Preverbs: Their syntax and semantics in West Africa


  • Ronald P. Schaefer Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
  • Francis O. Egbokhare University of Ibadan



preverb, dynamic modality, boulomaic modality, phasal aspectuals, Emai, West Benue Congo


Preverbs are positionally-delimited grammatical forms that remain understudied. We examine their semantic classes in West Benue Congo (WBC) and its minor language Emai, which until recently was undocumented. Preverb classes in Emai display a subset of semantic categories identified in Dixon (1991, 2006, 2010) and Nuyts (2001, 2005, 2006, 2016). There are eight semantic classes for 30 odd preverb forms. They are apportioned according to their qualitative or quantitative character. Preverbs do not include traditional auxiliary categories of aspect, tense, and modality, which exhibit distinct diachronic and synchronic character. Common to preverbs is their orientation to grammatical subject, rather than utterance speaker. Members of each class ascribe a property to clausal subject. Preliminary evidence suggests that preverbs of similar semantic character exist in other West African languages.

Author Biographies

  • Ronald P. Schaefer, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
    Distinguished Research Professor, Department of English
  • Francis O. Egbokhare, University of Ibadan


    Department of Linguistics and African Languages  




How to Cite

Schaefer, Ronald P., and Francis O. Egbokhare. 2023. “Preverbs: Their Syntax and Semantics in West Africa”. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America 8 (1): 5507.