Thursday, April 29, 2010

Manatees and bilingual compounds

In Djenné Chiini, the Western Songhay dialect of Djenné in Mali, the word for "manatee" is ayuumaa. This is clearly a compound of two elements: ayuu, the word for manatee throughout the rest of Songhay (as well as in Hausa), and maa from Bozo máa, which also means "manatee" (Bozo being the original language of the Djenné region.) It's as if the American English word for an elk were "elk-moose". I can't think of any other examples of this kind of half-borrowing, where a native word is "expanded" by adding on its translation into another language; can you?

(Sources: Daget 1953, La langue bozo; Heath 1998, Dictionnaire songhay-anglais-français, tome II: Djenné chiini.)

21 comments:

nycguy said...

I have a vague recollection of reading, in a popular linguistics book many years ago, about a town in SW European Russia whose then-current name in Russian was derived from the words for town in 3 successive dominant languages of the area.

A quick google provided no clue as to which town, though.

Quebeckers make fun of American tourists who ask about the Pont Bridge across the St. Lawrence River, being confused by the bilingual signs.

John Cowan said...

There are several such placenames in England. Bre is the Brythonic root for 'hill', which is why Tolkien used Bree as a town name in The Lord of the Rings. In the real town of Brill in Buckinghamshire we have bre + English hill, and Bredon Hill in Worcestershire is bre + OE don (ModE down) + ModE hill. Similarly, the final parts of Mississippi and Gobi mean 'river' and 'desert' respectively in the source languages, but in English they are usually called the Missisippi River and the Gobi Desert.

pkaustin said...

I think this is not that uncommon. In the US you can get a roast beef sandwich "with au jus". Does "panini sandwich" count? (where panini is the plural of Italian panino 'kind of sandwich')

There's also the "Avon River" where avon is British Celtic for 'river'.

Lameen Souag said...

For place names, this does seem to happen a lot - the Sahara Desert and "la source d'Ain Aghbal" (the spring[French] of Spring[Arabic] Spring[Tamazight]) in Morocco are another couple of examples. But in such cases it can usually be interpreted as reflecting non-speakers' confusion over whether the word is a proper noun or a common one, like the American tourists in Quebec; that explanation doesn't carry over to cases like "manatee" so easily.

"With au jus" is a great example (and with a preposition to boot!) Dunno about "panini sandwich"; that seems more of a specific+general compound like "hound dog" or "birch tree".

Nathaniel said...

Chai tea?

Daniel said...

Reindeer

David Marjanović said...

It happens a lot when the native term is perceived as more general than the borrowed one: sika deer, panda bear, koala bear...

Anonymous said...

Such compounding may not be a direct result of bilingualism: often you find "redundant" compounding of this sort to lengthen a word, especially when speakers seek to avoid a (potential or real) homophonic clash.

Thus, an older/dialectal French term for bee was MOUCHETTE, which (according to one theory!) is a compound of MOUCHE (fly) and E(P)/E(T). The latter was the earlier word for bee, which was compounded with MOUCHE because it was too short.

I wonder whether the compound discussed might not owe its existence to a similar need/process: the fact one of the two elements is a loanword may well not be relevant.

Outside of place-names and animals, here's another good example of a "bilingual synonym compound": English PLENTIFUL, which combines two words with the same meaning *and etymology*!

Your friendly neighborhood Romance scholar.

Jim said...

"bilingual synonym compound": English PLENTIFUL, which combines two words with the same meaning *and etymology*!"

Except that in that case 'ful' is not 'full'. It's a suffix rather than an adjective.

Why would anyone in Mali need a word for manatee? Why not borrow the whole thing from some language on the coast?

"Poke salad" may be an example, where 'poke' and 'salad' both refer to potherbs, perhaps in general, although 'puccoon' refers to what is actually a different plant.

Lameen Souag said...

Mouchette is a great comparison, if that theory is correct. Plentiful is less so - while plen- meant the same as "full", the item borrowed was the word "plenty", which no longer meant "fullness".

Manatees live in the Niger River too (although not too many are left.) You can find a Bozo myth about how they learned to hunt manatees in Ligers, Les Sorko (Bozo): Maîtres du Niger.

Jim said...

Well then that makes sense.

Is there a map or some other source that tracks the migrations of various groups due to expansion of the Sahara or pressure from other groups further north? i know about the Dogon, but that kind of thing has to have been generall from the Atlantic to Lake Chad over the millenia.

Kim said...

@ John Cowan (2nd commenter) -- Gobi is just a word for 'desert' in Mongolian, an unanalyzable stem. I've wondered about the etymology; do you have some other sources? What's the final part of it that separately means 'desert', too?

Jesús said...

In the same vein of placenames, off the top of my head, there's a well known Spanish toponym of "Puente de Alcántara".

Anonymous said...

Algerian toponym : Oued Souf (arabic & tamazight for river) in the Sahara

Anonymous said...

It's not a compound, but I have to mention that when I was a wee lad in Southern California we used to take trips to "The La Brea Tar Pits".

"la brea" is Spanish for "the tar", and my brother liked to call them "the the tar tar pits".

David Marjanović said...

Thus, an older/dialectal French term for bee was MOUCHETTE, which (according to one theory!) is a compound of MOUCHE (fly) and E(P)/E(T). The latter was the earlier word for bee, which was compounded with MOUCHE because it was too short.

Most of modern Mandarin vocabulary is like that, because just about everything became too short when the number of syllables in the language shrunk to 1300 or so (yes, tones included).

David Marjanović said...

Except that in that case 'ful' is not 'full'. It's a suffix rather than an adjective.

And where do you think the suffix comes from?

The spelling is just a silly quirk. German lacks it and spells both of them (-)voll.

Jim said...

"And where do you think the suffix comes from?"

Obviouly from the adjective. The point is that it is no longer an adjective, and no longer carries the semantic value of the adjective.

'-able" comes from '-habile". It no longer carries that load either.

Panu said...

In some Polish dialects, the word borówka means "red whortleberry, lingonberry" (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), in others, it is "common bilberry" (Vaccinium myrtillus). So, in order to point out which borówka is meant, it is expanded by adding the word from those dialects where borówka is not used for this kind of berry: thus, lingonberries are officially called borówka brusznica and bilberries borówka czernica.

John Cowan said...

Kim: quite right, and thanks for the correction; it's the same story with Sahara Desert. A Spanish example of the original type is el rio Guadalquivir, where the name < al-wādi al-kabīr (الوادي الكبير). In Andalusia, wadi > oued came to mean river rather than just valley, presumably because most valleys had rivers in them.

Anonymous said...

In California people say "chai tea" which is a combination of the English and Farsi words for tea. Although it refers only to black tea whereas "chai" refers to any kind of tea