Sunday, August 04, 2019

On reading Poplack 2018

It was a frustrating experience reading Poplack's Borrowing: Loanwords in the Speech Community and in the Grammar. On the one hand, it’s intelligent, well-written, and packed with a wealth of precious sociolinguistic data on borrowing and to a lesser extent code-switching; on the other hand, it appears to be largely dedicated to hammering home a definition of the former that appears to me to be fundamentally untenable. The author ably demonstrates that three criteria that one might expect to be closely correlated are not: conventionalization, morphosyntactic integration, and phonological integration are all independent of one another. Of these three, she chooses to define borrowing exclusively in terms of morphosyntactic integration. For her (enormous, but not very numerous) preferred corpora, this apparently works just fine. But...

The notion of “borrowing” emerged from diachronic studies of the vocabulary used in monolingual discourse. As such, whatever necessary criteria we choose to use to delineate marginal cases, conventionalisation must remain a sufficient criterion for borrowing: if the whole speech community uses the form irrespective of individuals’ level of competence in its source language, it must be a borrowing, not a code-switch. Poplack rejects the criterion of conventionalization as essentially extra-linguistic, preferring the criterion of morphosyntactic integration; yet the latter invokes community conventions just as much as the former, the only difference being the type of conventions invoked (grammatical vs. lexical.) Finding that single words of foreign origin overwhelmingly display morphosyntactic integration and are thus by her definition nonce borrowings, she concludes (p. 213) that “loanwords do not originate as code-switches… the very first mention of a nonce form already features the full complement of morphosyntactic integration into [the recipient language]”. But this makes some problematic predictions.

First of all, if this is true, borrowings should never retain source morphosyntax. This is clearly not tenable. Borrowings retain source morphology all the time: Berber nouns in several Arabic dialects, and Arabic nouns throughout Berber, keep their plurals; Latin nouns in German keep their case markers; in a tiny scattering of languages around the Mediterranean, such as Ghomara Berber, borrowed verbs even keep their conjugation. Some categories of borrowings retain their syntax as well: larger borrowed numerals precede or follow the noun according to the rules of the source language, not of the recipient, in Korandje; borrowed primary adpositions and complementizers rather consistently place their complement as in the source language wherever they are found (cf. Moravcsik 1978). Poplack attempts to dispose of the latter with a short footnote (p. 50): “More wide-ranging proposals for borrowability hierarchies […] including prepositions, determiners, pronouns, clitics, and complementizers may be characteristics of certain extreme borrowing situations, such as pidginization or creolization, or, alternatively, the result of confounding code-switches […] and borrowing. The latter is so heavily restricted to content words that this is practically a defining characteristic.” But this really will not do. Turkish (which has borrowed the complementizer ki from Persian along with the associated word order) is hardly anyone’s idea of a pidgin or creole!

Second, such a claim (along with the book as a whole) seems to presuppose that borrowings are necessarily single lexical items. This is manifestly not the case. In English, borrowings that consist of multiple source language words (quid pro quo, per cent, hors d’oeuvres…) are sufficiently unanalysable to be considered as single lexical items in the recipient language; these need not pose a problem for Poplack. But in quite a few languages, including many Berber varieties, at least two classes of multi-word borrowings remain clearly analysable as multiple words, and productive, even for monolingual speakers: numerals, and numeral+measure noun combinations. Such borrowings must necessarily start out as code-switches in Poplack’s terms.

From these facts, I conclude that the process of conventionalization is even more independent of morphosyntactic integration than Poplack assumes. Morphosyntactic integration, as Myers-Scotton implies, is far stricter for structure than for semantics, and is strictly obligatory in neither case. And for function words, at least, syntactic integration only concerns relations up the tree, not down it. It follows that neither morphosyntactic nor phonological integration can be considered necessary or sufficient criteria for borrowing.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Berber-Arabic macaronic verse

I recently came across a poem in praise of the oasis of Awjila in eastern Libya, attributed to its patron saint, the 15th-century Moroccan traveller Abu'l-`Abbas Ahmad ibn `Isa al-Fasi "al-Zarruq". The poem is in Arabic, but its first few verses stand out for including bits of the Berber language of Awjila:
أواجلة قوم يسوقون عيرهم The Awjilis are a people who drive their caravans
إلى مصر والسودان في طلب التبر To Egypt and Sudan in search of gold.
كلامهم "سوقات" في كل موطن Their speech is suq-at (drive!) in every country,
"أكا وكاقني" على أمد الدهر Akka (here it is!) and mag-nni (where is it?) all the time;
و"ييد وقيم ديلا" ألفاظ كلها And yid (come) and qim dila (sit here) are the words of all of them
و"أزل فيسا" لغاهم على الأثر And azzel fisa (run quickly!) is their accustomed utterance.

I can't vouch for the attribution, but it so happens that Morocco did have a tradition of Berber-Arabic macaronic verse, whose best-known exemplar is al-Rasmuki's 17th-century comic poem Qawm `ijāf ("A starved people"); the latter begins:

بسم الإله في الكلام إيزوار "In the name of the God" in speech izwar (comes first)
وهو على عون العبد إيزضار For He to help a person iẓḍar (is able),
وهو الذي له توليغتين And He is the one to whom belong tulɣiwin (praises),
وهو المجير عبده من تومريتين And He is the protector of his servant from tumritin (trials);
وبعده على النبي تازاليت And after that, upon the Prophet be taẓallit (prayer),
أعظم بها أجرا ولو تاموليت Great in reward, even if only tamullit (one time).
سافرت دھرا ووصیفي وینزار I set off one day with my servant Winzar,
في سنة قد قل فیھا ءانزار In a year where there was little anẓar (rain).
والقصد في السفر جوب تیمیزار The purpose of the journey was to reach timizar (lands),
والسیر في خیامھا وإیكیدار And travel in their tents and igidar (fortresses).
حتى حللت بعد سير أوسان Until I stayed, after a trip of ussan (days),
في قرية يدعونها بأورفان In a village that they call Urfan...

Given that the phenomenon is attested from both ends of the Berber world, it would be interesting to explore how widespread such poetry was, and whether it can be considered as constituting a genre in its own right.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Insults slipping through the diglossia filter

I recently came across a video, apparently from the little town of Souani near Tlemcen, of a poet, one Mohamed Tlemceni, performing a public satire of various Algerian establishment figures: كلمة في حق العصابة من إعداد شاعر الحراك تلمساني محمد. The poem itself is in Standard Arabic (Fusha), the normal language for formal public performance, but he intersperses elements from Algerian Arabic (Darja, italicised), as in:
أنتم تعيشون ببركات فخامته
فانحنوا له طاعة وامتثالا
خسئت يا من عرفناك رخيسا
شياتا للفساد طبّالا

"You all live thanks to His Excellency's blessings,
So bow down to him in obedience and compliance" -
Be off with you, you whom we know of old for a cheap bootlicker (lit. shoe-polisher),
a cheerleader (lit. drum-beater) for corruption!
or (in a reference to Ali Haddad):
جمعت ما يفوق الثلاثين مليار دولار بعرق جبيني
ولم أكن يوما محتالا
أول حرّاڨ بعد الحراك المبارك
فبعد أن كان ميليارديرا صار بطّالا

"I amassed more than 30 billion dollars by the sweat of my brow,
and was never once a crook."
The first harrag (illegal emigrant) after the blessed Hirak (protest movement) -
After being a billionaire, he became unemployed!

So what's going on here? The first part of the performance is satirical: for each person mentioned, he gives one or two vainglorious lines sarcastically put in the mouth of the target (often alluding to real quotes), then two or three tearing him down (then he throws the target's picture in the bin). In the second, he praises the Algerian people and urges it to ever greater achievements. Every single Darja element he uses is in the satirical part; various insults (shiyyat "bootlicker", Tebbal "cheerleader", HeRRag "illegal emigrant", HeRki "traitor") and one direct quote (mocked immediately aftewards). The unironic praise is pure Fusha.

This is not a particularly representative sample of the protests, as the small audience and the rural setting should suggest; in its theatrical, rather bombastic style, it harks back to the public speaking of the 1960s or 1970s more than to any contemporary mainstream. The theatricality is obviously to some extent deliberate and even prized; it almost inevitably accompanies the polished use of a language learned at school and never spoken in ordinary conversation. But it also undermines the force of emotional epithets, making them seem a bit recherché. Shifting into Darja for insults helps to restore their immediacy, while adding a bit of comic effect to a moment clearly intended to provoke laughter (at, not with). But it seems the poet is not yet ready to allow that kind of everyday realism into moments of hope; for dreaming of a bright future, only artfully selected, formal words will do. By relegating the Darja words exclusively to the context of mockery, he strengthens the principle of Fusha as the appropriate language for proper speech even as he violates it by letting them into the poem at all. It's a long way from something like Anes Tina's equally contemporary El Cha3be Yourid, where diglossia is hardly even felt as a relevant constraint.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Final r-cluster metathesis in one child's French

My favourite 4-year-old is doing something very interesting these days with final consonant clusters in his French. Many word-final consonant clusters starting with R get metathesised: parle (speaks) becomes [palʀ] (yet parler "to speak" remains [paʀle]), tourne (turn) becomes [tunʀ], herbe (grass) becomes [ebʀ], ferme (close) becomes [femʀ]. On the other hand, "porte" (door) remains [pɔʀt]; regarde (look!) [ʀəgaʀd]; "force" (strength) [fɔʀs]; "mars" (March) [maʀs], "parc" (park) [paʀk]. Presumably the phenomenon is related to sonority: {l, n, m, b} metathesise, {t, d, s, k} do not. But French allows word-final consonant clusters with falling or rising sonority, and he has no trouble with words like "monstre" (monster) [mõstʀ]. Any idea if this is typical in French first language acquisition?

Nothing of the sort happens in his English or his Arabic. Then again, his English is non-rhotic anyway for some reason, and in Arabic he pronounces /r/ as [ʕ]; French is the only one of his languages where he's got the pronunciation of rhotics more or less sorted.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ga3 c'est que ga3!

Among the many responses to recent events in Algeria circulating on Facebook, a particularly linguistically interesting one caught my eye:
His Excellency the People
orders:
"Throw 'em all out!"
That means all!
Million Man March of Friday 29 March
Peaceful, Popular, National, Civilised

The first two lines and the last two are in Fusha (Standard Arabic); the two middle lines are very much in Darja ("dialectal" Algerian Arabic). The clash of registers produces an amusing effect. But even more striking is the first word of the fourth line: سيك sik. You'll search for it in vain in Arabic dictionaries, or even in Algerian Arabic dictionaries (they do exist) printed before, oh, 2000 or so; it's a word from French - well, in French it's three words - c'est que, literally "it is that..." In French, this structure is used to mark sentence focus. You can find examples of it being used that way in Algerian Arabic too, eg in Lotfi DK's "Aar alikoum": "المشكلة فهذ البشر سيك في راسهم كاين لحجر" [The problem with these people is that there are rocks in their heads]. But that's obviously not quite what's going on here, though. I haven't come across this construction often enough to have a good sense of all its uses, but it seems to be gaining new functions as it becomes integrated into the wider system of information structure marking in Darja.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Kabyle-Arabic code-switching

One of the great understudied subjects in North African linguistics is Berber-Arabic codeswitching (unlike French-Arabic and French-Berber codeswitching, which are massively overstudied); among the few references available are Kossmann 2014, for a central Moroccan community, and Hamza 2007, for Tunisia. A video from "Nass Bejaia" that's been circulating on social media might seem to provide a promising data source for this: in an eloquent plea against efforts to divide and conquer by setting ethnic groups against each other, the speaker alternates fluent Darja [Algerian Arabic] and Kabyle [Berber] to convey his message to both groups. What better context for code-switching? But, surprisingly enough, there is almost no insertional code-switching, almost no embedded language islands. About the only example is (Kabyle in bold, Arabic underlined):
makanš la d aqbayli, la d aɛeṛbi, la d amẓabi, la d annayli, la d attargi, ula ma... yji waħəd məlkamrun ysəggəm ldzayər nqululu mərħba bik.

There is no Kabyle, no Arab, no Mozabite, no Naili, no Tuareg, even if... there comes someone from Cameroon who would fix Algeria, we'll tell him welcome!

Even here, the second shift comes after an audible pause, and it's probably no coincidence that all the Kabyle elements of this sentence except ula ma are immediately comprehensible to Arabic speakers; even copular d is widely used in Jijel and Bejaia, though unfamiliar elsewhere (and la is ambiguous, used in both languages, which probably facilitates the first shift). Otherwise, the language shifts are rather consistently at phrase boundaries, as in the sentence that follows the previous:

yji waħəd mənnižir, waħəd məḷḷalmạn, lɛaslama

Someone comes from Niger, someone from Germany, welcome.

or as in this later sentence (French in red):

Anda ara aɣ terrem? Wac, ad ɛawdeɣ? Lukan par exemple - Ya xawti, ya xawti, had əlmisaž muhimm židdan məbjaya, makanš əljihawiyya.

Where are you taking us? What, should I say it again? If for example - Brothers, brothers, this message is extremely important from Bejaia: No regionalism!

Sometimes the same content is repeated in both languages successively, sometimes it's left in only one language, but in general, any one phrase should be perfectly comprehensible to a monolingual. It remains to be studied whether this is typical of Kabyle-Arabic code-switching, or just a fact about this short clip.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Protest songs 3: Frs Wld El3lmA

The most sociolinguistically interesting protest song that I've come across since the last post is also among the earliest (28 February): Frs Wld El3lmA's Az-Zawja Al-Khamisa (The Fifth Wife), a heavily underlined (and quite sexist) parable of Algerian history over the past 30 years introduced with وأي تشابه مع الواقع فهو مقصود بشكل متعمد... جدا "Any resemblance to reality is intended deliberately... very deliberately". He then launches into the lyrics - the Arabic is already given as subtitles in the video, so I'll just provide translations... (If you're more interested in the sociolinguistics than in the politics, just skim the lyrics and go to the paragraph that follows.)
In a rich town, whose fortune was plentiful,
There was a Bedouin girl, with an interesting body,
Honeyed eyes and silken hair,
Very romantic; many sought her hand.
Rich and poor competed for her,
Doctors and directors raced each other to visit her family.
They betrayed each other, hated each other, envied each other, conspired against each other,
They withdrew, came to blows, fought each other, made war on each other,
On the pure earth flowed conscience's blood
In total Ignorance (jahiliyya) died young children
Blood flowed and women were raped
The building was destroyed when the skies turned black
And blood flowed from those neglected quarries
With the eyes of the bereaved, the widows, the pregnant...
So that the town would not vanish in the process,
They offered up the beautiful one as a sacrifice to the prince.
Its prince was a migrant, returned from far away
With experience and wisdom and promises and threats.
He made a truce among the people of the great town
And said: "Marry me to the little princess,
So I can finish the trajectory and continue the process
So we can completely destroy this dangerous conflict (fitna)."
He married the second one according to the town's law
And changed its sacred book with fabrications
And spread around its money to keep everyone quiet
And shook up its situation so that the herd would bow down
And said: "Our religion, and it is obligatory to obey it,
Has always made licit a third and fourth wife."
He married the third one, his hair already turning grey,
And [???]
So he admitted that it was time for him to go away,
"So take up the torch, our dear youth -"
But suddenly, a deceptive blow!
The old man is capable of marrying a fourth wife.
A fourth wife? My God! How shall he enter unto her?
He is a decrepit old man, he shall not touch her hand!
A bride, fresh, soft, virginal, timid,
To be handed to an senile man with no manhood
While her family watch silently
And no groom arises among them to protect her;
As if the beloved town had become barren
Bringing forth only females or pseudo-males.
After the wedding, the old man slept a deep sleep
And the bride was lost in the continuation of life.
Who here would protect her, who defend her?
At night, in the bed, he would slink towards her...
The old man wasn't dead, no, the old man wasn't dead
And his gang were enslaving all those who stayed quiet.
Meanwhile, a beautiful new bride grew up,
And the time for her wedding drew near.
Where is her new groom? Come on, men,
Come on up, come on up, get ready for the tournament,
For the old man has become like a dry stalk
And everyone says the sacred law forbids a fifth wife.
But then they brought out to them a letter from the void,
In the handwriting of an old man, signed in ink and pen:
"The sacred law forbids a fourth wife who is a free woman,
But we are in a town, not in Algeria.
You have accepted to become like slaves around me;
Therefore, your daughter is - a slave-girl."
A slave-girl!
After this extended, elaborate, emo parable, he adds an afterword for anyone dense enough not to have gotten it yet:
روينا لكم القصة بالفصحى، لأن الفصحى لغة الأدب. لا تضطرونا باش نحكيوهالكم بالدارجة. في هاذاك الوقت، يا سعدو لي هرب.
"We have narrated to you this story in Fusha [Standard Arabic], because Fusha is the language of literature/politeness. Do not force us [shifts to Darja] to tell it to you in Darja [Algerian Arabic]. At that point, happy* the man that has fled!"

The chants of the demonstrators follow, shouting in chorus: ماكانش الخامسة يا بوتفليقة! "No fifth term, Bouteflika!"

While sociolinguistics is hardly the intended point, the sociolinguistic message comes across just as loud and clear as the political one. Fusha is the language of carefully planned literary compositions, where all the arts of parable and metaphor can be deployed to provide a figleaf of deniability when the censors come along; in Darja, you tell it like is, and it hits hard. As previously, this pair of stereotypes is not to be confused with a fact about the world: Darja even has a dedicated verb for speaking in pointed allusions, يمعني ymaʕni, and the practice of doing so is a core linguistic competence, especially essential for women but admired in men too, and seen as necessary in order to convey criticism without creating grudges and worsening conflicts. Then again, doing so relies extensively on proverbs which, if still Darja, are often far removed from the language of everyday speech; in a sense, resorting to Fusha is a natural extension of that approach. Be that as it may, the trope of Fusha as the language of circumlocution versus Darja as the language of straight talk is out there, familiar enough to every reader to make his invocation of it here rhetorically very effective.


* Is سعدو here a pun on Said [Bouteflika], the president's brother, widely thought to be pulling the strings? I suspect so...