Friday, September 27, 2013

Minkaohan - a Chinese word Algerians need

I read a fascinating and depressing article recently (The Strangers) - in which a linguist plays a lead role - about the worsening situation in Xinjiang. The author makes comparisons to Algeria at one point, but not for the following, which will surely strike a chord in anyone familiar with North African educational policy:
"Among the Uighur, however, the policy has created two distinct groups: the minkaohan, minorities educated in Mandarin, and the minkaomin, educated in their own language. Minkaomin education is not taken seriously by non-Uighur employers, and not speaking Mandarin shuts minkaomin graduates out of jobs. In turn, they often resent minkaohan students as opportunistic and unfaithful to their own heritage."
There seems to be a fair amount of scholarship on this issue, judging from a quick skim. The minkaohan have been analysed as a "hybrid identity", sometimes feeling a "sense of shame regarding their ethnic background" and often seen by their minkaomin peers as irreligious or potentially disloyal - but, of course, ambitious parents who want their children to be middle-class often see minkaohan education as the only way forward. Chinese is required for university, although 82% of Uyghur adults can't read Chinese, and students often have difficulty adjusting to the Chinese-speaking world of the university.

Sounds like a remarkably effective way to exacerbate social tensions, right? The irony is that, in North Africa, both governments and employers expanded or even created a very similar system after independence!

It hasn't escaped the Chinese government's notice that this is problematic, so they're addressing the problem by cutting way down on Uyghur teaching, in the hope of eventually making everyone "minkaohan": "'bilingual' classes in many areas have already developed from using Mandarin to teach math, physics, and chemistry to the new model of using Mandarin for all classes except for mother-tongue [language arts] classes." North Africa hasn't quite reached that second stage for Arabic, I'm glad to say - although that's actually the best it's ever managed for Berber - but that "solution" does have some proponents.

It's often been noted that Chinese has contributed surprisingly few loans to English. I think I'd nominate "minkaomin" and "minkaohan" for borrowing: they have no commonly used English equivalent, and are relevant to describing post-colonial situations in many countries.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Adposition borrowing at SLE 2013

The Societas Linguistica Europae's annual conference finished today. The plethora of parallel sessions forced me to miss a lot of potentially interesting talks, but here are some highlights from the workshop I was participating in: adposition borrowing. This workshop was organised around a generalisation proposed by Edith Moravcsik 25 years ago, which has held up remarkably well (better than probably any other structure-based generalisation proposed about language contact):
"A lexical item that is of the 'grammatical' type (which type includes at least conjunctions and adpositions) cannot be included in the set of properties borrowed from a language unless the rule that determines its linear order with respect to its head is also borrowed." (source)
Eitan Grossman presented a number of apparent counterexamples – in fact, he reported that fully one-third of his sample of languages with borrowed adpositions displayed counterexamples. His effort to systematically test the hypothesis is laudable. However, the results cannot be taken at face value. Many examples, on closer examination, turn out to be amenable to one of three alternative explanations:
  1. The adposition was originally borrowed as a preposition, and turned into a postposition in the course of a more general typological realignment of the language. (This applies to Sri Lanka Malay dative nang, ultimately from a Javanese preposition; Authier et al. presented a new example, an apudlocative preposition possibly borrowed from Tatic into Georgian: Tatic (b)-tan N > old Georgian tan-a N > modern Georgian N-tan.)
  2. The source language order is not necessarily as postulated. (Thus the Khorasan Turkish postposition is assumed to be from Persian, in which it is a preposition, but could also derive from neighbouring Mazanderani, in which it is a postposition.)
  3. The "adposition" is also used without a complement in the source language (eg as a noun or adverb), and hence was not necessarily borrowed as an adposition. (This applies, for instance, to the Brahui postposition savā "without", connected at some remove to Persian سوا sevā "separate, other", or to the Manambu postposition wantaim "with", from Tok Pisin wantaim "together (adv.) / with (prep.)". In some cases the adverb is unambiguously the source, for instance Turkish raǧmen "despite", from the Arabic adverb raghman رغما rather than the preposition raghma رغم.)
1 and 2 merely illustrate the need for in-depth historical linguistic investigation of each case, which should go without saying. 3, however, is more interesting in principle. If an adposition can readily occur as a noun or adverb, are we justified in classing it as "of the 'grammatical' type"? The answer I gave in my presentation, before discussing the borrowing of adpositions in Northern Songhay, was: no. Not all adpositions are functional, as various authors have been pointing out since at least 1990, and we should not expect the generalisation to apply to lexical adpositions. In fact, we need at least a three-way distinction (cp. Littlefield 2005): purely functional adpositions such as of, in, to; purely lexical items used in complex adpositions such as front, back, middle (Svenonius's (2010) "axial parts"); and mixed items which simultaneously express the meanings of both a nominal/adverbial stem and a functional adposition governing it, such as beside (by the side of), inside (on the inside of). Functional adpositions should be subject to Moravcsik's generalisation; mixed items should be able to go both ways; and lexical items should be subject to the recipient language grammar alone. This proposal appears to eliminate all the few genuine exceptions to Moravcsik's generalisation so far proposed; however, it remains to be seen whether this criterion can be defined unambiguously for all adpositions in all languages.

Petros Karatsareas gave a nice summary of the situation in Cappadocian Greek (cf. Dawkins 1916), which has taken advantage of Greek's word order flexibility to move a long way towards developing postpositions; relational nouns which in Medieval Greek normally preceded their complement came to obligatorily follow it, yielding circumpositions (governing the genitive) whose prepositional component then became optional. This strategy was in turn used for borrowing Turkish adpositions.

Riho Grünthal pointed out the striking rarity of borrowed prepositions on Finno-Ugric, even in languages such as Finnish or Saami that (as a result of contact) have developed prepositions. This seems to confirm a point that I had also made in regard to Northern Songhay: that it's much easier to borrow adpositions when they have the same syntax in the source and target languages. He did find one or two cases, though, notably Livonian pa, from Latvian. Brigitte Pakendorf showed that Even borrows a fair number of Yakut postpositions (with varying degrees of acceptance among speakers), but no Russian prepositions, which at first sight seems to confirm the role of congruence even more. However, it's also true that Yakut has influenced Even much longer than Russian has.

Edith Moravcsik herself finally gave a summing-up address, in the form of an outline of relevant factors that need to be considered in the typology of adposition/case marker borrowing, with allusions to the talks given; she didn't focus particularly on her original generalisation, and she gave the impression of seeing it as being only statistically true in light of the proposed counterexamples.

I won't go into detail on the contributions that did not directly address Moravcsik's generalisation here, since this is already getting too long for a blog post, but some were also very interesting. Notably, Bakker and Hekking revealed that, whereas Quechua and Guarani make little use of Spanish adpositions, Otomí has massively adopted them – probably because Otomí, unlike the other two, had no morphemes serving such a function before contact, leaving it to context.

Much work remains to be done on the topic. Do you know any prepositions that have been borrowed as postpositions, or vice versa?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Anachronistic Arabic in Algeria

In general, I tend to think that conflating Modern Standard Arabic with Classical Arabic is fairly harmless, since they differ far less from each other than from any spoken dialect. However, occasionally that conflation can lead people really badly astray. The following sentence, which I was shocked to read in "The Language Planning Situation in Algeria" (Benrabah, 2007, in Language Planning and Policy in Africa), is a perfect example:
"For example, [in Algerian Arabic] common Arabic words such as mekteb ("office"), tawila ("table"), mistara ("ruler"), and siyara ("car") were replaced by their French counterpart pronounced [biro], [tabla], [rigla], [tomobil] respectively." (p. 49)
The automobile was invented in 1886, 56 years after the French conquered Algiers - and the word sayyārah سيارة wasn't proposed to describe it until 1892, by the Egyptian Ahmad Zaki Pasha. There was no pre-existing Arabic word in Algeria for ṭumubil to replace. A quick look at a dictionary of Algerian Arabic from 1838 reveals that the word ṭabla طابلة was already being used for (tall) tables then, so there's no reason to assume it came from French rather than some other Romance language (it's attested in Andalusi Arabic as ṭablah طبلة "table"). More to the point, Standard Arabic ṭāwilah طاولة is not to be found in pre-modern Arabic dictionaries, and in fact is a later borrowing into Egyptian Arabic of Italian tavolo. There is no reason to suppose that it ever existed in the Arabic of Algeria. Only the other two are real cases of replacement, and not precisely from the Modern Standard Arabic forms either: the 1838 dictionary gives "m'sèteur" مسطر for "ruler", and "makhzenn" مخزن for "office".

Algerians often assume a dialectal word is non-Arabic when in reality it's easily found in the classical dictionaries, simply because it's fallen into disuse in Modern Standard Arabic (for an egregious example, see my post Les Algériens qui ont oublié les dictionnaires de leurs ancêtres). Cases like this one illustrate that the converse is also true: we tend to assume that at some ill-defined point in the past Algerians were speaking to each other in the Arabic we learned at school , and forget that Modern Standard Arabic includes many words and expressions that were invented within the past century.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Y-chromosomes and language shift in North Africa

The other day I finally came across an easy-to-follow comparative presentation of North African genetic data, on Wikipedia of all things: Y-DNA haplogroups by populations of North Africa. I'm no geneticist, and welcome input from better-informed readers, but here's what that data looks like at first glance to a historical linguist.

As you might know, a man gets his Y-chromosome exclusively from his father (his mother doesn't have one). In North Africa, your ethnic/tribal/familial/etc identity – an important predictor of your language – is likewise traditionally supposed to be inherited from your father, not your mother. So it's illuminating to compare them.

A haplotype called E-M81 (or E1b1b, E3b) is frequent in Northwest Africa, and is held by large majorities of the Berber-speaking populations examined in Morocco or in the western/central Sahara; it is much less frequent in the Middle East. It seems reasonable to associate this haplotype with the spread of Berber. By contrast, haplotype J1 is very frequent in the Arabian Peninsula, but gets rarer and rarer as you go west; it seems reasonable to associate this haplotype with the Arab expansion. (Neither Berbers nor Arabs were ever completely homogeneous, so other, less frequent haplotypes may also be associated with one or the other of these events.)

The table gives four Algerian populations: Oran, Algiers, Tizi-Ouzou (Kabyle), and Mozabites. Mozabites, as might be expected, have a really high frequency of E-M81 (87%) and a really low frequency of J1 (1.5%). The other three, however, all have about 45% E-M81 (45%, 43%, 47% respectively) – in terms of the frequency of this presumably Berber marker, there is almost no difference between the Arabic speakers of Algiers and Oran and the Berber speakers of Tizi-Ouzou. In terms of the frequency of the originally Arab J1, the difference is hardly greater – 23% in Oran and Algiers vs. 16% in Tizi-Ouzou. Since we aren't sure about the historical interpretation of the rest of the haplotypes found, it may be more useful to consider the ratios of "Berber" E-M81 to "Arab" J1: 2:1 for Oran and Algiers vs. 3:1 for Tizi-Ouzou (and 29:1 for Mozabites).

What this tentatively tells us, in brief, is that:

  • In Algeria, plenty of Berber fathers adopted Arabic; if you are an Arabic speaker, you're very likely patrilineally Berber. (No surprise there!)
  • In Kabylie, a fair number of Arab fathers adopted Berber; if you are a Kabyle speaker, you may well nonetheless be patrilineally Arab. (Many readers will be surprised by this, but they shouldn't be: read about the history of the Sebaou valley in and after the Turkish period sometime, for example, let alone the more controversial example of the maraboutic families.)
  • Arabic was more likely to be adopted where more Arabs had come in, even though genetically, Arabs remained a minority. (In other words, Arabisation wasn't just about language shift.)
  • It's really rare for an outsider man to become Mozabite. (No surprise there either.)
A slightly different language shift situation is indicated by the comparison of Arab and Berber groups on Djerba (southern Tunisia). They do indeed differ on the frequency of J1 – the "Arabs" have it at 8.7%, while the Berbers have none at all. The Arabic speakers of Djerba appear to be genetically less Arab than the Kabyle speakers of Tizi-Ouzou! But, more importantly, we have what looks like a classic case of elite-led language shift: in this case, unlike Kabylie, the groups that incorporated Arab men simply ended up considering themselves Arab, while the ones that didn't stayed Berber. (I almost said kept speaking Berber, but actually, many Berber speakers of Djerba have been shifting to Arabic.)

Finally, one Berber-speaking population stands out radically in this table: Siwa. There is no significant presence of E-M81 there, and not much J1 either. The haplotypes best represented there are R1b – usually associated with Western Europe and, for some reason, with Chadic speakers – and B2a1a, usually associated with central and eastern sub-Saharan Africa. R1b has a reasonable frequency in Kabylie and Niger Tuareg, and to a lesser extent in Egypt, so we might suppose that it reflects the oasis' Berber roots, or that it reflects immigration from the east; we'd need non-Tuareg Libyan Berber genetic data to test that hypothesis. B, however, isn't common anywhere else in North Africa; does it derive from the slave trade, or from some older population of the region? Again, I think more data from Libya will be needed to make sense of this.