Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Siwi corpus

A small part of the Siwi corpus I gathered during PhD and postdoctoral fieldwork is now publicly accessible online, with more planned. Despite my best efforts, there will undoubtedly be some number of errors in transcription and translation; hopefully being able to listen to the audio will make these easier to correct in the long term. (Feel free to comment here or by email.) Some of these recordings may be of particular interest:
  • Four facts about Siwa, short as it is, is a perfect starting point for understanding Siwa anthropologically; the speaker chooses four questions about Siwa, of his own devising, and answers them.
  • The story of the Prophet Joseph is probably the best long narrative I was privileged to record during my fieldwork, retelling a well-known Islamic story with energy and eloquence, and giving numerous examples of grammatical features rarely attested in shorter texts.
  • Paradigm of the Siwi verb əlməd "learn" - does what it says on the tin, and as such makes a great introduction to Siwi verb morphology. Pay particular attention to the position of stress. Not all forms of the verb are included in this recording, but the remainder can easily be derived from these ones.

The speaker recorded in these, Sherif Bougdoura, was a thoughtful and intelligent person, trying to find the right balance between local and national cultures, who made his living as a repairman for lack of opportunities to take his education further. He sadly died young in a work accident several years ago. I hope these recordings will serve to preserve his memory as well as to facilitate linguistic analysis.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Instrument nouns between Dholuo and Arabic

In Dholuo (a West Nilotic language of Kenya), instrument nouns are formed using ra-...-i (the final -i is dropped after sonorants and semivowels), as in the table below (Tucker 1993:111-112, retranscribed). Both English and Arabic have comparable formations. In English, instrument nouns are occasionally formed with the -er suffix, like agent nouns. In Arabic, instrument nouns are more systematically formed, but with a variety of different patterns, starting with mi-..., or in modern colloquials with a feminine agent noun CaCCaaC-a.

However, taking a look at the cases listed by Tucker, we may note a striking cross-linguistic difference in distribution. In Arabic, all but three of the translated nouns use an instrument noun pattern of some sort, and two of the others use a more general verbal noun pattern; only "ladder" appears completely underived. In English, "peg", "billhook", "pestle", "tongs", "lid" all seem to be underived and simplex, and for several cases with zero-derivation (notably "hoe", "rake", "drill", "sign"), intuition suggests that the verb derives from the noun, the opposite of what we see in Arabic or Dholuo.

This suggests a typological difference in the structure of the lexicon: perhaps some languages "prefer" to mark instrument nouns as such and to form them from corresponding actions, while some prefer simple instrument nouns from which verbs may be formed indicating the corresponding actions. I wonder whether that holds up on a larger sample? What does your language tend to do, dear reader?

cut toŋ-o قطع | billhook, cutter ra-tóŋ̂ منجل
slash bẹt-ọ مزّق | slasher rạ-bẹ́t-ị̂ منجل طويل
hoe pur-o عزق | hoe ra-púr̂ معزق
scratch gwạr-ọ خدش | forked rake rạ-gwạ́r̂ مدمّة
see ŋịy-ọ رأى | mirror rạ-ŋị́ị̂ مرآة
strain dhịŋ-ọ صفّى | strainer rạ-dhị́ŋ̂ مصفاة
pound yọk-ọ دق | pestle rạ-yọ́k-ị̂ مدقة
pierce cwọw-ọ ثقب | piercing instrument ra-cwọ́p-î مثقاب
hold mạk-o مسك | tongs rạ-mạ́k-ị̂ ممساك
plug up din-o سد | stopper ra-dín̂ سدّادة
hang ŋạw-ọ علّق | peg for hanging ra-ŋạ́ŵ علاّقة
cover um-o غطّى | lid, cover ra-úm̂ غطاء
show nyis-o أظهر | sign ra-nyís-î علامة
climb ịdh-ọ صعد | ladder rạ-ị́dh-ị̂ سلّم

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Had Gadya in the Arabic dialect of Constantine Jews

Seeing as you can't turn on the news in France these days without hearing a certain more-French-than-thou provocateur fulminating against Arabs, I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the Arabic dialect his parents or grandparents must have grown up speaking. There are a couple of recordings of the "Judeo-Arabic" of Constantine; a nice easy one to transcribe is Michael Charvit's recording of the originally Aramaic children's song Had Gadya, as traditionally sung at the Passover (Pesah) festival (translation here):
حاد ڨاديا، حاد ڨاديا، اللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجات القطّوس، وكلات الجدي، اللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجات الكلبة، وڨدمت القطّوس، اللي كلات الجدي، اللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجات العصا، وضربت الكلبة، اللي ڨدمت القطّوس، اللي كلات الجدي، اللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجا النار، وحرق العصا، والدي لي ضربت الكلبة، والدي ڨدمت القطّوس، والدي لي كلات الجدي، لي الدي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجا الما، وطفّى النار، الدي حرق العصا، اللي ضربت الكلبة، اللي ڨدمت القطّوس، اللي كلات الجدي، الدي لي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجا التور، وشرب الما، اللي طفّى النار، اللي حرق العصا، الدي ضربت الكلبة، اللي ڨدمت القطّوس، اللي كلات الجدي، الدي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجا الدبّاح، دبّح التور، اللي شرب الما، اللي طفّى النار، اللي حرق العصا، اللي ضربت الكلبة، اللي ڨدمت القطّوس، اللي كلات الجدي، اللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجا ميلخ همّاڥات، ودبح الدبّاح، اللي دبح التور، اللي شرب الما، اللي طفّى النار، اللي حرق العصا، اللي ضربت الكلبة، اللي ڨدمت القطّوس، اللي كلات الجدي، اللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
وجا اقّادوش باروخ هو، ودبح ميلخ همّاڥات، اللي دبح الدبّاح، واللي دبح التور، واللي شرب الما، واللي طفّى النار، واللي حرق العصا، واللي ضربت الكلبة، واللي ڨدمت القطّوس، واللي كلات الجدي، واللي شرالي بابا بزوج افلوس، زوج افلوس
ħ̣ad gadya, ħ̣ad gadya, li šrali baba bzuz əflus, zuz əflus
u ğat əlqəṭṭus, u klat əlždi, lli šrali baba bzuğ əflus, zuğ əflus
u ğat əlkəlba, u gədmət əlqəṭṭus, lli klat əlždi, lli šrali baba bzuğ əflus, zuğ əflus
u ğat əlʕṣa, u dŭṛbət əlkəlba, lli gədmət əlqəṭṭus, əldi klat əlždi, əlli šrali baba bzuğ əflus
u ğa ʔənnaṛ, u ħṛəq əlləʕṣa, u ddi li ḍəṛbət əlkəlba, u əldi gədmət əlqəṭṭus, u ldi li klat əžždi, li ldi šrali baba bzuğ əflus, zuğ əflus
u ğa ʔəlma, u ṭəffa ʔənnaṛ, əldi ħrəq əlləʕṣa, əlli ḍəṛbət əlkəlba, əlli gədmət əlqəṭṭus, əlli klat əlždi, əldi li šrali baba bzuğ əflus, zuğ əflus
u ğa əṭṭuṛ, u šṛŭb əlma, əlli ṭəffa nnaṛ, əlli ħrəq əlləʕṣa, əldi š ḍəṛbət əlkəlba, əlli gədmət əlqəṭṭus, əlli klat əlždi, əldi šrali baba bzuğ əflus, zuğ əflus
u ğa ʔəddəbbaħ, dəbbəħ əlṭuṛ, əlli šṛŭb əlma, əlli ṭəffa nnaṛ, əlli ħrəq əlʕṣa, əlli ḍəṛbət əlkəlba, əlli gədmət əlqəṭṭus, əlli klat əžždi, əlli šrali baba bzuğ əflus, bzuğ əflus
u ğa milax həmmạvat, u dbaħ əddəbbaħ, əlli dbaħ əttuṛ, əlli šṛəb əlma, əlli ṭəffa nnaṛ, əlli ħrəq əllʕṣa, əlli ḍəṛbət əlkəlba, əlli gədmət əlqəṭṭus, əlli klat əžždi, əlli šrali baba bzuğ əflus
u ğaaaaaaaaa qqaduš baṛux huuuuuuuu u dbaħ milax əmmạvat əlli dbaħ əldəbbaħ ulli dbaħ əttuuṛ ulli šṛəb əlmaaaa ulli ṭəffa nnaaaaaaaaṛ ulli ħrəq əlʕṣaaaaa ulli ḍəṛbət əlkəlbaaa ulli gədmət əlqəṭṭuuuuuus ulli klat əžždiiiii ulli šrali baba bzuğ əflus, zuğ əfluuuuuuuuuus

This recording should in itself be sufficient to dispel any misguided notion that "Judeo-Arabic" was a different language. All of it should be perfectly transparent to any Algerian Arabic speaker except a couple of phrases specific to Jewish culture: ħ̣ad gadya is Aramaic for "one kid goat" (the name of the song), milax həmmạvat is Hebrew for "the Angel of Death" (ملك الموت‍), and qqaduš baṛux hu is Hebrew for "the Holy One, Blessed be He" (referring to God). The word dəbbaħ ("slaughterer"), while obviously Arabic, might also be a religiously specific term for "shohet" (a kosher butcher) rather than the generic term for "butcher" - I'm not sure. Otherwise, every word in the rhyme is etymologically Arabic, although qəṭṭus "cat", zuğ "two", and flus "small coins" are ultimately from Latin or Greek. (Note the complete absence of Berber vocabulary.)

Nevertheless, we do see a few slightly unusual dialectal features. The most striking is the variation between different forms of the relative pronoun: normal əlli coexists with əldi, əddi, hesitant combinations of the two with li, and, oddly enough, ulli, as if this were coordination rather than subordination. The use of əldi, in particular, is reportedly characteristic of Jewish religious registers of Arabic; it looks as though the speaker was in the habit of using əlli in his normal speech, but aimed for əldi in this religious and formulaic context. We also find variation between (eastern) zuz and (central/conservative) zuğ for "two", and assimilation or non-assimilation of the article in əlždi or əžždi "the kid goat", probably a result of the deaffrication of ğīm before d. The loss of interdentals is fairly normal for old urban dialects.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Cardinal points in Northern Songhay

Following a recent message from Mohomodou Houssouba, I was wondering where the names of cardinal points come from across Northern Songhay. The first step towards answering is to realize that "cardinal points" don't seem to be an emic category across Songhay in general. In mainstream Songhay, mostly spoken along the Niger River, the river itself provides a more useful coordinate system: upstream (daŋgey), downstream (dendi), left bank (hawsa), right bank (gurma). The sun provides a useful supplementary axis - east (wayna-hunay, "sunrise") vs. west (wayna-kaŋey, "sunset"). North vs. south, on the other hand, is less significant; these tend to be referred to by the names of countries or regions, rather than using absolute terms. In Niger, for example, Hamadou Soumana Souna gives Azawa (ie Azawagh) for "north"; the Azawagh Valley is indeed north of the Zarma region, but it would be east of Timbuktu or Gao, which accordingly use other expressions.

In the Sahara, the river-based system is naturally of little use. Korandje instead preserves the east-west axis, using the same structure as mainstream Songhay varieties: inə̣w n ṭʕạ-yu "east" ("sunrise"), inə̣w n yạṛaħ-yu "west" ("sunset"). This is not, however, accompanied by any fixed north-south axis; for "north", elicitation sometimes yields bəlhadi, properly "the North Star", but this term is not used to describe locations in the way that "east" and "west" are, and there seems to be no proper equivalent to "south". I'm tempted to suggest that this reflects the oasis' general reluctance to think about its historic southern ties, but in a way it maps on to another, better-established three-direction coordinate system used in Tabelbala. The latter is not perpendicular, and not in my limited experience ever used for describing locations; rather, it relates to the wind directions.

Korandje winds
As near as I can make it out by comparing a wind rose for Tabelbala's climate, it consists of asərqi "east-northeast wind", tumiyya "north-northeast wind", ssaħliyya "southwest wind". (In an unpublished source, Champault lists a fourth, qʷəbliyya "east wind", which I did not encounter.) Asərqi comes via Berber from the Arabic for "east", šarq; ssaħliyya from sāħil "coast"; qʷəbliyya from qiblah "direction of prayer (towards Mecca)"; but the source of tumiyya is unclear to me. (Suggestions are welcome.)

In the rest of Northern Songhay, spoken in and around the Azawagh Valley - as far as I gather from secondary sources - the relevant vocabulary is largely Tuareg-derived, with no attested Songhay survivals. Tagdal, spoken by the largely nomadic Igdalen, has borrowed the system whole from (Tawellemmet) Tamajeq: "west" is ataram, "east" dinnik, "south" ággaala, "north" támmasna. (Among these, "north" is originally a toponym, "desert".) Tasawaq, spoken in the oasis of In-Gall, differs only in the name for "east": alkubla (from Arabic alqiblah "direction of prayer"). Emghedesie, the extinct variety of the town of Agades, agrees with Tasawaq on "east" and "west", but uses toponyms for "north" and south", respectively air (ie the Air Mountains) and asudán (Arabic as-sūdān "(land of the) Blacks"). (Note, however, that Tayart Tamajeq too uses ayəṛ for "north".) I have no data on Tadaksahak directions for the moment.

Einə̣w n ṭʕạ-yuelkúblaalkúbladinnik
Winə̣w n yạṛaħ-yuatáramátáramataram

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Lemurian Arabic

In the western ports of the continent of Lemuria, on the old trade route to Uqbar and thence to Atlantis, a dialect of Arabic has been spoken since probably the 6th century AD or so. Its longstanding isolation from other Arabic dialects, and its speakers' bilingualism in neighbouring Lemurian languages, has allowed it to develop some rather unusual features. Like all Arabic dialects, it has lost the final short vowels preserved in Classical Arabic; but, unlike any other surviving dialect, it has largely preserved case and mood marking, thanks to extensive final-syllable ablaut.

For example, the noun "book" is conjugated as follows:


One thus says royt ilkitaab "I saw the book", sagatʼ ilkitoob "the book fell", deexil ilkiteeb "inside the book". The resulting system is rather reminiscent of Old Irish, among other languages of our own timeline.

Sadly, a full documentation of this fascinating dialect will forever be wanting, due to the difficulty of travelling to fictional destinations and of getting recording equipment to work properly in fantasy universes. However, I trust that the available data is sufficient to establish that phonetic changes such as the loss of final short vowels need not automatically imply the loss of morphological information that the lost phonemes had encoded.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A new Songhay alphabet

In 2019, a new alphabet was invented for Songhay, joining a long list of West African script creation efforts from the 19th century onwards. It may sink without a trace like Garay, or (less probably) it may enjoy a success comparable to that of N'Ko; even in the former case, however, it may be of interest as a case study in script creation. I will therefore summarize what little I know about it below.

According to this page, the script was invented by Ibn Achour Ousmane Touré in 2019, based on livestock marks used by Songhay villages, towns, and regions. He intended it to allow Songhay speakers to write in their own language rather than in French or Arabic, and thus to enable them to continue and progress, following in the footsteps of the Songhay Empire, which he supposes must have had its own writing system at some point. (Songhay is, of course, sometimes written - officially in a Latin-based orthography, unofficially also in Ajami Arabic - but is frequently not thought of as a written language; the primary target of education is literacy in French and/or Arabic, and most locally available printed materials are in one of these languages.) A volunteer committee was set up to promote the script, including the inventor himself, Dr. Imirana Seydou Maiga (secretary), M. Housseiny Ibrahima Maiga (expert advisor), and M. Faissal Kada Maiga (general coordinator and secretary of information). This group seems to use Arabic as their primary language of wider communication, and consists at least in part of Songhay diaspora in the Arab world; the secretary and coordinator seem to have spent time in Saudi Arabia, and the latter is reported to be based in Libya. One might speculate that the script offered them a "third way" to get past the French-Arabic binary.

The alphabet is as follows:

A series of YouTube videos, and posts on Afkaar.Online, clarify the orthography. The writing direction is right to left, and the alphabetic order is obviously inspired in large part by Arabic; there is no capitalization. The diacritics are explained here (titled Hantum maasayan "adding diacritics to writing"):

Vowel length is marked with a macron over the vowel, and vowel nasalization by a tilde (both betraying the influence of a Latin-based transcription); if placed over a consonant rather than a vowel, these respectively indicate that the consonant should be followed by aa or ã. (In this sense, if not in the more usual one, the script has a default vowel a.) In principle, all other vowels are marked plene (though short a occasionally seems to be omitted). Consonant gemination is indicated by a circle over the consonant. The dot under the letter n is dropped when it assimilates to a following consonant (Arabic ikhfā'), a feature inspired by Quranic orthography. (The text above gives an example of final dotless n with a tilde over it at the end of maasayan; this combination is not explained as far as I can see.) Besides this, dots distinguish affricates (dot above) from palatoalveolar sibilants (dot below), and d and g (no dot) from z and ŋ (dot above). The letter for ñ is close to being a graphic hybrid of ŋ and j, appropriately enough.

The system is completed by a set of numerals, using place notation (titled Soŋay-k(a)buyaŋo "Songhay counting"):

Punctuation evidently includes hyphens, used somewhat inconsistently at morpheme boundaries (thus the nominalizing suffix -yan/-yaŋ is not hyphenated in the two previous examples, but is hyphenated in denden-yaŋ "learning"), but fairly consistently in compounds (e.g., in the same post, Soŋay-senni m(a) duuma "may the Songhay language last"). Until examples of longer texts are available, little else can be said about punctuation.

If further data becomes available, I will update this post; if you know of any, comments are welcome! Particular thanks to "Oudi" for indispensable clarifications.

Friday, July 23, 2021

The *Bugzu of Bagzan?

Mt. Băgzăn, at the heart of the predominantly Tuareg-speaking Air massif in Niger, bears a not very Tuareg-looking name. The only Berber meaning for the root BGZ found in Nait-Zerrad is a word used by the neighbouring Iwellemmedan, taken from Alojaly's dictionary: ebăgez, pl. ibəgzan "vessel for dogs or for rubbish"; this corresponds regularly to Tahaggart ebăǵăh, pl. ibəǵhan "crude vase or plate (used for giving dogs their food and for gathering rubbish)", with a feminine tebăǵăht, pl. tibəǵhin "flat, slightly concave instrument used as a dustpan" (Foucauld). Not a root one would want to reconstruct very far back in Berber, nor an obvious source for the name of a mountain.

Hausa provides a surely related form that may shed light on the term's history: the ethnonym būzu < *bugzu (by Klingenheben's Law, as shown by the pl. bugā̀jē) "serf of the Azben [Air] people" (Bargery). The term refers to ex-slaves, iklan, what in Mali would be called Bella. It presumably does not share an etymology with būzu pl. būzā̀yē "undressed skin mat, loin-cloth", with no *g, for which Skinner (1996) gathers plausible cognates elsewhere in Chadic.

Combining the two, we get what looks like a brief glimpse of morphology: the homeland of the *Bugzu is *Bagzan (perhaps their manufactures included crude plates). From a Tuareg perspective, -ăn looks like a masculine plural ending; but the specific vowel alternation would be hard to explain Tuareg-internally, though Tuareg has a-ablaut in other plural types. From a Chadic perspective, one is reminded of the -n plurals of Bade and Ngizim, e.g. Bade zawa-n pl. zawa-n-ən "stick" (Schuh ms), Ngizim gâzbə́r̃ pl. gázbàarín "tall" (Schuh ms, 1972); Ngizim even offers parallels for the vowel alternation, and a-ablaut plurals are widespread in Chadic more generally. The Bade-Ngizim subgroup includes geographically the closest Chadic varieties spoken to the Air besides Hausa, located almost due south of the Air, so it seems a promising point of comparison; could the *Bugzu have spoken a since lost West Chadic B.1 language? But of course, nothing guarantees that Bagzan should be an old plural; perhaps -ăn was a locative suffix, or something else entirely.

I wouldn't be surprised if some early 20th century work proposes this connection, but I haven't come across it in the literature so far; if you have, let me know.