I'll be up front: this question arises from trying to crack a Lingala song. There is this polyphonic Lingala religious hymn, Salelaka Mokonzi, which is very well-known among members of this Catholic religious movement I belong to. Recently, I tried cracking it, that is, armed myself with several versions of the lyrics, a couple of translations, a couple of dictionaries, and a lot of patience, and tried to analyse the lyrics word by word to figure out what they meant (I usually distrust ready-made translations, especially when they and the lyrics oscillate between different sources as in this case). I had some successes and some problems.
One problem I had was subject prefixes, and it arises from the following cognitive dissonance:
- On one side, I know Zulu and Swahili, both Bantu like Lingala, use a system of subject prefixes which mandates agreement with the class of the subject noun, plus prefixes for first and second person; a couple of passages in the song suggest this could be the case in Lingala as well, that is, there seem to be a couple verb forms that use noun class prefixes as subject prefixes, and one isn't analyzable otherwise and the other seems to mean something apparently extraneous to the sentence of the song it's found in;
- However, this grammar seems to give full conjugations, and only has three third person prefixes: a (s)he, an it, and a they; also, this dictionary analyses forms like aye ((s)he came), but loye isn't analysed, whereas I'd see it as similar to aye but with the lo- prefix.
Are there Bantu languages where, unlike Zulu and Swahili, the subject prefix system has only three third person pronouns, two singular and one plural, or anyway far fewer prefixes than noun classes? In particular, did this system collapse happen in Lingala, or does Lingala use noun class prefixes as subject prefixes?
Naturally I strongly encourage any Lingala speaker who sees this to either answer the Quora question about the song or open a chat room to discuss it. Lingala seems to be rather unpopular on Quora, with only 12 people having answered questions in it, exactly one each, at the time of posting my question, and then a couple more answers were posted to questions of mine.
Two things: one, I'll clarify that «exactly one each» in the P.S. meant each user had posted one answer, not that each user had answered a distinct question; there are at least 12 questions though, excluding mine; two, I created the chat room.