Professor Mtenje authors book


Professor Al Mtenje has authored a book titled The Phonology of Chichewa which is set to be launched tomorrow at the Little Theatre, Chancellor College in Zomba.

Professor Mtenje has co-authored the book with Professor Laura Downing.

The book has been published by Oxford University Press.


Mtenje said yesterday that the book is the first comprehensive publication on the phonology (sound structure) of Chichewa and that it has drawn extensively from current linguistic theories in the description and analysis of Chichewa phonological data.

“The book balances between theory and description in order to carter for the interests of both theoretical linguists and those who are more inclined towards African Linguistics, especially the area of Bantu languages to which Chichewa belongs,” he said.

Mtenje said The Phonology of Chichewa, presents a descriptive and analytical account of the sound system of Chichewa.


“It discusses the consonant and vowel sound combinations and tone patterns of the language and it goes on to present in detail the various phonological (sound) processes and rules which apply to these segments and the tones when they occur in different grammatical contexts in the language,” he said.

He added:

“The rules and sound systems discussed show that Chichewa behaves like most other Bantu languages in that it shares the same rule systems with those languages.”

He said the book is deliberately written in such a way that it is both descriptive and theoretical so that it can carter for both linguists and students (undergraduates and postgraduates) who are interested in theoretical as well as descriptive aspects of the language.

With so many Chichewa books on the ground, Professor Mtenje said this book addresses a very important gap in the literature on Chichewa.

“Over the past 50 years or so, there have been a number of Masters and Doctoral dissertations, journal articles and other descriptions on various grammatical aspects of the language.

“However, none of these works has addressed all the key phonological (sound) aspects of the language in one publication,” he said.

As a consequence, Mtenje said “what we have are scattered publications and dissertations on the language which do not holistically deal with all the major phonological issues.”

“Our knowledge of Chichewa grammatical structure is, therefore, fragmented. This book fills this gap in that for the first time, we have a publication which comprehensively presents all the crucial phonological issues of Chichewa in one volume. This makes it easy for any scholar or researcher who would like to consult one publication which has all the main phonological areas of Chichewa,” he said.

Mtenje observed that all languages undergo change and that this is what makes language dynamic.

“The changes which Chichewa has undergone have been triggered by many environmental (social, political, geographical, technological) factors. Speakers of languages introduce changes partly in order to satisfy certain social needs,” he said.

Mtenje said for as long as language change assists the users to enhance communication in their communities, such changes should be viewed positively.

On Downing, who is a Professor of African Linguistics at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden; Mtenje said he has worked with her on joint research projects in Linguistics over the past 20 years.

“Together we have published a number of linguistics papers on Chichewa. She has been to the University of Malawi as a visiting scholar on many occasions in the last 10 years to carry out research on Chichewa with me,” he said.

Mtenje described Downing as renowned researcher in African Linguistics and that she has published extensively on other African languages besides Chichewa.

The book has taken them more than two years to complete writing it and that ahead of the launch it is already available on the Oxford University Press website.

“Anyone who wants to get a copy can buy it online through the website and anyone who wants to attend the launch is most welcome,” Mtenje said.

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