I know what when making verbs about people I can use an object placeholder in order to indicate the difference between the first, second and third persons.

So if I'm talking to my daughters I might say..

ninakupenda = I love you

ninawapenda wasichana = I love you girls

I'm pretty clear on all that when it comes to people, but what about inanimates or even animates from other noun classes.

What if I'm at the zoo and I'm feeling all sentimental about a rhino and I want to say "I love you rhino" or "I love you rhinos".

Does it work like this..

ninakipenda kifaru = I love you Rhino

ninavipenda vifaru = I love you Rhinos

Or is it simply not possible to address a Rhino in Swahili?

  • Welcome to Linguistics SE!
    – Alenanno
    Jun 7 '15 at 15:37

You can say ninakupenda(,) Kifaru "I love you, Rhino", just as you can say ninakupenda(,) Malaika "I love you, Malaika". The post-verbal NP is not an argument, and the structure is exactly like "I love you, Lucy". Ninakipenda kifaru is kind of dicey, since the agreement should be class 1, since rhinos are animate. However, there is a fair amount of dialect / individual variation on that point. And it would not mean "I love you, Rhino", it would mean "I love a/the rhino". Noun class is indicated only on 3rd person objects. So for example ninakupenda kibiriti "I love you, matches".


If you do talk about loving a rhino, it might shift "rhino" into the person noun class. I don't know any Swahili, but I have a slight acquaintance with another Bantu language, Tumbuka, and I heard a Tumbuka folk tale about animals who have an adventure, much like humans do, and all the class agreement particles are shifted to the person class.

So I'd guess it would depend on whether you're thinking of Rhino as being a person.

  • As in most languages equipped with them, category systems are there to be used by speakers, rather than to rule them. Shifting categories is a really good way to economize on vocabulary while marking salient features.
    – jlawler
    Jun 4 '15 at 20:16

It would still be "Ninakupenda Kifaru" singular i.e I love you rhino "Nawapenda Vifaru" plural i.e I love you rhinos since Kifaru(rhino) is a living being and hence falls into the same category as humans.

While "ninakipenda kifaru" is wrong in the context that you are portraying, it's more of a third person reference...The correct version, "ninampenda kifaru" means I love (a) rhino

PS "ninakipenda kifaru" is also correct meaning I love (a) tank(the army kind of tanks that is)

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