Thursday, May 24, 2007

Songhay materials

Songhay is a close-knit family of languages in West Africa, spread by the medieval Songhay Empire, that happens to be rather relevant to my PhD. It has no close relatives; the best guess is that it's Nilo-Saharan, but if it were spoken in the Americas, it would undoubtedly be classed as having no relatives whatsoever, and the resemblance to other languages is not strong. It has some rather interesting syntactic patterns. Throughout the family, NPs are organised as follows: possessor - head - adjective - determiner - plural marker, eg Kwarandzie adra kedda gh yu (mountain small this pl) "these small mountains", Sidi L`arbi n iz yu n targa (Sidi Larbi 's child pl 's canal) "Sidi Larbi's children's canal". While at least one other West African family, Mande, has this NP order, the only case I am aware of offhand outside Africa is Ulwa in Nicaragua. Even rarer worldwide is a feature found in a number of centrally located Songhay varieties: having two distinct classes of verb, one - the vast majority - requiring SOV word order (ie preverbal objects), and the other (including such verbs as "follow", "marry", "want", "see", "fear", "bring", at least in Gao) requiring SVO order (ie postverbal objects.)

Anyway, for me this has been a great week for finding materials on Songhay. Jeffrey Heath has updated his webpage, adding work in progress on the nearly undocumented dialect of Humburi as well as several others (I will find the Tadaksahak wordlist especially useful; aside from Songhay, readers may also want to check out his Dogon materials.) On a missionary website (though I strongly disapprove of such work, it does have useful byproducts), I found a good hour of fairly comprehensible audio in Tadaksahak, an inadequately documented Northern Songhay language important for my purposes; and SOAS library just informed me that the copy of Ousseina Alidou's unpublished dissertation on Tasawaq, an even more important language for comparisons to Kwarandzie, has at long last arrived from Hamburg. Above all, I got an email from a kind contact from Tabelbala, with some more Kwarandzie audio files.

For other Songhay materials, try Relative Clauses in Tadaksahak, Some Verb Morphology Features of Tadaksahak, Northern Songhay Languages in Mali and Niger, Southern Songhay Speech Varieties in Niger, The Zarma Website, Zarma Dictionary, Notions élémentaires pour apprendre le Zarma, La dénomination en Zarma, Lexique kaado-français...

8 comments:

Tim May said...

possessor - head - adjective - determiner - plural marker

Interestingly enough, the same order's found in Tibetan:
གངས་རི་མཐོ་པོ་དེ་ཚོ་ khangri thopo the-tso (snow.mountain high that-pl) "those high snow-mountains"
བཀྲ་ཤིས་ལགས་ཀྱི་བུ་ Trashi'-la'-ki phu (Tashi-HON-'s son) "Tashi's son".

NIGER1.COM said...

More songhay ressources
http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?ie=UTF8&keywords=songhay%20&tag=niger1com-20&index=blended&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=9325

Lameen Souag said...

That is rather interesting - I'll have to read some Tibetan grammars and see if there are other typological similarities...

Lameen Souag said...

Oh yeah - where do numbers come in Tibetan?

Tim May said...

Hmm... I'm not sure. My only reference is Nicolas Tournadre & Sangda Dorje's Manual of Standard Tibetan, which while a pretty good introductory textbook isn't the best reference grammar.

My best guess is that numbers come between adjectives and determiners. Somewhere after the noun, anyway.

MMcM said...

Right. Note also that the ཚོ་ tso plural marker from Tim's first example (Literary རྣམས་ nam) would not appear if there was a number. Unmarked is unspecified and number words and various other quantity words imply plural, tso remaining for the need to mark plural, but not to any particular degree.

Language said...

Man, I envy you. That's exactly the kind of study I wanted to be doing, back when I was planning a career in linguistics. And Heath's site is amazing!

Tim May said...

MMcM: Right. -tso is quite restricted. It forms the plural of personal pronouns, & demonstratives like the in the example. Noun phrases without a demonstrative can only take -tso if they're definite & denote people. (An adjective can still come between -tso & the head, e.g. ཨ་མ་གཞོན་པ་ཚོ་ ama shönpa-tso (mother young-pl) "the young mothers").

I haven't come across any examples with both a numeral (or other quantifier) and a demonstrative. If one were to say "those three mountains" I wonder whether one would use the or thetso? (Tournadre does mention the existence of dual demonstratives such as དེ་གཉིས་ thenyi' "those two" - here the numeral གཉིས་ "two" comes after the determiner. That's a special case, though.)

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Aha! While looking around Google books I found Denwood's Tibetan which gives the near maximum noun phrase ཁང་པ་ཆེན་པོ་གསུམ་འདི་གྱད་ལ་ནི་ khangpa chenpo thi-kyä:-la-ni (house big this-PL-LOC-TOP) "now to these three large houses". གྱད་ -kyä:' (as I think Tournadre would transcribe it) appears to be another plural marker occurring in the same position as -tso (and dual -nyi').