Monday, February 03, 2014

Aljazeera video of mixed Tuareg-Songhay language, Tagdal

Aljazeera's documentary Orphans of the Sahara is worth watching for anyone interested in Tuareg language, as well as Tuareg politics – the producers took the very commendable decision to do most of the interviewing in Tuareg, giving a much more representative picture of Tuareg opinions than if they had stuck to interviewing French speakers as many other journalists do. Other languages of the region, apart from Arabic (and other ethnic groups' opinions) are rather less well represented, but about ten minutes into the first video, my ears perked up as I realised that I wasn't hearing Tuareg any more. As the camera follows Mohammed Igdali's first meeting in many years with his grandmother, somewhere outside Agades in Niger, you hear them speaking in a language that sounds oddly like Tuareg yet has a completely different grammar (from about 10min13s to 10min52s): In fact, this language is Tagdal, the language of the Igdalen tribe – a close relative of Korandjé, the Algerian language I studied for my doctorate. Most of its vocabulary is from Tuareg (or sometimes other Berber varieties), but its grammar and a few hundred of the commonest words are from Songhay, a language family spoken mainly further south along the Niger River. I can make out "Maxámmad Xásan, nənn áahay. – ɣann áahay ah?" (Mohammed Hassan, your grandchild. – My grandchild?), in which "grandchild" (áahay) is Tuareg and the possessive pronouns "your" (nən) and "my" (ɣan) are Songhay, as well as "nən bárar ɣo ggóra nə́n moo ka" (your child who is sitting in front of you), in which only bárar "child" is Tuareg, while the rest is Songhay. This is the first recording of Tagdal I've ever heard.

Tagdal is extremely inadequately documented – there are only three published resources on it that I know of (see my Northern Songhay bibliography), none of which provides even a sketch grammar (although a sketch grammar by the missionary linguist Carlos Benítez-Torres should be coming out in a couple of years, in The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact). It would be a rather interesting language to study, both as a case study in extremely intense language contact and for what it indicates about regional history. (Unlike most Tuareg tribes, the Igdalen are thought to have come from the west, and they seem to have played a prominent role in early medieval history; their original language, like that of the Idaksahak, was quite likely not Tuareg.) Unfortunately, the political situation described in that documentary makes fieldwork rather difficult to undertake for the moment.

41 comments:

Anthony Grant said...

Superb - good to hear the language at long last! You're right, it doesn't sound like any Berber language I've ever heard.

John Cowan said...

Most of its vocabulary is from Tuareg (or sometimes other Berber varieties), but its grammar and a few hundred of the commonest words are from Songhay, a language family spoken mainly further south along the Niger River.

When I read this description, I immediately thought of my native tongue. It's funny how nobody describes English as an intertwined language, even though only the grammar and a few thousand words (I can't get good numbers, even from the OED) descend from Old English and all the rest of the half-million words are borrowed.

Y said...

Which do you think then is more likely? Did Tagdal start out as a Songhay language and borrowed a lot of Berber vocabulary, or did it start out as a Berber language and shifted to Songhay, while holding on to most of its original vocabulary (at least nouns)?

John, English is not that extreme. The OED aside, a large proportion of the basic vocabulary, or of the 5,000-10,000 words in the vocabulary of a fluent speaker, is inherited.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

My best guess is that the Igdalen started out as non-Tuareg Berber speakers, and shifted to an already Berber-influenced variety of Songhay while holding on to a little of their original vocabulary, then borrowed massively from Tuareg Berber. That's almost certainly what happened to Tadaksahak, at any rate.

Y said...

Thanks! Oh, and something else. Igdali has left his home village with his parents when he was 6, but speaks Tagdal. So Tagdal (and who knows how many other languages) have survived as home languages in the Libyan diaspora for two generations?

I haven't watched the whole video, I might have missed something.

Anonymous said...

If you're gonna call the Berber language of the Sahara "Tuareg" (which is fine in principle) then you should equally call the Arabic language/dialect of the Sahara: "Hassaniya" or "dialectal Arabic" or "Saharan Arabic" or whatever. That small Hassaniya-speaking minority in the Berber Sahara of Mali and Niger don't speak "Arabic" really but another Arabic variety that might be older than the current Modern Standard Arabic.

It's the same mistake again and again: "Taqbaylit and Arabic", "Tashawit and Arabic", "Tarifit and Arabic", "Tashelhit and Arabic", "Tanfusit and Arabic", "Tuareg and Arabic". It seems that this "Arabic" is everywhere the same, and competing and fighting with the "local thing". This is false.

The fact is: Nobody speaks "Arabic" on this planet, except for Aljazeera news bulletins and the like + the usual religious lectures in mosques and religion TV channels.

Jim said...

"John, English is not that extreme. The OED aside, a large proportion of the basic vocabulary, or of the 5,000-10,000 words in the vocabulary of a fluent speaker, is inherited."

The collapse of the nominal gender system due to contact with Norse, the restructuring (or building from scratch) of the tense/aspect system along Celtic lines, the near collapse of the verb second rule - English core vocabulary may indeed be mostly inherited (though not necessarily from OE, there are plenty of etyma where it is impossible to determine if they were originally OE or Norse), at least a twenty or thirty derivational affixes borrowed from Greek and Latin and varyingly producitve in the language, substantially borrowing of kinship and body part terms, borrwing even of pronouns) - I'd say John isn't exaggerating at all.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Anon: Watch the documentary – most of the people interviewed are speaking Standard Arabic to the cameras (or the best approximation they can manage), not Hassaniya. They have schools in the Sahara too, you know.

Y said...

Jim, I wasn't clear enough. What I meant was that English, while showing a lot of contact-induced change, is not what I would call an intertwined language, in the sense of having grammar and vocabulary deriving almost entirely from different sources, as Tagdal might be.

David Marjanović said...

the near collapse of the verb second rule

I don't think that's from foreign influence; it's from the entirely native collapse of the declension system.

at least a twenty or thirty derivational affixes borrowed from Greek and Latin and varyingly producitve in the language

Few of them, notably re-, can be added to native stems.

substantially borrowing of kinship and body part terms

Not more than German except for parents, grand- and stomach.

borrwing even of pronouns

This likely wouldn't have happened if the native ones hadn't all ended up sounding the same.

bulbul said...

John,
It's funny how nobody describes English as an intertwined language
Actually, it happens now and then: Bakker et al. mention the idea in passing in "Mixed languages: 15 case studies in language intertwining" and, most famously, Thomason and Kaufman deal with the idea in "Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics" in chapter 9.8, titled "English and Other Coastal Germanic Languages, or Why English Is Not a Mixed Language". Essentially their arguments are the same as the ones David brought up: a lot of the alleged evidence for Romance influence can actually be attested well before 1066, especially in the North.

Anonymous said...

Yes they do have schools and Koran schools in the desert. The Standard Arabic they speak to the camera is artificial and it is not the local language. They might as well speak French or even English to the camera. But that doesn't make them native speakers of any of these 3 foreign languages. I was talking about the native language. The true local tongue. Arabic is not a native langauge of North Africans. Berber is. Tuareg-Berber is. Hassaniya-Arabic is. Other Arabic-related vernaculars are. For the native languages you don't need schools. It is the foreign and non-spoken languages that need schools.

Jim said...

David,
"Few of them, notably re-, can be added to native stems."

Pre- "preheat" as a v-tr, post- "post-game highlights", anti- "antifreeze" come to mind as pretty productive.

Then there are suffixes such as -able and -ive,tive "talkative" which are quite productive. In particular -able is fully productive. -Ous as an adjectival ending is so productive that it is used in completely invented words like "bodacious" and "hellaciuos".

substantially borrowing of kinship and body part terms

"Not more than German except for parents, grand- and stomach."

Aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew - in fact there are more loanwords than native when it comes to core vocabulary in kinship terms. As for body parts there are palm, penis, vagina, testes, scrotum, semen - these are not simply clinical terms; there is either no native equivalent or else no socially neutral equivalent native term for them.

The loss of the declension system may have driven the death of the verb-second rule in English, but it hasn't had the same effect in Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, so there has to be some other explanation, and Welsh influence is the backdoor man here.

"borrwing even of pronouns

This likely wouldn't have happened if the native ones hadn't all ended up sounding the same."

Which is to say it happened and that "they/them" are borrowed. And strangely no one has yet seen any need to replace "thou".

It may very well turn out that OE was never anything more than an elite language preserved in in literary suspended animation and that heavily Celtic-influenced forms of English, that basically Middle English arose immediately after the entry of OE into Britain alongside OE.
http://opus.kobv.de/ubp/volltexte/2006/697/

And then there is the do-negative/interrogative, exactly analgous to the situation in both Irish and Welsh.

David Marjanović said...

"Few of them, notably re-, can be added to native stems."

Pre- "preheat" as a v-tr, post- "post-game highlights", anti- "antifreeze" come to mind as pretty productive.

Point taken. (Anti- is productive in German, but not that much.)

Then there are suffixes such as -able and -ive,tive "talkative" which are quite productive. In particular -able is fully productive.

Yeah, I really should have thought of those. Thanks.

-Ous as an adjectival ending is so productive that it is used in completely invented words like "bodacious" and "hellaciuos".

This, on the other hand, reminds me of French -age in informal Austrian German Schmierage "very bad graffiti"/"particularly ugly unreadable handwritten text" and Stellage "free-standing (book)shelf".

substantially borrowing of kinship and body part terms

"Not more than German except for parents, grand- and stomach."

Aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew - in fact there are more loanwords than native when it comes to core vocabulary in kinship terms.

Just what I said: Tante, Onkel, Cousin, Kusine, Neffe, and I don't know where Nichte "niece" comes from.

As for body parts there are palm, penis, vagina, testes, scrotum, semen - these are not simply clinical terms; there is either no native equivalent or else no socially neutral equivalent native term for them.

German does use native terms for "palm" (though that one's a compound: Handfläche "hand area/(flat) surface"...), "vagina" (translated literally from the Latin: Scheide "sheath"), "testes" and "scrotum", but there is no neutral term for "penis" at all (Glied "member" was an attempt to create one by literal translation from Latin, but is rather medical), and "semen" is Sperma by default. (I'm not even aware of any equivalents to "jizz".)

The loss of the declension system may have driven the death of the verb-second rule in English, but it hasn't had the same effect in Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, so there has to be some other explanation, and Welsh influence is the backdoor man here.

Point taken. I have Dunning/Kruger syndrome about the Scandinavian languages.

"borrwing even of pronouns

This likely wouldn't have happened if the native ones hadn't all ended up sounding the same."

Which is to say it happened and that "they/them" are borrowed.

Yes; still, there was enormous internal pressure to borrow them.

And strangely no one has yet seen any need to replace "thou".

The US is awash in "yall" and "you_guys", and those are just the two most common innovative 2nd p. plural pronouns. Importantly, "yall" is no longer purely Southern as it used to be.

David Marjanović said...

And the grandparents generation looks calqued: Großeltern, Großmutter, Großvater, Großonkel, Großtante, preceded by Urgroß-...

David Marjanović said...

The loss of the declension system may have driven the death of the verb-second rule in English, but it hasn't had the same effect in

Of course, the same causes don't always have the same effects in evolution; sometimes there's more than one way of doing things. Originally, Indo-European expressed the distinction between "in" and "into" by using the same pronoun with different cases ("into" with accusative, "in" with prepositional in Russian, ablative in Latin, dative in German); where the cases were lost, Romance lost the distinction and has relied purely on context ever since (je suis à Paris, je vais à Paris...), while English has created the word into to preserve the distinction.

Jim said...

david,
"Of course, the same causes don't always have the same effects in evolution; "

Absolutely true; that's how languages diverge after all. I was really only wondering what the mechanism might have been. And considering that English has been in closer contact for a lot longer with Welsh than even with Norse, and that the overwhelming majority of speakers initially came into the language with a Bruthonic substrate, I just have to wonder if that was the source of that change - their failure to change to "real" English.

John Cowan said...

David:

Both Neffe and Nichte are native; it's simply that there weren't any sound-changes separating Germanic and Romance here. MHG had nifte, of which Nichte is a simple variant (cf. Dutch nicht, West Frisian nift and nicht both). English nephew and niece are borrowings from OF, replacing OE nefa and nift, though you have to wonder why the English bothered to replace such similar terms.

Other borrowed suffix / native root combinations are toilsome, tokenisml haulage, utterance, all fairly productive suffixes. There are also ad hoc words like girlify and suckitude that have native stems, though "normal" stems for these suffixes are borrowed. As for borrowed prefixes with native stems, we have co-worker, counterglow 'Gegenschein', defrost, disembowel, enmesh, ex-wife, miniskirt, post-war. The recent words transman and transwoman are stump compounds rather than direct instances of trans-.

John Cowan said...

From what I understand, the Welsh are genetically distinct from the rest of the British, so that it may well be there was never any major Welsh > British language shift. As Nicholas Ostler points out, the Germanic languages don't normally induce shift (for whatever reasons): they spread outside the original territory only to vacant or thinly populated lands (Iceland, Prussia, North America after the plagues), which suggests that southeast Britain was also depopulated at the time.

John Cowan said...

Arrgh. Welsh > English.

David Marjanović said...

though you have to wonder why the English bothered to replace such similar terms

Because it was easy to think that the native terms were corruptions of the French ones?

Other borrowed suffix / native root combinations are

Again, this happens more often than in German, but there are German cases. Ex- and Mini- are as productive as in English; and the verb suffix -ieren, made out of Old French verb endings in Middle High German and stressed on the /i:/, is occasionally attached to native stems: (ab)schattieren "to shade a drawing", Schattierung (with a native noun suffix) "shade [of a color or metaphorical]".

As Nicholas Ostler points out, the Germanic languages don't normally induce shift (for whatever reasons): they spread outside the original territory only to vacant or thinly populated lands (Iceland, Prussia, North America after the plagues)

I wonder. How thinly populated was Prussia? Even if it counts, are there enough examples for statistic significance?

David Marjanović said...

When actually did English lose most of its verb prefixes? Were they already gone when the Latin ones (de-, dis-, in-, re-) were borrowed?

John Cowan said...

We still have, with varying degrees of productivity, the native prefixes a-, after-, be-, fore-, hind-, mid-, mis-, out-, over-, under-, up-, with-, and above all un-, the last probably being the most productive prefix in the language. All the productive ones can be freely attached to borrowed stems.

In some cases, it's not clear whether borrowed prefixes are really prefixes or just parts of monomorphemic words that were prefixes in Latin and are prefixes in other lexemes. There is no obvious semantic commonality between conceive, perceive, deceive, receive in English that would make -ceive a morpheme, and similarly with -cept(ive).

Jim said...

John,
"they spread outside the original territory only to vacant or thinly populated lands (Iceland, Prussia, North America after the plagues), which suggests that southeast Britain was also depopulated at the time."

That or the area already was Germanic-speaking. We simply don't know. All we know from the Romans was how they charactrized the elites they interacted with. They characterized them as Celts all across Britain. That tells us nothing about the peasantry. The Romans would probably have called huge swathes of Eastern Europe Germanic on the same basis.

That whole zone of SE Britain, the Low Counties and eastward is not well understood in that period or earlier.

David Marjanović said...

they spread outside the original territory only to vacant or thinly populated lands

Wait. What about everything west of the Rhine and south of the Danube? Some of the Roman(ized) population south of the Danube moved off to Italy when the Empire was over (and took the remains of St. Severinus with them), but the rest remained well into the 9th century, IIRC.

or the area already was Germanic-speaking

Then we'd expect more difference between Old English and Old Frisian, wouldn't we?

Jim said...

"Then we'd expect more difference between Old English and Old Frisian, wouldn't we?"

Only if they were not in contact. That a very narrow strip of water and those cultures have been sea-based for a very long time.

Beides, we may not be speaking of the same Germanic languages. OE may well have been close to Old Frisian at the same time as some other Germanic language was spoken in SE Britain. The texts don't ever give a complete picture of the linguisitic situation.

And remember how hard it can be to derive Middle English from OE. It may in fact be analogous to deriving Hindi from Sanskrit - full of problems because it's not really a mother-grandaughter realtionship.

David Marjanović said...

Beides, we may not be speaking of the same Germanic languages. OE may well have been close to Old Frisian at the same time as some other Germanic language was spoken in SE Britain. The texts don't ever give a complete picture of the linguisitic situation.

Point taken.

And remember how hard it can be to derive Middle English from OE. It may in fact be analogous to deriving Hindi from Sanskrit - full of problems because it's not really a mother-grandaughter realtionship.

Isn't dialectal diversification enough to explain this? Like, most OE we have is from Wessex and therefore not ancestral to ME from London? Similarly, my Central Bavarian-Austrian dialect has a few features that can be derived from the troubadours' Middle High German only if we assume at least two reversals to the Old High German condition.

David Marjanović said...

Hm. Are there any Germanic place names in SE Britain that are not clearly English?

London can be derived straight from Celtic. I'll look up the reference, it's now 2 in the morning over here...

David Marjanović said...

Found it! Slides 11–15.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
The topic is berber not english or whatever...
Please keep on commenting the topic...

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I'm not dogmatic about digressions; by all means carry on commenting on Indo-European – just as long as you keep it interesting :)

That last link is a good corrective to "substratomania", by the way – I'm obviously interested in finding substrates, but hopefully not phantom ones!

John Cowan said...

Cf. also the classic squib by "Metalleus" (pseud. Ken Miner) deriving the opaque English name Moses from the transparent compound middle+town.

John Cowan said...

Okay, I did a bunch of word-crunching to try to figure out what the native core of English words are. I started by asking the OED3 to tell me what words entered before 1250 and are in current use. That gave me about 7000 words. The OED's notion of "current" involves a lot of rare, archaic, poetic, and dialectal words, plus forms that have gone out of use since OED1, so I intersected that with a list of about 120,000 current English words (in OED spelling) to bring it down to about 3800 words. I then hand-filtered that list to remove inflectional forms and obvious derivatives and compounds (but not opaque ones like outlandish and goshawk), plus OE and proto-Germanic borrowings from Latin and French and Norse, and got it down to 1800 words. That's the whole inherited vocabulary of Modern English.

Now I grant that 1800 words is more than a few hundred, but it still looks like the relexification of English has been fearsomely comprehensive. It's still possible to write sentences that mean the same thing in OE and ModE, either in spelling ("Harold is swift; his hand is strong and his word is grim") or in pronunciation ("His linen socc feoll ofer bord in þæt wæter and scranc"). But on the other hand you can concoct simple Michif sentences that contain no nouns and are pure Cree, too.

Jim said...

("Harold is swift; his hand is strong and his word is grim")

Or a little less Tolkienesque:
"That's fucked up."

The relexification is obvious, but the structural changes are more obvious. There's a reason why English speakers think it's easier to learn French that German and it isn't just lexicon, and why, as difficult as Irish or Welsh can be, and Englsih speaker keeps coming acorss all sorts of arrestingly familiar features.

And in line with Anon's request, how similar is the situation in North African varieties of Arabic? I understand the concern with substratomania, but the analogy with the situation in English is that all these langauges persisted in contact, so it isas much about adstrate as substrate effects.

John Cowan said...

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that in 1000 the English would not have understood Þæt is gefuccede up in the same way we do, or perhaps at all.

David Marjanović said...

There's a reason why English speakers think it's easier to learn French that German

...but then, German speakers find English much easier to learn than Icelandic.

And literal translation between French and German tends to work very well (once you get past the obvious features like French putting most adjectives behind their nouns), while literal translation between French and English is a minefield. It's the adstrate phenomenon called Standard Average European.

my Central Bavarian-Austrian dialect has a few features that can be derived from the troubadours' Middle High German only if we assume at least two reversals to the Old High German condition

Oh, I forgot something big: for a slightly wider definition of "my dialect", it has a grammatical feature derived from one that is poorly attested in OHG, to my knowledge not attested in MHG, and lost without a trace even from the most mind-blowingly conservative Walser dialects.

John Cowan said...

Okay, cough up: what feature?

David Marjanović said...

The 2nd person plural pronouns of everything that counts as German are transparently cognate with the Standard forms ihr (nominative), euch (dative/accusative). The more conservative speakers of Bavarian-Austrian dialects are the one exception: they use [es] (nominative), [ẽŋk] (dative/accusative). This is derived from the poorly attested OHG dual pronouns.

Furthermore, the verb ending for the 2nd p. pl. isn't [t] or [d̥], it's [ts] (even in today's Standard-based vernacular of Vienna). The usual explanation, and I can't say it's unlikely, is that the clitic [s], derived from [es], has become stuck on the verbs, analogous to the origin of the 2nd p. sg. ending [st] in German and formerly English, and also analogous to other cases in Low Bavarian and various Walser dialects; however, I find it very intriguing that the 2nd p. dual ending of Gothic was -ts.

There are a few other Gothic traces in Bavarian-Austrian dialects as well, though those are all isolated words.

David Marjanović said...

Oh, it gets better. I forgot to mention that this mysterious [ts] extends to the imperative, where a clitic pronoun would not be expected. Sure enough, Gothic has this -ts not just in the indicative but also in the imperative and the optative.

But then, this may be simply a case of analogy. Even Gothic uses a single ending for the 2nd p. pl. active in the indicative, the imperative and the optative.

Rab Bar said...

سلام مرحبا

كفاكم تشويها للحقيقة العلمية القاطعة الساطعة اللامعة و هي أصل مشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي أكادالن هم أمازيغ طوارق و ليسوا صنغاي يتكلمون لهجات أمازيغية طارقية و لكن بسبب الأصل المشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي نجد أن هذه الغة قريبة جدا الى لهجات أمازيغية أخرى و في نفس الوقت قريبة جدا الى لغة زنوج الصنغاي


نجد في لغة أمازيغ إكدالن و إدكسهاكن 98بالمئة من افعال تتطابق حرفيا مع افعال زنوج الصنغاي و لكن في الحالة التبادية و السببية و المبني للمجهول تتحول هذه الافعال الى افعال أخرى تتطابق حرفيا مع أفعال اللهجات الأمازيغية الأخرى


أليس هذا دليل علمي قاطع جدا على الأصل المشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي ؟؟


سبحان الله حقيقة علمية أشد وضوحا من وضوح الشمس ؟؟

Rab Bar said...

سلام مرحبا

كفاكم تشويها للحقيقة العلمية القاطعة الساطعة اللامعة و هي أصل مشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي أكادالن هم أمازيغ طوارق و ليسوا صنغاي يتكلمون لهجات أمازيغية طارقية و لكن بسبب الأصل المشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي نجد أن هذه الغة قريبة جدا الى لهجات أمازيغية أخرى و في نفس الوقت قريبة جدا الى لغة زنوج الصنغاي


نجد في لغة أمازيغ إكدالن و إدكسهاكن 98بالمئة من افعال تتطابق حرفيا مع افعال زنوج الصنغاي و لكن في الحالة التبادية و السببية و المبني للمجهول تتحول هذه الافعال الى افعال أخرى تتطابق حرفيا مع أفعال اللهجات الأمازيغية الأخرى


أليس هذا دليل علمي قاطع جدا على الأصل المشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي ؟؟


سبحان الله حقيقة علمية أشد وضوحا من وضوح الشمس ؟؟