepted article: “Linguistic and social outcomes of interactions of Hadzabe and Sukuma in north-western Tanzania” Utafiti Journal of African Perspectives (2020). I, too, focus on writing this monograph (it reached 180 pages): “Plant nomenclature and ethnobotany of the Hadzabe society of Tanzania”.

With both Datooga and Hadzabe datasets at hand, I have managed to revisit a number of claims which I previously made particularly as regards lexical borrowing as a result of contact of speakers of different languages. I will urge African universities to continue funding researches as they keep building the knowledge of the academics.

In the course of building my career through supervision of master and doctoral students, who are more than 30 now, I must confess that I learn a lot from them! For instance, one of my doctoral student wrote about the noun phrase structure of Iraqw, the Cushitic language of Tanzania. The patterns within the noun phrase are quite distinct from the patterns I was aware of from Bantu noun phrases. Another doctoral student is applying the framework propagated by Harald Baayen on transparency, frequency and productivity of deverbalising suffixes in Bantu languages. Previously, I had not paid much attention to this framework. Her choice of this framework sparkled my interest in it. Also, one master’s candidate wrote about semantic extension of the body parts, a subject matter which I have not mastered fully, even for the paper we co-authored: “An analysis of metaphoric use of names of body parts in the Bantu language Kifipa” International Journal of Society, Culture & Language (2014). But some students of mine have researched about the subject matter which I am very aware of, for instance, categorial properties of adjectives, adverbs and nouns (see “Properties of the adjective category in Runyambo” South African Journal of African Languages 2020).

Thanks for reading and if you want to donate to the LINGUIST List, you can do so here: https://funddrive.linguistlist.org/donate/

All the best,
–the LL Team

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