Tuesday, August 02, 2016

More Darja notes: oath complementisers, free choice indefinites, kids' morphology, finger rhymes

Oath complementisers

In North Africa, the oath wəḷḷah والله, literally "by God", is used so frequently to emphasize statements - religious scruples notwithstanding - that a more appropriate synchronic translation might be "seriously". (It can even be used with imperatives, which can hardly be read as committing the speaker to the truth of any given statement.) Perhaps as a result of their high frequency, constructions with wəḷḷah have a number of unique morphosyntactic characteristics. Negation after wəḷḷah uses ma ما alone, whereas in most other contexts negation is bipartite ma... š(i) ما... شي. Positive sentences after wəḷḷah are introduced by what seems to be a complementiser, ɣir غير or la لا, which in other contexts mean "just, only". What struck me this time is that in certain syntactic contexts this complementiser systematically shows up twice, once right after the oath and once at the start of the main clause proper; I've come across this in topics:

wəḷḷah la lyum la sxana والله لا اليوم لا سخانة
by.God just today just heat
By God, today, it's hot.

wəḷḷah ɣir anaya ɣir dərt-ha والله غير أنايا غير درتها
by.God just I.EMPH just did.1sgPf-3FSgAcc
By God, me, I did it.

and in conditionals with the condition preposed:
wəḷḷah ɣir lukan t-dir-ha ɣir nə-ʕṭi-k ṭṛayħa والله غير لوكان تديرها غير نعطيك طرايحة
by.God just if 2Sg-do-3FSgAcc just 1Sg-give-2SgAcc beating
By God, if you do that I'll give you a beating.
In generative grammar, it is generally supposed that sentences are complementiser phrases. The complementiser is unpronounced in normal declarative sentences here, as in many languages, but is pronounced overtly in specific circumstances such as, here, oaths. A popular hypothesis in the cartographic approach to generative grammar proposes that the complementizer phrase needs to be split into a more fine-grained set of projections: Force > Topic > Focus > Topic > Finiteness, following Rizzi 1997. Prima facie, this complementiser-doubling data suggests otherwise: it looks very much as though right-adjunction of both topics and conditions is being handled by embedding the CP within another CP.

Free choice indefinites

In traditional Algerian Arabic, it seems pretty clear that the function of free choice indefinites ("anyone could do that", "take anything (you want)") isn't very strongly grammaticalised. In French, however, it's expressed using a relatively frequent, dedicated series of forms based on "no matter" plus the interrogative pronouns: n'importe qui/quoi/quel "anything, anyone, any..." Younger speakers of Algerian Arabic have borrowed the morpheme n'importe, but not the construction as a whole; instead, they simply prefix n'importe to existing indefinite nominals, in which interrogative pronouns play no role. Thus the phrase I heard today:

fə-z-zit wəlla f næ̃mpoṛt ħaja في الزيت ولا في نامبورت حاجة
in-the-oil or in any thing
in oil or in any thing

More children's morphology

Algerian Arabic has very few native bisyllabic words ending in the vowel u, but in loanwords it's not so unusual; for instance, it uses French triku تريكو (ie tricot) for "t-shirt". The first person singular possessive has two allomorphs: -i after consonants, -ya after vowels. I caught the younger of the two kids mentioned in the last post saying trikuww-i تريكوّي "my T-shirt" and trikuww-ək تريكوّك "your shirt"; his father (and everyone else, as far as I've noticed) says triku-ya تريكويَ and triku-k تريكوك. So it would seem that this kid has reanalysed the word as phonologically /trikuw/. Further inquiries are called for.

This little piggy...

I've encountered two finger rhymes in Algerian Arabic around Dellys; compare them to a Kabyle version below from Hamid Oubagha:

Dellys A Dellys B Kabyle
hađa ʕaẓẓi məskin
هاذا عزّي مسكين
This one is a robin, poor thing
hađa sɣiṛ u ʕaqəl
هاذا سغير وعاقل
This one is small and gentle
Wa meẓẓiy, meẓẓiy meskin !
This one is small, poor thing!
u hađa ṣbəʕ əssəkkin
وهاذا صبع السكّين
And this one is the knife-finger
u hađa ləbbas əlxwatəm
وهاذا لبّاس الخواتم
And this one is the ring-wearer
Wa d Ɛebḍella bu sekkin !
This one is Abdallah of the Knife!
u hađa ṭwil bla xəsla
وهاذا طويل بلا خسلة
And this one is long without function
u hađa ṭwil u məhbul
وهاذا طويل ومهبول
And this one is tall and crazy
Wa meqqer, meqqer bezzaf !
This one is big, very big!
u hađa ləħħas əlgəṣʕa
وهاذا لحّاس القصعة
And this one is the dish-licker
u hađa ləħħas ləqdur
وهاذا لحّاس القدور
And this is one is the licker of pots
Wa d ameccaḥ n teṛbut !
This one is the dish-licker!
u hađa dəbbuz əlgəmla
وهاذا دبّوز القملة
And this one is the louse-club
u hađa dəbbuz ənnəmla
وهاذا دبّوز النملة
And this one is the ant-club
Wa d adebbuz n telkin !
And this one is the lice-club
u yəmma tqul: mʕizati, mʕizati, mʕizati!
ويمّا تقول: معيزاتي، معيزاتي، معيزاتي
And mother says: my little goats, my little goats, my little goats!
dəbb əđđib, dəbb ənnəmla, dəbb əđđib, dəbb ənnəmla...
دبّ الذّيب، دبّ النملة، دبّ الذّيب، دبّ النملة...
Debb the wolf, Debb the ant, Debb the wolf, Debb the ant...

All three clearly share a common background. Obviously, Dellys B has been deliberately made more posh - ants substituted for lice, pots (with urban q) for dishes (with villagers' g), ring-finger for knife-finger... Dellys A remains defiantly unrefined, but shows at least one sign suggesting an original in Kabyle: ʕaẓẓi məskin "a robin, poor thing" makes a lot less sense for referring to the little finger than meẓẓi meskin "small, poor thing", but sounds almost the same. On the other hand, Dellys A shows a near-rhyme between verses 3, 4, and 5 which doesn't work at all in the attested Kabyle version. It would be interesting to compare more versions in both languages


PhoeniX said...

There's some interesting parallel's both with Dutch and Tuareg here, I've written a blogpost about it once:


I especially like the zəǧrət bănnan 'long for no reason' as 'middle finger' and ămulăɣ ən kassăn 'licker of bowls'.

David Marjanović said...

What struck me this time is that in certain syntactic contexts this complementiser systematically shows up twice, once right after the oath and once at the start of the main clause proper; I've come across this in topics:

A topic marker for both the actual topic and the emphasis word? That sort of works in English, just with preposed markers:

Like, man, like, that weather today...

John Cowan said...

It would be interesting to know whether pinky-first rhymes like these or thumb-first rhymes like English "This little piggy" and "Where is Thumbkin?" are more common worldwide, and whether the ordering passes across language boundaries in contact situations.

David Marjanović said...

Das ist der Daumen,
der schüttelt die Pflaumen,
der hebt sie auf,
der trägt sie nach Haus,
und der kleine Wuziwuzi isst sie alle auf!

petre said...

"wəḷḷah" has become so ubiquitous that I hear it constantly in sentences all the other words of which are French, and (may I be forgiven) even use it myself. I suggest that it's now just an interjection along the lines of "omigod". Moroccans interestingly substitute "j't'jure", wholly inappropriately, so to take up your example: "Je te jure, il fait beau."

My partner's nephew (in Oran) learns very good French and quite good Arabic in school, and has no time at all for Darja. He puts up with his mother calling his T-shirt a 'triku', but 'corrects' her pronunciation to "trikou": yes, with the diphthong, god knows where that comes from. But for him, it's a tee-shirt (like in French).

Both he and his older sisters freely mix "good" Arabic with French, but all the children are, to a greater or lesser extent, scornful of Darja, describing it as "not a real language" or "how old people speak".

However we may feel about it, I fear we are witnessing a "Yiddification" of Darja.

David Marjanović said...

"wəḷḷah" has become so ubiquitous that I hear it constantly in sentences all the other words of which are French

German, too, though it comes out as "waḷḷa" stressed on the first syllable. (In northern Germany there's a sociolect for children of immigrants with mostly Turkish influence on phonology and grammar.)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I've been offline for a while, but I'd like to thank everyone who commented above.

PhoeniX: The parallels are reasonably good; I wonder if there's a Tuareg version of this rhyme?

David: Hmm. I'll have to think about the syntax of "like" at some point.

John: It certainly does in this case. Is thumb-initial some sort of Western European standard?

David: Reminds me of Little Jack Horner, who "stuck in his thumb, And pulled out a plum".

Petre: Funnily enough, I was just hearing that speaking to children in French is very fashionable these days in middle-class circles in Oran. But I'm honestly not sure I believe you when you say they "freely mix "good" Arabic with French"; that would be a completely new and unprecedented phenomenon. It seems much more likely that they, or their parents, mistakenly suppose that they're mixing the two because their generation's Darja is a bit more Fusha-influenced than their parents. But I'm open to counterexamples.

David (again): With initial w, or v?

PhoeniX said...

David (again): With initial w, or v?

In Dutch at least it's often initial [w] and not [ʋ]. Probably aided by the fact that most non-Moroccans that use it are of Caribbean descent (where the Dutch dialects have [w] for /w/).

David Marjanović said...

In German, too, even though even Turkish doesn't have a [w]. There is a bit of an Arabic presence at least in Berlin.

Anonymous said...

In my village the fingers poem goes rhymes all the way and goes like this:

Mezzi,mezzi meskin
is small, poor thing!
Abedellah, w-ecc-akkin
Akkin is not sikkin knife in arabic, but rahter akkin over there
Amuqran n tudrin
The tallest of all villages
Ameccah n’tarbutin
This one is the dish-licker!
Adebbuz n’telkin
And this one is the lice-club
sya d udi sya tament
This side (of the hand) is honey, this side is butter. while caressing the two sides of the the kid’s hand
zelleɣmani kit kit, zeleɣmani kit kit
not sure about the meaning of the expression but we say it while moving the fingers up the child arm and tickling him

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That does rhyme better - thank you!

petre said...

The expressions "wallah" and "je te jure" have become absolutely self-defeating. As soon as either of them is uttered, both my sister-in-law and I (she muslim, I christian) know that the person speaking to us is lying.
Sad, but true.

petre said...

Here's a little anecdote that might amuse you. It might also make you think all our family are total degenerates, I hope not.

My sister-in-law's son was recounting an obviously untruthful account of his recent activities, and peppering his story liberally with 'wallah'. She rounded on him with "Wallah, Shmallah! You will account to Allah at the end of time, but for the moment you account to ME, your mother." We were all shocked, not by the accountancy stuff, which is standard, but by her daring to attach the Yiddish 'Shm-' to the name of God.

Whatever you think of it, it was effective.