Leston Chandler Buell
Also known as « Bulbul ». Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Amsterdam. Here is my curriculum vitae.
picture of me

Leston Buell
kamer 307
Spuistraat 210
1012 VT Amsterdam
The Netherlands

e-mail: dr.bulbul@yahoo.com

Research Interests:

  • The syntax of Bantu languages. Do you also work on Bantu syntax? Then why not join the Yahoo Bantu Syntax group?
  • Currently, my narrow syntactic interests are locative inversion, why questions, the right and left peripheries, and non-verbal predication in Bantu languages; and complementisers in Arabic.
  • As of April 2009, i will be working on the Sino-Kwa project at the University of Amsterdam. This project addresses the question of whether there is anything that makes the syntax of analytic languages (languages without affixes) systematically different from synthetic languages (languages with affixes). My main task will be to investigate and compare the functional projections in the clause in two language families: Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.) and Kwa (Igbo, Gungbe, etc.; all spoken in West Africa).
  • Syntax, morpho-syntax. Phonology/syntax interface. Zulu tone.
  • Phonological, syntactic, historical, and comparative study of Semitic, Bantu, and Romance languages.
  • Second language acquisition and pedagogy.

Recent Academic Papers, Talks, and Projects:

  • The Distribution of the Nguni Augment: A Reivew, talk handout for a workshop on the Bantu augment, Leiden University, June 17, 2009.
  • Class 17 as a non-locative noun class in Zulu draft manuscript, updated regularly. Here is also the original talk handout for the Bantu 3 conference in Tervuren, Belgium, March 2009.
  • Pro-sensitive complementisers, case, and the EPP in Egyptian Arabic, a draft manuscript, about 30 pages, periodically updated. Here is also the original Dutch handout from my February 2009 TiN-dag talk: Pro-gevoelige voegwoorden in het Egyptisch Arabisch.
  • Just for fun, here is presentation for Kliks in het Zulu, which i presented to the HOLEC/VROLEC professors' association. The fun part is at the end, where the audience is invited to pronounce some very erudite sentences of Dutch, pronouncing the c's, q's, and x's with the correct clicks in accordance with Zulu orthography.
  • Predication Types and Predicate-Internal Arguments in Zulu. A draft of a long paper comparing properties of arguments of different verbal and non-verbal predication types in Zulu. The discussion section is still minimal. Comments are most welcome.
  • VP-Internal DPs and Right Dislocation in Zulu. A later version of this appeared in Linguistics in the Netherlands. This is based on my February 2008 TiN-dag presentation, Aspecten van de Rechterperiferie: Binnen en Buiten de VP in het Zulu, which compares types of elements which can occur inside and outside the verb phrase in postverbal positions.
  • The Conjoint/Disjoint Alternation in Sambaa. Handout for February 2008 TiN-dag presentation. Joint authorship: Leston Buell and Kristina Riedel.
  • The Syntax of Mirror Principle Violations in Wolof, handout for February 2008 International Morphology Meeting, Vienna. Joint authorship: Leston Buell, Mariame Sy, and Harold Torrence.
  • Draft manuscript (abut 30 pages) of paper on ngani and negative reason questions ("Why didn't you sing?") in Zulu. A later version (somewhat shorter) is under review by Lingua.
  • Draft manuscript (about 60 pages) of Asking why in Zulu. This is a work in progress, please read caveats before citing. Syntactic, semantic, and morphosyntactic aspects of three different reason/purpose questioning strategies are discussed in detail. If you're only interested in negative reason questions with ngani "why", download the freestanding paper in the previous item. Everything in the long paper on ngani is also in the shorter paper.
  • Semantic and Formal Locatives: Implications for the Bantu Locative Inversion TypologySOAS Working Papers in Linguistics 15: Bantu in Bloosmbury: Special Issue on Bantu Lingusitics (2007), pages 105-120. This paper discusses the implications of including Zulu and Tharaka locative inversions in the Bantu locative inversion typology. In those languages, the inverted locative appears as a canonical noun phrase, rather than with a preposition or special locative morphology.
  • Evaluating the Immediate Postverbal Position as a Focus Position in Zulu, 2007, in Selected Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic Theory and African Language Documentation . Here is the handout (longer and with more data) from a talk with the same title given at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL). In this paper, i explore under what circumstances a postverbal focused element has to appear in immediate postverbal position. I adopt Cheng and Downing's idea that known elements move out of the verb phrase, but suggest that there is a violable, focus-dependent constraint which enforces this.
  • A near-final draft of Transparency Effects in Zulu Reason Questions, in Linguistics in the Netherlands 24 (2007), pages 62-73. In this paper, the ability of reason applicative morphology to appear on the selected infinitive in a question like "What do you want to sing for?" is the equivalent of the well-known restructuring contexts associated with clitic-climbing in Romance languages.
  • The Zulu Conjoint/Disjoint Verb Alternation: Focus or Constituency?, in ZAS Papers in Linguistics, volume 1:43. In this paper i argue that junctivity in Zulu cannot directly encode focus.
  • Mariame Sy and i have published two joint papers on valence-changing morpheme orderings in Wolof. The analyses in the two papers are quite different.

    The more recent paper is Buell and Sy (2005), A Fixed Hierarchy for Wolof Verbal Affixes on morpheme orderings of valence-changing verbal suffixes in Wolof. Appeared in the 2005 Languages of West Africa volume of BLS proceedings, page 25-36.

    The earlier paper is Affix ordering in Wolof applicatives and causatives (2006), in Selected Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: African Languages and Linguistics in Broad Perspectives, Cascadilla Press, pages 214-224.

  • My dissertation, entitled Issues in Zulu Verbal Morphosyntax (approx. 1 megabyte), is on the syntax and morphosyntax of the Zulu verb. Chapters include discussion of derivation of the verb stem, the nature of reciprocal -an, subject and object agreement as a reflex of argument raising, dependencies between inflection morphemes and the derivation of the inflected verb, an analysis of long and short verb forms, and an analysis of locative applicative forms.
  • I gave a talk on The Zulu verb within the constraints of the LCA at the 2004 ACAL meeting in Boston. You may read the paper or the talk handout. This is about dependencies that need to be accounted for when implementing verbal morphology in syntax.
  • More Zulu locative inversion. My LSA talk in January 2004, in Boston, was entitled Bantu applicatives high and low (PDF format), but you'd be better off just reading chapter 6 of my dissertation. The same thing goes for my March 2003 WCCFL talk on the same topic entitled Introducing Arguments above the Agent: the Case of Zulu Locative Applicatives. You may read it in PDF format (which may be fuzzy) or download it in zipped PS format. Really, just read the dissertation chapter.
  • A computational model for simultaneous parsing of syntax and prosody, A Synchonized Parsing Model for the Syntax and Prosody of Swahili. Note that this is a draft. Parts of the model presented will be reimplemented, and the current implementation appendix no longer closely follows the model described. You may view it in PDF format (which may be fuzzy) or in zipped PS format. I now wonder i will ever fulfill my plan to publish it in an upcoming volume of UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics.
  • While in South Africa, in addition to working on syntactic issues, I collected data pertaining to Zulu tone. A useful outcome of my trip to South Africa was a list of high-toned and toneless verb stems. This list is important because the two Zulu (monolingual) dictionaries which indicate tone use an incorrect diagnostic for verb tone, making it appear as if all verb stems of more than two syllables were high-toned.
  • My M.A. thesis is an analysis of Swahili relative clauses. It uses extensive remnant movement rather than head movement. Various constraints are proposed to rule out ungrammatical infixed relatives (such as with the perfective me tense). The necessity for the ta/taka allomorphy of the future tense is predicted. Unfortunately, due to a data loss disaster, no electronic version of my thesis is still available. However, a shorter, articlized version has appeared in Vol. 7 of the UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics. You can view this article in PDF format.  

    Part of this paper was also presented in a talk at ACAL 2001 in Berkeley, California.

  • In 1998, I developed several hundred etymologies for Arabic loanwords used in the Swahili epic poem Vita vya Wadachi. You can view these etymologies here.
  • My undergraduate senior thesis, A Footless, Constraint-Based Analysis of Stress in Cairene Arabic.

Software, Computer, and Web Projects:

In addition to my linguistic projects and interests, I am an amateur computer programmer, currently working mostly in the Python programming language. Among some of the computing projects I am or have been involved in are these:
  • Contributor to the Mozilla open source web browser project. Mozilla forms the basis of the Netscape browsers. I appear on the Mozilla contributors page. Involvement in this project includes filing almost 160 bugs, testing, and development of test cases for bugs.
  • Contributor to the OpenOffice.org open source office suite. As in the Mozilla project, contribution is largely in the form of bug reporting and developing test cases.
  • Wrote and maintain a sophisticated OpenOffice.org/StarOffice macro for extended Latin character input, which can be downloaded from my OpenOffice.org Goodies page.

Language Background:

  • Arabic (Egyptian and Standard), English (first language), Esperanto, French, Spanish, Swahili, Zulu, and Dutch. These are the languages I have a strong emotional attachment to, use actively, and profess a certain level of competence in. I guess I'm just a Semitic, Bantu, Indo-European, artificial kind of guy. Pleasure reading is mostly in Spanish and Dutch.
  • Other languages I have seriously dabbled in include Chinese, German, Hebrew (Modern), Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian. This isn't exhaustive, of course. I could also mention Xhosa and Swati, but they're really just Zulu with a funny accent, right?
  • If I only had the time, I would also dabble in Farsi, Guaraní, and Maltese.


  • B.A. summa cum laude and with departmental honors from UCLA, June 1997, majoring in Linguistics. Senior project: "A Footless, Constraint-Based Analysis of Stress [and High Vowel Deletion] in Cairene Arabic."
  • Ph.D.  from UCLA, 2005, dissertation Issues in Zulu Verbal Morphosyntax.

Life Experience and Employment:

  • Postdoctoral fellowship on the NWO project "Word Order and Morphological Marking in Bantu", at Leiden University, September 2005 through December 2008.
  • Various stints as teaching assistant (TA) in the UCLA Department of Linguistics, for syntax courses and for historical linguistics.
  • Lived in Egypt as an adult ten years, during which I studied Arabic language and Arabic music, taught Arabic as a second language, and translated for a large USAID-funded project. Have been teaching Arabic for some fifteen years now.
  • Instructor of Spoken Egyptian Arabic (first year, intensive) for UCLA's 1998 summer session.
  • Instructor of Standard Arabic (first year, intensive) for Northwestern University's Summer Study Abroad Program in Alexandria, Egypt for three consecutive summers, 1995-97.
  • Have been teaching other second languages since high school, including Spanish, English, Esperanto, and French, at the level of private lessons, private language schools, and community college continuing education courses. Have received Berlitz-method training.

Other Interests:

  • Languages. (Did you guess?)
  • Artificial languages, especially Esperanto. You my visit my homepage in Esperanto.
  • Cooking. (Homemade tamales, pies, ravioli, or raisin bread, anyone?)
  • Music composition in MIDI. Arabic music. (I used to play the oud.)
  • Modern Arabic and Spanish and Latin American and Spanish literature. (Favorite authors include Julio Cortázar, Lorenzo Silva, Abd Ar-Rahman Munif, and Al-Tayeb Saleh).
  • Independent and foreign films. (Favorites include Babette's Feast and I Don't Want to Talk About It.) Classic Egyptian film (Leila Murad).
  • Racial, ethnic, linguistic, and sexual minorities, their cultures, and their rights.
  • I also have a page of links called Bulbul's Links. My main home page is here.
This page was last updated on June 9, 2009.