Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shoes in Songhay and West Chadic: towards an etymology

The proto-Songhay word for "(pair of) shoes, sandals" is *tàgmú (Zarma tà:mú, Kandi tà:mú, Gao taam-i, Hombori tà:mí, Kikara tă:m, Djenne taam, Tadaksahak taɣmú, Korandje tsaɣmmu). It is evidently related to a less widely attested verb *tàgmá "step on" (Zarma tà:mú, Gao taama, Hombori tà:mà, Djenne taam). (Velar stop codas are lost in all of Songhay except the Northern branch, leaving behind either compensatory lengthening or a w; see Souag 2012.)

In Hausa, the word for "shoe, boot, sandal" is tà:kàlmí: (borrowed directly into the Songhay (Dendi) variety of Djougou as tàkăm). Within Hausa, this likewise corresponds to a verb tá:kà: "step on". The two-way similarity is striking, but if there was borrowing, which way did it go? A cognate set in Schuh (2008) casts some light on the question.

Hausa belongs to the West Chadic family, in which the best comparison to Hausa "shoe" seems to be Bole tàkà(:), with no obvious cognates within its own subgroup, Bole-Tangale (Ngamo tà:hò looks similar, but Ngamo h seems normally to correspond to Bole p, not k.) For "step on", however, Schuh points to a potential cognate set in a slightly more distantly related West Chadic subgroup, Bade. In this subgroup, we have Gashua Bade tà:gɗú, Western Bade tàgɗú, Ngizim tàkɗú which Schuh analyses as *tàk- plus an unproductive verbal extension -ɗu supported by Bade-internal evidence, eg tə̀nkùku "press" vs. tə̀nkwàkùɗu "massage". Within Bole-Tangale, one might speculate that Gera tàndə̀- is cognate, but Gera seems to be known only from short wordlists, so that would be difficult to show.

So the comparative evidence provides some support for the idea that Hausa tá:kà: "step on" goes back to proto-West Chadic. If tà:kàlmí: "shoe" could be regularly derived from this verb within Chadic, then the answer would appear clear: Songhay borrowed it from Chadic. However, while Hausa frequently forms deverbal nouns with a suffix -i: (Newman (2000:157), there seems to be no plausible language-internal explanation for the -lm-. In Songhay, on the other hand, a suffix -mi forming nouns from verbs (sometimes -m-ey with a former plural suffix stuck on) is reasonably well-attested: Gao (Heath 1999:97) dey "buy" vs. dey-mi "purchase (n.)", key "weave" vs. key-mi "weaving", Kikara (Heath 2005:97-98) kà:rù "go up" vs. kàr-mɛ̂y "going up", húná "live" vs. hùnà-mɛ̀y "long life". A shift *-mi to *-mu seems natural enough, especially since a few Songhay varieties actually have reflexes of "shoe" with a final -i in any case; so the Songhay form looks kind of like it could be **tàg "step on" plus deverbal -mí̀. To top it off, deverbal noun-forming suffixes in -r- are widely attested in Songhay, and Zarma attests a combined suffix -àr-mì: zànjì "break" vs. zànjàrmì "shard", bágú "break" vs. bàgàrmì "piece of debris" (Tersis 1981:244). If we treat the Hausa form as a borrowing from Songhay, we can then analyse it as **tàg "step on" plus deverbal -àr-mí. But before we get carried away, we should note that within Songhay there's no motivation for analysing the -mu / -mi in "shoe" as a suffix; the verb and the noun differ (if at all) only in the final vowel.

So what to make of all this? So far, the scenario that suggests itself is something like the following:

  1. Songhay borrows a verb *tàk "step on" from West Chadic (or vice versa?).
  2. Songhay internally forms a deverbal noun *tàk-mí "shoe" (there is no reconstructible contrast between *k and *g in coda position in proto-Songhay), alongside a variant *tàk-àr-mí.
  3. Hausa borrows this as tà:kàlmí:.
  4. Songhay replaces *tàk with a denominal verb formed from "shoe" (which becomes internally unanalysable): *tàgm-á. This step has possible internal motivations: in most of Songhay, final velar stops disappeared leaving behind only compensatory lengthening on the preceding vowel, and the resulting form tà: would have been homophonous with the much commoner verb "receive, take".
  5. Djougou Dendi, a heavily Hausa-influenced, somewhat creolized Songhay variety spoken in Benin, borrows the Hausa form as tàkăm.

Further Chadic comparative data may yet turn out to bear upon this etymology, but one thing seems clear: these two families have been affecting each other for a long time.

21 comments:

David Marjanović said...

Fascinating. And I have to say, Schuh is uniquely qualified to step into this field...

Etienne said...

Darn. David beat me to it: this is fascinating, and I actually wondered whether "Schuh" was the scholar's real name...yet another example of truth being stranger than fiction: in a novel about academia, for instance, any editor would demand that a scholar quoted as an authority on the etymology of a word for "Shoe" not have a name with the meaning "Shoe"...

When you say of Djougou Dendi that it is "somewhat creolized", what exactly do you mean?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

The coincidence of names really is rather amusing. Russell Schuh was an excellent scholar of Chadic, who documented a remarkable number of northern Nigerian languages; his site, http://aflang.linguistics.ucla.edu/Yobe/yobe.html , is worth a look.

The Dendi of Djougou and Kandi has dropped definiteness marking suffixes, regularised its 2Pl pronouns into 2Sg+Pl across the board (and added Pl suffixes to all free plural pronouns), reduced verbal noun-forming morphology to a single clitic, and remodelled its mood-aspect-negation system into combined Subj+MAN paradigms on an areal model similar to Hausa. These changes are unheard of in Songhay varieties spoken closer to the mainstream Songhay area, and comparison with Niger Dendi suggests they took place quite rapidly.

David Marjanović said...

Has the site been updated since 2009? The links to www.humnet.ucla.edu have succumbed to link rot. I hope the research money didn't run out.

Guillaume Jacques said...

"The coincidence of names really is rather amusing." In the same vein, there is of course "The Thompson language" by Thompson and Thompson, https://books.google.fr/books?id=bAgbAQAAIAAJ&hl=fr&source=gbs_ViewAPI&redir_esc=y

Etienne said...

Lameen: thanks for your reply. I would not call this set of features diagnostic of creolization, but then, some creolists might, with the exception of the last one (Hausa-like S + MAN system), which simply looks like plain 'ole outside (Hausa) influence.

David: my first thought was that the research money did run out. There is indirect evidence pointing in that direction: in the long obituary (to be found at: http://aflang.linguistics.ucla.edu/people/schuh/RememberingRuss/) we are told that Hausa instruction was discontinued at UCLA in 2009, and that as a result he ended up teaching a number of new undergraduate courses.

*SIGH*...It's a depressingly familiar pattern in Academia today: Courses, indeed entire programs, relating to various real languages and cultures (Modern and Ancient alike) are marginalized or eliminated even as the University's PR Department keeps producing increasingly Orwellian-sounding slogans in support of "pluralism" and "multiculturalism" and as the Department of human resources hires more "diversity consultants"...

Guillaume Jacques: Yet another example of truth being stranger than fiction. I suppose that it could get worse. Yes, really: if Terrence Kaufman's co-author of a certain book on language contact, herself a Salish scholar after all, grew interested in the language, what would the result be? Hmm...I can see it already ("Thomason's reevaluation of the Thompsons' analysis of Thompson: a review").

Languagehat said...

It's a depressingly familiar pattern in Academia today: Courses, indeed entire programs, relating to various real languages and cultures (Modern and Ancient alike) are marginalized or eliminated even as the University's PR Department keeps producing increasingly Orwellian-sounding slogans in support of "pluralism" and "multiculturalism" and as the Department of human resources hires more "diversity consultants"...

I would remind you that "pluralism," "multiculturalism," and "diversity" involve real people, not just "languages" and "cultures"; of course, if you're not one of the people who have been shut out and for whom those "Orwellian-sounding" entities have been created, they will seem irritating and pointless to you.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I don't know about UCLA, but at my own alma mater, when the professor in charge of teaching Hausa retired, they decided they couldn't be bothered to find another one, since the course wasn't attracting enough students. Quite understandable; after all, Hausa's only the largest language of West Africa, with a mere 100 million speakers, so there's no compelling reason why an institution calling itself the School of Oriental and African Studies might want to maintain a tradition of teaching it independent of student numbers. I don't think there's any real connection (apart from coincidence in time) between the slashing of low-enrollment language courses and the rise of a new discourse centred on the notion of diversity. Seeing the two happening side by side, though - in this case, at one of the most self-consciously politically correct campuses in the UK - is corrosive, at least for those who share a faith that learning languages is the key to crossing cultures.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

To clarify that comment, since inexplicitness doesn't travel well online: my interpretation of Etienne's comment was that certain universities' lack of enthusiasm for languages and cultures betrays the hypocrisy of their slogans about diversity and multiculturalism, not that it was a dig at the latter concepts. Independently of that, however, there's certainly an interesting discussion to be had on the problem of people being shut out of academia and how to address it.

Languagehat said...

Ah, I suppose that's possible, so I'll assume the more charitable interpretation.

Etienne said...

Hat: Lameen's interpretation is the right one, and I believe I was clear: I had written about the use of the words "multiculturalism" and "diversity" solely as part and parcel of slogans used by various Universities' PR departments.

Lameen: your description of the fate of Hausa instruction at SOAS sounds familiar. Unlike you, however, I think there is a link between the rise of diversity-praising slogans and the decline of the serious study of actual diversity: since coming up with slogans is much, much cheaper than hiring and supporting competent faculty, it is unsurprising that Universities will prefer the former rather than the latter.

Of course, some "diverse" hires (AKA window dressing) are occasionally called for to make the slogans seem connected to reality, however tenuously: meaning that actual competence is irrelevant.

I recently (this year) got another chance to see a consequence of this quite closely, at a University I would rather not name: I had some questions about the history of Sanskrit and went to said University's department of South Asian studies, and asked who, among their faculty members, could answer my questions on the topic. Well, neither their acting chair nor the departmental secretary (in charge of research) could name anyone, as they had no idea what Sanskrit was: both had literally never heard of the language.

But both were indubitably South Asian racially, so from the vantage point of the University administration, its commitment to "diversity" had been fulfilled.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Etienne: I think the problem has to be understood in terms of something other than just cost. About the same time as this, SOAS found money to expand to a new building, costing considerably more than a professor's salary; in fact, they did even hire a "replacement" (an Nigerian film specialist, I think it was), just not one with the ability to teach Hausa. Conversely, all slogans are equally cheap. If I had to come up with a one-word candidate for what to blame for the decline of smaller language courses, I'd say "neoliberalism", but even that would be a massive oversimplification.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Looking more carefully at what you wrote, I'd also add that I really don't buy the connection you're implying between ""diverse" hires" and "actual competence is irrelevant". If universities were so obsessed with "diversity" as to hire blatantly less competent people just to tick a box, then "diversity" would be a very expensive slogan, not a cheap one at all.

Etienne said...

Lameen: to my mind the decline in the teaching of (especially smaller) languages is not so much connected with neoliberalism as with a widespread tendency (especially pronounced here in North America, I sense) to unthinkingly equate race/gender/sexual orientation on the one hand and culture on the other.

This equation is so deep-seated that hiring faculty members belonging to the right group, just to meet a quota, is in fact quite profitable, inasmuch as the presence of these faculty members attracts large numbers of students belonging to the same group, who might otherwise not even have attended University at all.

This (former) academic linguist's diagnosis of the problem corresponds to what I myself have observed at several Universities in Canada and the United States:

http://www.safs.ca/newsletters/2016/april/5.pdf

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That sounds like nothing I've seen anywhere in the UK. Under the British system, foreign students are by far the most profitable ones to recruit, and if they wanted to see faculty members belonging to the same group they'd presumably have stayed at home. I'm not particularly familiar with Canadian universities, but I have trouble seeing how that would work even there - or how that links up with what's described in your link, which looks to me like a quite different phenomenon (and a rather group-specific one).

David Eddyshaw said...

The Western Oti-Volta twiglet of Niger-Congo has the stem *tagd- for "shoe, sandal", where the -d- is a very common formant of deverbal agent nouns and adjectives.

There's a verb stem *tags- "help someone (e.g. a baby) to walk" (where -s- is a common causative suffix) but I haven't any examples of a simplex *tag-.

There are certainly both Hausa and Songhay loans in these languages, some old enough to have got remarkably well integrated into the system of derivational morphology. Kusaal, for example, has labi "crouch behind something in hiding", which surely must be connected somehow with the equivalent Hausa word laɓèe, but belongs to a distinctive unproductive subgroup of body-position verbs morphologically and has derived inchoative and causative verbs forms just like those of other body-position verbs.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

David: Thank you for further complicating the etymology! This is exactly the sort of comment I dream of getting on posts like this. Both Songhay and Hausa show some signs of a Niger-Congo substratum, so it can't be immediately excluded that they both got this root from Gur or something like Gur. I guess I should look at an even wider sample of regional languages...

David Eddyshaw said...

Hmm. May have to eat my words ...

Poking around a bit in the dictionaries and vocabularies, the *tagd- stem for "shoe" seems to be only extant in Kusaal, Farefare and Talni, so it's not even pan-Western-Oti-Volta, much less Proto-Gur. It's logically possible that these languages just happen to have preserved a particularly archaic Voltaic "shoe", of course, but it seems a bit of a stretch, and there are enough competing Gur "shoe" words that you could probably make a fair stab at matching almost any such word from some Gur language. So this may well just have been an artefact of the fact that Kusaal is the language I'm most familiar with.

I think I was also too hasty in attributing Kusaal ta'as "help to walk" to the same *tag- root. The tones differ (which is irregular in Western Oti-Volta derivation by suffixation) and the glottalisation of the vowel (which is what the orthographic ' signifies) could be inherited rather than being the result of lenition of *g, as it certainly is in the "shoe" word. Unfortunately such original glottalisation has itself been lost in most Western Oti-Volta languages, and I can't find any unequivocal cognates of the Kusaal word in this precise sense in the related languages which would settle the matter.

In summary, I'm sorry to say that I think that this was a bit of a chimaera...

The only Talni vocabulary I've seen actually implies that the Talni taɣada is a loanword from the Hausa tàakàlmii, but apart from sheer phonetic implausibility this surely founders on the fact that the Talni form corresponds perfectly regularly, including its plural noun class suffix, to Kusaal ta'ada and Farefare tagra.) At any rate, the Farefare-Talni-Kusaal etymon can't be a loan from contemporary Hausa.

David Eddyshaw said...

Having blithely said "can't be a loan", I must admit that

(a) very many Talni speakers also speak Farefare, and Talni is in turn very similar to Kusaal; in general, the three languages are closely enough related that it's not impossible a priori that a word might be borrowed from one to another while being transposed into the etymologically "correct" form by analogy with the frequently still-transparent regular correspondences seen between real cognates, producing a spurious appearance of a protoform which never existed historically at all

(b) the English "aeroplane" (for example) appears in Kusaal as alopir, so it's perhaps unwise to talk too dogmatically of "phonetic implausibility."

Rab Bar said...

كلمة تغما الموجودة في الصنغاي هي امازيغية الاصل و لكن هذا لا يمنع من الاعتراف بالاصل الواحد بين لغة الامازيغ و الصنغاي

Anonymous said...

Any possible relation to Amharic ጫማ "ch'ama"?