This paper seeks to establish the first cladistic subgrouping of Songhay explicitly based on shared arbitrary innovations, a prerequisite both for distinguishing recent loans from valid extra-Songhay comparanda and for determining how Songhay spread. The results indicate that the Northern Songhay languages of the Sahara form a valid subfamily, even though no known historical records link Tabelbala to the others, and that Northern Songhay and Western Songhay (spoken around Timbuktu and Djenné) together form a valid subfamily, Northwestern Songhay. The speakers of Proto-Northern Songhay practised cultivation and permanent architecture, but were unfamiliar with date palms. Proto-Northwestern Songhay was already in contact with Berber and probably (perhaps indirectly) with Arabic, and was spoken along the Niger River. Proto-Songhay itself appears likely to have been in contact with Gur languages, confirming its relatively southerly location. This result is compatible with two scenarios for the northerly spread of Songhay. On Hypothesis A, Northern Songhay spread out from an oasis north-east of Gao, probably Tadmakkat or Takedda, and Northwestern Songhay had been spoken in areas west of Gao which now speak Eastern Songhay. On Hypothesis B, Northern Songhay spread out from the Timbuktu region, and Western Songhay derives from heavy “de-creolising” influence by Eastern Songhay on an originally Northern Songhay language. To choose between these hypotheses, further fieldwork will be required.Actually, since writing that I've put together another paper that suggests a more specific explanation for the presence of Northern Songhay in Tabelbala – but that's still under review...
Friday, December 14, 2012
The subclassification of Songhay and its historical implications
Just about two years after its acceptance, my article The subclassification of Songhay and its historical implications has finally appeared, in Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 33:2. (If you don't have access to this journal, you can contact me for offprints.) The linguistic history of Songhay is not well-understood; in particular, although much ink has been spilled in speculation about its possible distant relationships, very little has been done to understand its internal classification and what that tells us about its recent history. This paper is an attempt to get to grips with the latter. The abstract is as follows: