Saturday, February 09, 2019

Abdurehim Heyit's "Mother Tongue"

While I was doing my PhD at SOAS, I found myself one term helping teach a field methods class focusing on Uyghur, a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek spoken in Xinjiang in far western China (textbook here). At the time, as far as I gathered, it was a sleepy borderland region; these days, it's best known for the massive reeducation camps into which the Chinese government has thrown a substantial proportion of the population, in what appears to be an ambitious effort to eradicate their language, culture, and religion. ("Kill the Indian to save the man" was the American version.) Today, it's being reported that the talented Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit (ئابدۇرېھىم ھېيىت, equivalent to Arabic عبد الرحيم عيد), from Kashgar, died in detention at the age of 55, after two years in the camps. [UPDATE: It now seems that he's alive and still being imprisoned without trial.]

One of his best-known songs, originally a poem by Qutluq Shewqi, is a good fit for this blog: Ana til (ئانا تىل), "Mother Tongue" (lyrics, translation). When he sang it, language was still a relatively politically acceptable element of Uyghur identity to emphasise; traditional Communist Party policy for officially recognised ethnic minorities emphasised development of their languages. Now, with hundreds of thousands of people arbitrarily imprisoned, the rapid loss of language rights is the least of anyone's worries.

ئانا تىل بىلگەن كىشىنىڭ ئىززىتىن قىلغۇم كەلۇر،I salute the people who speak my mother tongue,
ئانا تىلنى ئاغزىدىن ئالتۇن بەرىپ ئالغۇم كەلۇر.I am willing to pay in gold for the words they speak.
بۇ ئانا تىل بولسا گەر ئامەرىكا-يۇ ئافرىقىدا،Wherever my mother tongue is found, be it Africa or America,
سەرپ ئەتىپ مىڭلارچە تىللا ئاندى مەن بارغۇم كەلۇر.I would go there, whatever the cost and expense.
ئانا تىل بىلگەن كىشىنىڭ ئىززىتىن قىلغۇم كەلۇر،I salute the people who speak my mother tongue,
ئانا تىلنى ئاغزىدىن ئالتۇن بەرىپ ئالغۇم كەلۇر.I am willing to pay in gold for the words they speak.
ئەي ئانا تىل بىزگە سەن قالغان ئۇلۇغلاردىن نىشان،Oh, my mother tongue, you are the sacred bequest to us from our great ancestors,
سەن بىلەن روھىي زىمىندا ئىپتىخارلانغۇم كەلۇر.With you, I desire to share my pride in you in the spiritual world.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hausa in Tamanrasset

On a recent trip to Tamanrasset, Algeria's southernmost significant city, I was not surprised to see lots of signs in Arabic and French, and not too surprised to see a significant minority of signs with Tamahaq (Tuareg) content; if I have the time I'll post later on the Tifinagh alphabet they used, closer to traditional Tifinagh than the version used in the north but still quite conspicuously modernised. But I hadn't fully appreciated how much immigration Tamanrasset attracts from the south these days, and even allowing for that I wasn't expecting to see Hausa signs as well. There was much more Hausa spoken than written, of course - on our brief trip through Tafsit market, I heard probably as much Hausa as Arabic, and even in the upmarket souvenir shops Hausa music was playing some of the time. But one Hausa expression had clearly made its way into the visual linguistic landscape of the town: over and over again, I saw little unpretentious-looking restaurants labelled with various spellings, in both Latin and Arabic script, of the Hausa phrase mai nama, "meat owner" (ie meat seller). Most of my pictures were blurry, but one came out - here it is.