Thursday, May 25, 2006

Algerians sure can code-switch

Algerians are rightly renowned for their code-switching wherever they go (or should be). I disapprove of it in general - it often reflects the unjustly low esteem Algerians tend to have for their mother tongue, and encourages the abandonment of less commonly used Algerian Arabic (Darja) terms in favor of unnecessary French loanwords. But you can't help but love an example like this one that I just heard here in London today:

gal-li y-ḥəbb to move
say+PF+3MSg-DAT+1Sg 3sg+IMPF-want "to move"
He told me he wants to move.

What's so weird about that? The thing is, while standard English want requires a non-finite complement, Algerian Arabic ḥəbb "want, like" takes a finite complement. In fact, there are no infinitives in Algerian Arabic - only finite verbs and verbal nouns. So it looks as if the non-finiteness (presumably generated in T) of the complement in the English half is being selected, not by the Arabic verb which precedes it, but by the English translation equivalent of it. I still can't quite believe I heard this sentence.

If you found that fun, you may wish to ruminate over another sentence (Arabic/French switching) from the same conversation:

`ənd-i un problème ta` wəqt
at-me "a problem" of time
"I've got a problem of time."

and, in particular, on what syntactic tree it suggests, and whether this really fits the idea of a DP. Note also that, while Algerian Arabic does have a sort of indefinite article (waḥəd əl-), its distribution is quite different from the French one, and I don't think it would occur in the corresponding code-switching-less sentence.

8 comments:

David Marjanović said...

Michif is a language that consists only of this kind of code-switching. Another link, another, and the book (look inside!).

Yes, it does boggle the mind.

bulbul said...

Well, technically, Michif isn't a case of code-switching, it is an example of language intertwining. It is a mixed language (or a contact language, if you will) with Algonquian verb morphology, but French noun morphology and filled with French nouns and adjectives. Other languages of this type include Ma'a (Cushitic vocabulary with Bantu grammar) and some forms of Arabic (especially Cypriot Arabic).

David Marjanović said...

You could say that Michif is code-switching turned into a language of its own.

I didn't know about Ma'a and Cypriot Arabic...

David Marjanović said...

I should have looked here first. :-)

bulbul said...

You could say that Michif is code-switching turned into a language of its own.
I could, couldn't I? :o) I would much rather point out that Michif, just like Ma'a, Mednyj Aleut or Anglo-Romani, is a code of its own and therefore no code switching is involved (anymore).

David Marjanović said...

It's code-switching turned into a code :^)

Anonymous said...

How spontaneous and un-self-conscious was this conversation? I'm thinking of how British (and to a lesser extent, American) schoolboys (and to a lesser extent, -girls) include (or once did) Latin and Greek inflexions in their English. Never without some effort, though. So not code-switching as most people think of it. But with some of the same sorts of interference.

Lameen Souag said...

Entirely unselfconscious - it was just a normal phone call, and none of the participants were linguists either... But yes, deliberate codeswitching is always also an option. Far and away my favorite example of that is: The Motor Bus.