Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The earliest recorded pidgin - Maridi Arabic?

Some years ago, browsing in a bookstore, I came across a mention of a Mauritanian Arabic-based pidgin recorded by the medieval geographer Al-Bakri. For years since, I have been regretting not having written down the details; even reading through a copy of Al Bakri's description of North Africa brought no joy. Today, I finally found the mention again, and managed to track down the original reference - and understand why I didn't find it before...

Al-Bakri (1014-1097) was a noted geographer and less noted writer from Huelva in modern-day Spain. His description of North Africa was the most detailed since Roman times, and his descriptions of West Africa are among the earliest surviving - despite the fact that he himself never seems to have left Spain, relying instead on travellers' descriptions. Only some twelve manuscripts of his greatest work, al-Masālik wal-Mamālik, survive, none complete. The passage containing the pidgin text, unfortunately, is absent from most printed editions of al-Bakri, including every edition that I could find at SOAS: according to Thomason and Elgibali, "we have found our text only in a printed copy of al-Bakrī located in the national library of Egypt in Cairo; this copy is dated 1943, but we do not know who compiled it or - more importantly - what its manuscript source was."

Without further ado, here is the text, as given by Thomason and Elgibali, who apparently found it somewhere in a section describing Aswan and other Egyptian towns:

Someone told me that a dignitary from the people of Aswan used to travel a lot. One day he reached a small town called Maridi. Upon his return, he said to the prince of the believers: 'Sir, may God give you plenty of good and honour your face, here is my case! Its goal is to preserve and spread the word of God. The Blacks have mutilated our beautiful language and spoiled its eloquency [sic] with their twisted tongues. During my visit, Sir - may God protect you - only God's guidance helped me escape the dangers and understand their miserable Arabic. Sometimes, and may God forgive me if I did wrong, I could only laugh at what they called Arabic; and may God forgive me if I call what they uttered Arabic. Listen, Sir:

[and here I add my entirely conjectural vocalisation; for the original, see below] bī waħid yūm rādūl, Dūmā lū 'isim. damal lū 'ū wa bin lū 'ū. 'umnī dī rūħ 'a`adnī bī maħall. kīk lū 'ūl "ħaram, 'inta barbar, bin mū rūħ, 'inta barbar; 'a`adū!" 'umnī damal fū' 'ū, kīk lū 'ūl "ħaram, 'inta barbar, bin 'a`ad, dūmā rūħ." kīk lū 'ūl ħaram 'inta barbar. Dūmā 'ūl: "kīk mū diyyid mū muhī."

One day there was a man whose name was Jumu`a. He had a camel and a son. They were going to stay in a place. People(?) said to him, "Shame! You are a barbarian! Your son should not walk, you barbarian; seat him!" They were on the camel. People(?) said to him, "Shame! You are a barbarian!" The son sat and Jumu`a walked. ̂People(?) said to him, "Shame! You are a barbarian!" Jumu`a said "People(?) are neither good nor important."

The prince of the believers ordered that his need be met.

The chances of copyists having mangled this bizarre passage are high; the chances that the printers mangled it (or left out whatever vocalisation might have been present) makes the situation even worse. (Certainly De Slane's edition shows instances of both; thus his īħan Yākūš, given as Berber for "God is one", is almost certainly a mistake for ījan Yākūš, by the omission of a dot.) However, it shows some striking features.

The near-absence of morphology, the apparent presence of tense particles, and the simplification of the phonology are all suggestive of a pidgin, and a pidgin is exactly what one would expect given the nature of the trans-Sahara trade. Phonetically, the substitution of ' for qāf is characteristic of lower Egypt and the Levant, but also of several city dialects in the Maghreb and of Maltese; the substitution of d for j is widespread in upper Egypt, but I know of no modern dialect that has both features. The word kīk scarcely looks like Arabic; Thomason & Elgibali suggest a possible interpretation, based on two etymons reportedly widespread in Nilo-Saharan (koi "person", -k "plural"), as "people".

Where was this pidgin spoken? Unfortunately, the text is thoroughly vague on this point, and Maradi's location is unknown. The paragraph after it is a condensed version of a passage elsewhere in al-Bakri describing the Lamtūna tribe of Mauritania, so Thomason and Elgibali suggest that it was spoken in Mauritania; however, Owens notes that both the phonetics of the text and the attribution to a person from Aswan (not to mention the possible presence of a Nilo-Saharan word) suggest a location somewhere in modern-day Sudan.

Of course, until someone finds the manuscript containing this passage, I will be unable to banish a slight suspicion that this whole passage might be an obscure joke by the printers (whoever they might be - the book in Cairo in question does not appear in Thomason and Elgibali's bibliography) on linguists worldwide... However, if authentic (and it scarcely seems likely that the printers would have made it up), this may well be the earliest attested passage in a pidgin, and certainly the earliest Arabic-based pidgin reported. It also provides an illustration of several rather common responses to pidgins and creoles: the half-shocked half-amused contempt for its differences from the lexifier language, the idea that the pidgin itself constitutes an obstacle to learning that needs to be overcome by education in the lexifier language, and the idea that this latter task is the state's responsibility.

PS (23 Dec): In Arabic, this story is more usually told of Juha; it occurs to me that دوما (Dūmā) may well be a misreading/miscopying of دوها (Dūhā), which would be a plausible rendition of Juha, rather than of the rather unusual name Jumu`a.

Arabic: (unfortunately, the portion given starts at "Sir, may God give you plenty of good"; the typeface is also extraordinarily blurry. I have taken the liberty of adding some punctuation.)
مولاي الخليفة جزاك الله خيرا وأكرم وجهك، إليك قضيتي ومحتواها حفظ كلمة الله ونشرها... فإن السود قد قطعوا اوصال لغتنا الجميلة تقطيعا وأفسدوا بيانها بشرير ألسنتهم المعوجة، فأثناء زيارتي (حفظك الله) كان إلهام الله ووحيه المعينين الوحيدين للنجاة من الأخطار وفهم ما أرادوا قوله لي بعربيتهم المزرية، فأحيانا يا مولاي (وسامحني الله إن أخطئت) كنت لا أملك الضحك على عربيتهم - وليسامحني: الله إن أطلقت على ما نطقوا بها اسم العربية، فاسمع يا سيدي:
بي وحد يوم رادول دوما لو اسم دمل لو او وبن لو او امني دي روح اعدي بي محل كيك لو لوب حرم انت بربر بن مو روح انت بربر لو اعدو امني دمل فوء او كيك لو اول حرم انت بربر بن اعد دوما روح كيك لو اول حرم انت بربر دوما اول كيك مو ديد مو مهي

  • Al-Bakri, Description de l'Afrique septentrionale, M. G. De Slane, trans. (Alger, 1913).
  • Jonathan Owens. "Arabic-based Pidgins and Creoles", in Contact languages: a wider perspective, ed. Sarah G. Thomason. Amsterdam: John Benjamins 1996.
  • Sarah G. Thomason and Alaa Elgibali. "Before the Lingua Franca: Pidginized Arabic in the Eleventh Century A.D.". Lingua 68 (1986) 317-349.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

No Arabic please, we're American

If you haven't already seen it, the Baker report brought to light a piece of epic stupidity in Iraq:
All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handi-
capped by Americans’ lack of language and cultural understanding. Our embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency. In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage. There are still far too few Arab language–proficient military and civilian officers in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. mission.

Why make such an easily fixable mistake? I suspect because they view most of America's large population of fluent Arabic speakers as security risks - although apparently other factors play a role too...

(Hat tip: Aqoul.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The grammar of talking to yourself

In the Dark Ages, too, linguists sometimes got a little worked up over theoretical differences (if a work of fiction is to be believed):
"Those were times when, to forget an evil world, grammarians took pleasure in abstruse questions. I was told that in that period, for fifteen days and fifteen nights, the rhetoricians Gabundus and Terentius argued on the vocative of 'ego' [I], and in the end they attacked each other, with edged weapons." - Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
In a sense, one would expect that "I" should really have a vocative - certainly people talk to themselves sometimes - yet Latin's lack of a vocative "I" is paralleled in English. If John (that old linguists' standby) tells himself "John, get up and do some work", the sentence is not grammatically odd; if he tells himself "*I, get up and do some work" or "*Me, get up and do some work", neither sentence is grammatically possible. Note that no such restriction applies to non-vocative uses; it would be equally grammatical for John to tell himself "I'm in luck!" or "You're in luck!" Even resorting in desperation to the archaic English vocative "O" yields nothing: "O I!" is ridiculous, and "Oh me!" is already in use as a rather silly exclamation. So why should the vocative of "I" be so hard to form?

Update: Thanks to Language Hat, I have learned of an interesting post on the very grammarian of whom Eco is writing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Speaking Arabic in public; or: don't say Yallah

You may have heard about the imams who got taken off a plane in the US (Minneapolis) because some passenger thought they were suspicious. Apparently:
Before passengers boarded, one became alarmed by an overheard discussion. "They seemed angry," he wrote in a police statement. "Mentioned 'U.S.' and 'killing Saddam.' Two men then swore slightly under their breath/mumbled. They spoke Arabic again. The gate called boarding for the flight. The men then chanted 'Allah, Allah, Allah.'"
It's bizarre the way that "They spoke Arabic again" seems to be characterised as somehow suspicious in itself - but the part that really makes me think "duhhhh!" is "The gate called boarding for the flight. The men then chanted 'Allah, Allah, Allah.'" It's obvious what they must really have been saying (although I haven't seen any paper point this out): Yallah, yallah, meaning "come on! let's go!". If even the use of the word "Allah" alarms some paranoid passengers, then Arabs will be hard-pressed to speak at all - between inshallah, hamdulillah, and bismillah alone (let alone yallah or wallah) you could easily reach at least one mention of "Allah" every couple of sentences in a completely mundane conversation! I hope this is an isolated instance rather than a trend.

In related news, speaking Yan-Nhangu is apparently suspicious as well...

In unrelated news, I thought Tulugaq's Google Map of Inupiaq was pretty cool, as is Sydney Place Names - I hope this is a trend.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"An elaborate series of grunts and gestures"

More in the weird colonial-era language books series - this time "The Siwi Language", by W. Seymour Walker, F.R.G.S (Late Royal Artillery), with a foreword by His Excellency Wilson Pasha (Governor, Western Desert Province of Egypt), 1921:
There are no interjections in Siwi which are sufficiently constant to be worth committing to paper.
Their meaning is expressed by an elaborate series of grunts and gestures which can only be acquired by practice.

There is only one noun-adj. in Siwi in which the masc. and fem. forms are identical:
zlèta, naked, bare
Note 30. This exception is a good example of the construction of the Siwi vocabulary, and illustrates one of the reasons for its paucity. Amongst the women a naked female is quite a possibility, but to the general Siwani mind, it is so inconceivable, and so contrary to all established customs, that no special word-form has been evolved to cope with such an obvious phenomenon.

If you want to hear what Siwi is really like, the indefatigable Madi has put a Siwi audio file up on Tawalt: the Story of Prince Sayf. With a bit of help from books like Walker's (and more usefully Laoust's), I can make out a fair bit of it. Remarkably, Siwi has borrowed Arabic's comparative form, as you can hear in the second sentence.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gulf Arabic (and Hindi?) Pidgin

It should be unsurprising that a pidgin trade-Arabic has evolved in the Gulf, given the incredibly large proportion of the population from non-Arabic-speaking countries. But this is the first info I've seen on it online. Not much actual detail (I would add the word siida "straight ahead"), but it also mentions a pidgin Hindi, which is more surprising. Sounds worth investigating...

Friday, October 27, 2006

How to give orders in Angass

I'm researching Chadic imperatives at the moment, so I opened Angass Manual - written by H. D. Foulkes, Captain (late R. F. A.), Political Officer, Nigeria in 1915) to the appropriate section, and found it to consist solely of the following advice:
The Imperative is of the same form as the rest of the verbal forms, only uttered with the necessary tone of authority.

I suppose it's too much to expect an Edwardian captain to be able to transcribe tones, but I couldn't read that without bursting out laughing.

The book gets even better, with such cringeworthy gems as this "explanation" for phonological processes:
"The Angass, like most negroes, have a nice ear, and they endeavour to prevent harsh sounds coming together."

I particularly like how he explains that Angass grammar is really simple:
"The language is so simple in construction that I am hoping a study of it may help in elucidating the groundwork of more elaborated Negro languages."

since anything he can't get to grips with must not be part of its grammar:
"The only difficulty - but it is a very real one - in the colloquial is the apparently capricious employment of a large number of particles, the use of which, though immaterial from a grammatical point of view, is, however, necessary in practice, for without them the sentence certainly loses its flavour, and seemingly some of its sense, in that an ordinary man cannot understand a phrase unless it is enunciated exactly in the way he is accustomed to hearing it, and the omission or transposition of a word bothers him considerably."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

rka and yya: from Arabic to Berber, or Berber to Arabic?

I had always assumed, with no particular evidence, that the frequent Algerian Arabic word rka ركا ("rot", v.) was of some obscure Arabic origin; it looks like a normal Arabic word, after all, with a triliteral root and a weak 3rd consonant and a regular conjugation (although that non-emphatic r is suspicious, in retrospect.) It even has a corresponding adjective, raki "rotten", and there is a verb ركا in Fusha, though its range of meanings ("dig", "fix", "slander"...) show no obvious similarity to "rot". So I was somewhat surprised to see, looking at Kossmann 1999:176, that it occurs throughout Northern and Southern Berber languages, with k shifting to sh in Zenati ones as expected, and can clearly be reconstructed for proto-Berber. A lot of common Algerian Arabic words of obscure origins that I had thought might be from Berber haven't held up to closer examination, but this one looks pretty solid.

So on that note, consider the irregular imperative of "come" in Algerian Arabic: not the impossible *ji, but ayya أيّا. I understand this word is also present as an irregular imperative of as ("come") in Kabyle, Chenoua, and Tumzabt; so does it come from Arabic or Berber? In Arabic, hayyaa هيّا "hurry!" seems a plausible-looking but not indisputable source for it; dropping the h would be irregular, but there are other examples (نوظ "get up", presumably from نهض). So the question hinges on how widely the word yya is distributed among Berber languages. Is it found in Chaoui, for example? Or Tamasheq, or Tashlhiyt, or even Siwa? I'm hoping some readers will be able to help answer these question... :)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sahha eidkoum! and Yobe languages

And Eid Mubarak, everybody! I've already posted on the etymology of this term before, so for lack of anything new to say on it, here's a nice site I've come across: Yobe languages, with handy materials on six minor Chadic languages of Nigeria.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Google Earth for linguists - and more Tunisian Berber

I've been playing around with Google Earth lately, and apart from all the obvious things you do when you get a satellite picture of the earth to play with - find your house, places you've been, etc. - it became clear that the ability to create and save placemark files opened up some interesting applications for linguists. To make a linguistic map, all you have to do is:
* create a new folder for the linguistic map (menu Add > Folder);
* list villages and towns that you know speak the language;
* look up their coordinates (where necessary) on sites like FallingRain - or better yet, record them with a GPS while you're there;
* go to them in Google Earth (you can type in rather than placename) and create placemarks for them (the pin button near the bottom right corner);
* change the icons for the placemarks if you have distinctions you want to make;
* add text to the placemarks (or folder names) in the Comments field;
* save the resulting folder as a KMZ file to be reopened in Google Earth.

Google Maps won't let you draw borders in, but (where relevant) this can be handled easily enough: File > Save Image, open it in Photoshop or GIMP, add a layer (so you can see the original at any time if you mess up), and draw the borders which, if you've plotted enough points, should be pretty obvious by then anyway. Filled in in suitable monochrome, this will look nicer in print, but has disadvantages: you lose the ability to attribute lengthy text to individual points (which shows up in Google Earth if you click on them), not to mention the ability to zoom in, or see the overall topography and environment.

By way of an example (possibly relevant to my PhD plans), here's one I did earlier: Tunisian Berber - Shilha. It has a bibliography of everything I could find on Tunisian Berber under the main folder, with works on individual villages cited under their placemarks, along with quotes on the vitality of Berber there. Berber is highly endangered in Tunisia, so I used four icons to represent different stages: a ghostly grey square for places where it disappeared shortly before 1900, a small bluish square for ones where it was still spoken in the 1930s, a white and blue circle for places where it is probably still spoken, and a larger white and blue square for places where it is still spoken by almost the whole population. It is divided into four subfolders, corresponding to different regions. As you will see, these varieties, in addition to being confined to less than thirteen villages in the whole country, are rather inadequately investigated - contrast the wealth of literature on and in Kabyle, or even Tashlhiyt. I hope this "cartographic bibliography" is found to be useful.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sheng and other links

Sheng is the 'Slanguage' of the Future offers plenty of food for sociolinguistic thought: here we have a columnist at once decrying the prescriptivists who are offended by this urban "slang" and urging that Kenya's "tribal" languages be abandoned to extinction in favor of this new trans-tribal language. (For a more academic Sheng link: Talking Sheng: The role of a hybrid language in the construction of identity and youth culture in Nairobi, Kenya.)

Other links:
Anthro-Ling offers a myth in Rumsen Ohlone - I guarantee you won't find this elsewhere online...

Bulbul on languages named after products (no, not as an advertising gimmick!)

And Language Hat on Wade-Giles, edifying for Chinese learners anywhere

Monday, October 02, 2006

Kabyle dialect geography and the Kutama-Zwawa divide

Recently I came across A. Basset's Etudes de Geographie Linguistique en Kabylie (1929) - an interesting if incomplete work mapping the distribution of different body part terms across the Kabyle Berber-speaking region of eastern Algeria. The variation is significant, but I noticed a persistent trend: if there was any variation at all, the small Kabyle-speaking area east of Bejaia very often seemed to have a different term, or terms, than the rest of Kabylie. For example, the whole rest of the area has either aqerru or aqerruy as the normal word for head; this small eastern area instead has both ixf and akerkur. Almost the whole area has allen for "eyes"; the far east has taTTiwin. For "ear", everywhere has amezzugh, except the far east, which has imejj. For "knee", variants of tageshrirt (or Arabic borrowings) are nearly everywhere except the far east, which has afud. What's up with that?

A quick look at Ibn Khaldun suggests an explanation. In his History, he outlines the locations and notional genealogies of the principal Berber tribal confederations of his time. He describes the Zwawa - a name more generally associated with Kabyles - as extending through the mountains from Dellys to Bejaia, and the much larger Kutama group as extending throughout a wide area (the northern half of which is now Arabic-speaking) stretching from the Aures Mountains to the coast between Bejaia and Buna (modern Annaba), as well as including scattered groups outside this range, around Dellys and in Morocco (modern Ketama in the Rif.) (He personally inclined to the view that the Zwawa were in origin a subgroup of Kutama, but notes that this was not generally believed.) In other words, the division between Kutama proper and Zwawa lay around about modern Bejaia - exactly where the suspicious isoglosses I noticed seem to be. The next question: where these far eastern dialects diverge from the rest of Kabyle, do they resemble Chaoui?

(See الخبرعن كتامة من بطون البرانس and الخبر عن بني ثابت for the Ibn Khaldun quotes.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Tamazight cartoon

Dissertation all over, submitted, etc. - just enrolling for PhD...

On a different note, I just found a spot-on cartoon about Tamazight (Berber) language activism: Tamaziɣt nni. The speaker is saying, in French: "Azul fell-awen (greetings) - We have the grave duty of not letting Tamazight disappear... is ineluctable to..." The audience member in front of him is saying, in Tamazight (Kabyle): "What's 'ineluctable' mean?"

To my mind, this is perhaps the single biggest problem of some branches (certainly not all) of the Tamazight movement: they talk about developing Tamazight, but they talk and write and think in French. Tizi-Ouzou's walls are covered in aza signs (the Tifinagh letter resembling a man that has become a symbol of Amazigh activism), but its shopfronts and signs are covered in French, even though Arabic signs are regularly vandalised. This gives many other Algerians who would otherwise look more favorably on the idea of developing Tamazight the impression that it's simply a cover for maintaining or extending the (frankly negative) role of French in public life - an impression that is not always false. Personally, I favour a coherent policy: more use of Algeria's native languages - Arabic and Tamazight - in all spheres of life, and less use of foreign ones except in dealing with foreigners.

(And yes, the fact that I am writing this in English is somewhat ironic - but then, I'm writing for an international audience here, and from an English-speaking country.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Olmec writing from 900 BC found

Almost done - just have to print it out - but I spotted this incredibly cool piece of news:
* Claim of Oldest New World Writing Excites Archaeologists - subscription-only, so see Writing on Olmec Slab Is Hemisphere's Oldest: Tablet of 62 characters dates to about 1000 BC. ('Oldest' New World writing found)

Mesoamerican historical linguists (Dave?) as well as historians must be getting fairly excited - the next oldest Mesoamerican writing was only about 200 BC.

Oh, and another classic example of confused BBC science reporting: "The finding suggests that New World people developed writing some 400 years before their contemporaries in the Western hemisphere." (!)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Some links

I'm finishing up my thesis, so don't expect a posting for the next week, but in the meantime here's a couple of links:

LinguaMongolica - a site dedicated to classical Mongolian.
Academic Grammar of New Persian

The paper that more or less founded modern typology: Some Universals of Grammar with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful Elements (Greenberg 1963).

BBC readers' attitudes to African languages. An interesting range of opinions - probably enough for a small sociolinguistics article right there:
"Whether you were educated in French, English, Spanish or in whatever western language, on this small piece of God's earth called Rwanda, everything is done in Kinyarwanda. In this context, English may be as obscure a language as any other."
"Democracy is such a complex issue that it requires educated people. This being the case, my argument has always been that popular education cannot be achieved relying on a foreign language with which one doesn't have any link other than the fact that it was imposed on you."
"English in my opinion is the most widely spoken language in the world, but the most important language for me is that with which I can speak to my mother, my father, my grand-parents without having to bother if I was making the right sense. This language is Igbo. You can have your own view, but mine is mine."
"African Language are fantastic its makes you feel at home when you speak it. To be taught as a subject could be a big waste of time in school because it can't take you anywhere."
"In Cameroon we have almost 300 different languages beside English and French which are our official language. I am proud to able to read and write both English and French. I don't deem it necessary to learn to learn or know any other language because they cant help me in any way."

Friday, September 01, 2006

What free word order is really all about

Occasionally, I hear Japanese described as free word order because it allows argument scrambling. Then I think of Latin, and go "Hah!" The other day I happened to come across a bit of Virgil that nicely illustrates Latin's horrifying (at least to readers) ability to not only scramble the relative order of noun phrases, but break them up into little bits and scatter them about like confetti:

ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.

Which might be approximated as:

last Cumaean's comes already song's season;
great from whole centuries' is-born cycle.

but means:
Already the Cumaean [oracle]'s song's last season comes;
The great cycle of the centuries is born anew ("from whole").

For Chomskyan syntacticians, I suppose you'd have to look at it as a kind of quantifer floating-like phenomenon gone mad. Case marking and agreement do help disambiguate it a bit, but still...

This piece of verse, incidentally, is apparently where the slogan on the US dollar, "Novus Ordo Seclorum" (New Order of the Centuries - aka New World Order:), comes from, though I don't see "Novus" in there. Seeing as medieval Christians used to think this poem predicted the coming of the Messiah, and here it's being used rather blatantly to refer to the founding of the US, this is a pretty amazing piece of boasting if you think about it; I guess the "city on a hill" conception of America has been popular for a long time...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Naguib Mahfouz dies

Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz has died at the age of 94. Literature will be the poorer without him. His best-known work is the Cairo Trilogy, recounting three generations of life in a middle-class Cairo family as the social and political changes of the early twentieth century swirl around them. The final volume's humanist Marxist message seems outdated now - and, indeed, Mahfouz would move towards mysticism in later works, ironically attracting much more hostility. However, the Cairo Trilogy tells a more timeless story as well, portraying the slow development of the characters' very different personalities as they all move away from the cheerful but self-serving hypocrisy of the first generation, taking risks and making sacrifices for national independence or personal fulfillment, for Marxism or the Muslim Brotherhood, for idealism or stupid desires, that would have been unthinkable to their (grand)father Sayyid Ahmad Abd-el-Jawad, secure in his status and unworried by the contradiction between the strict religiosity he imposed on his house and the relaxed hedonism he indulged in outside of it.

And what has this to do with linguistics, you may well ask? Well, Edward Said's efforts to persuade a New York publishing house to risk translating the Cairo Trilogy back before Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize prompted the memorably stupid response "that Arabic was a controversial language".

What? Still not linguisticky enough? Then I'll throw in the etymology of his name, نجيب محفوظ. najiib (nagiib in Egyptian dialect) literally means "noble, learned", from the root نجب njb "be noble, be excellent". maHfuuZ is a passive participle meaning "protected", from the root حفظ HfZ "guard, protect, keep, memorise", from which the word HaafiZ "a person who has memorised the Qur'an" derives.

Now go and read some Arabic literature :)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Myths about Darja (Algerian Arabic): 1 "Darja has no rules."

In light of the interest attracted by the previous post, and of several discussions I've had about this topic in real life lately, I'll be posting regularly (?) on a few of the several myths widely believed in Algeria about Algerian Arabic, and often elsewhere about other Arabic dialects.

1. "Darja has no rules."

Every language has rules. You can see some of these rules in action by examining the effects of changing word order: for example خالد شاف روحو (khaled shaf RuHu - Khaled saw himself) is perfectly fine, but خالد روحو شاف (khaled RuHu shaf - Khaled himself saw) is totally bizarre. This is not because of some inevitable law of human thought: in Japanese, "Khaled himself saw" would be the correct order. Likewise, ما شفْتْشْ الطّونوبيل (ma sheftsh eTTunubil - I didn't see the car) is fine; شفتش ما الطونوبيل (sheftsh ma TTunubil) or ما شفت الطونوبيلش (ma sheft eTTunubilsh) are ridiculous. أنا راني نكتب (ana Rani nekteb - I'm writing) is fine; حنا راني نكتب (Hna Rani nekteb) or حنا رانا نكتب (Hna Rana nekteb) are absurd. If you speak Darja, you'll be able to see this instantly, even though no one ever taught you that one was right and the other wrong, and even though all of them would be wrong in FuSHa. The difference between Darja and FuSHa is not that FuSHa has rules and Darja breaks them; rather, Darja has different rules, and, whereas the rules of FuSHa are usually learned at great effort from teachers who learned them from grammar books written hundreds of years ago by people like Sibawayh who themselves had to go and spend hours in the desert with the few Bedouins who still spoke "proper" FuSHa, the rules of Darja are usually learned unconsciously from your own parents and relatives and followed effortlessly from the moment you're old enough to talk - as those of FuSHa were back in the 7th century when some people still spoke it as a mother tongue.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Al Jazeera and Reuters discover Algerian Arabic

Reuters and Al Jazeera English are both carrying a story about Algerian Arabic, apparently written by Algeria's El Khabar journalist Lamine Chikhi. I suppose I should be glad to see anything at all about this in the media, but unfortunately it confirms the first law of linguistics in the media: linguistics reporting is always shaky on the linguistics.
"Unlike neighbours in Morocco and Tunisia, Algerians speak a dense patois, a mixture of Arabic, Berber, French and sometimes Turkish, that most Arabs cannot fathom."

First of all, Algerian Arabic is still overwhelmingly Arabic; but reporters rarely seem to grasp the difference between true mixed languages like Michif and extensive loanwords like English or Algerian Arabic. More importantly, what do you mean unlike? Moroccan Arabic has more Berber than Algerian, and Tunisian more Turkish; how much French is in any of those three very much depends on class, cultural/political orientation, and region.

Let's try this: A car hit Mohamed, who was taken to hospital. In Algerian patois: Mohamed darbattou tonobile, dattou direct el sbitar. In this example, the verb is in Algerian dialect, the word car is in a kind of French, sbitar is Turkish, and the intonation is taken from the Berber Kabyle language.

sbitar is quite obviously Romance (Lingua Franca?) in origin - it might have come in via Turkish, but I'd like to see evidence for that. dda "took" (I assume that's the verb he had in mind) is not just Algerian but pan-Maghreb (certainly Moroccan, anyway), and has classical Arabic roots (أَدَّى) although its meaning has shifted significantly. Claiming that "the intonation is taken from the Berber Kabyle language" is a total cop-out; some elements of Algerian Arabic intonation may well derive from Berber, but there are noticeable differences as well, with Kabyle intonation tending to have a higher pitch range (from what I recall of Chaker's analysis, anyway.)

But more to the point, when will reporters (and indeed politicians) figure out the basic issue here? Language change is normal, and not unique to Algeria; borrowing foreign words is normal, and not unique to Algeria; having a substantial difference between the literary and spoken languages is common to the whole Arab world, and not unique to Algeria; a Syrian would have as much trouble understanding Moroccans or Tunisians as they would Algerians; and having been occupied by "Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and French" is common to half the Mediterranean! A real story would focus on what is unique to Algerian Arabic, or at least Maghreb Arabic, and provide an account of how it got that way that wasn't limited to an indiscriminate recital of the country's history; it would at least mention the noteworthy pre-Hilali/Hilali dialect distinction, the elements shared with Andalusi Arabic, the first person singular n- shibboleth, the retention of classical words lost in the east (such as Haanuut "shop"), the Lingua Franca influence, the two or three Roman loanwords, the widely differing degree of Berber influence... I mean, why not consult an academic text first?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hail native Language - clothe my thoughts

I recently came across a forgotten poem by Milton addressing his mother tongue (as you do!), written to open the English section of a day of speeches at College after the Latin one was completed. English then, of course, was far from being the global lingua franca it is now: it hadn't even had a significant literary output for all that long (Shakespeare had only died in Milton's childhood), and the nascent "Anglosphere" was a few scattered coastal settlements here and there. A poem in this vein now would surely be far more boastful, and contain repeated allusions to, come to think of it, Shakespeare and Milton; but the absence of such allusions here lends it a certain universality that a modern version would lack.

Hail native Language, that by sinews weak
Didst move my first endeavouring tongue to speak,
And mad'st imperfect words with childish tripps,
Half unpronounc't, slide through my infant-lipps,
Driving dum silence from the portal dore,
Where he had mutely sate two years before:
I have some naked thoughts that rove about
And loudly knock to have their passage out;
And wearie of their place do only stay
Till thou hast deck't them in thy best aray;
That so they may without suspect or fears
Fly swiftly to this fair Assembly's ears...

The metaphor of language as a clothing for thought contrasts interestingly with the well-known "conduit metaphor" (IDEAS ARE OBJECTS, LANGUAGE IS A CONTAINER), even though clothes technically do contain their wearer. A container and its archetypal contents are equally non-sentient, and the container's primary purpose is to allow the transport and storage of its contents; clothes, on the other hand, archetypally adorn and protect a sentient being, who is likely to choose clothes that somehow reflect how they wish to be perceived. On the conduit metaphor, the bare idea is mere substance; on the clothing metaphor, the bare idea is a personality in its own right, a sort of homunculus getting ready to go out and meet the world. On the conduit metaphor, an idea is successfully transmitted if what it provokes in the listener accords with the author's intent; on the clothing metaphor, one can envisage the idea as having a life of its own, perhaps misunderstood by the author as well as the hearer. (And what are the thoughts to the thinker/author in this metaphor - his/her children, or servants, or perhaps even constituents?)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Quechua hits The Economist

The Economist reports on a Peruvian Congresswoman trying to raise the social status of Quechua by only speaking Quechua to Congress, forcing them to hire translators.

There are a couple of good Quechua sites out there: Runa Simi, for example, or

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Ayin-less in Gaza

Gaza, Arabic غزّة ghazzah, is another extremely old city of the eastern Mediterranean, having been in existence for at least three millennia. After a period of Egyptian rule, it became a member of the Philistine Pentapolis. Its name has been recorded in several forms over the years, including:

  • Hieroglyphic: q3d3ti, g3d3y, g3d3tw (says Wallis Budge);
  • Akkadian (Tell el-Amarna): Az-za-ti;
  • Akkadian (Assyrian): Kha-az-zu-tu;
  • Biblical Hebrew: `azzah;
  • Greek (Herodotus): Cadytis (probably Gaza, but some dispute)
  • Greek (Septuagint): Gaza (Γάζα)
  • Latin (Pliny): Gaza
Some sources derive the town's Hebrew name, `Azzah, from the root `zz "be strong". However, this is a folk etymology. The two proto-Semitic consonants *` (pharyngeal voiced fricative/approximant) and *gh (uvular voiced fricative) merged to ` in Biblical Hebrew as we know it; but `zz "be strong" had ` in proto-Semitic (compare Arabic عزّ `azza), whereas Gaza clearly had gh (note that Akkadian had no gh, so a null/kh alternation in transcribing it is expected.) As a matter of fact, the Septuagint provides evidence that some dialects of Hebrew retained the `/gh distinction well into the classical period; some instances of written `ayin are left untranscribed in the Septuagint's Greek (eg Yehoshua` = Ἰησοῦς; Bet-`Araba = Βαιθαραβα), while others are transcribed as gamma (`Amora = Γομορρα; `Azza = Γάζα), clearly suggesting that the pronunciation was still distinguished.

The interesting thing is that Arabic has preserved the gh in Gaza, which would be impossible if it had taken the word from 7th-century Aramaic, which has no gh either (Hebrew was almost surely extinct as a spoken language by the time Islam arrived.) Could it have been borrowed from Greek? Maybe; but, given that Herodotus notes that "Arabians" dominated the coast between Gaza and al-Arish even in his time, another obvious possibility is simply that the word Gaza entered Arabic from one Canaanite language or another well before the loss of the `/gh distinction, and didn't change.

As an interesting coda, the name Gaza may apparently be the source of the English word gauze.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sumerian grammatical texts

Sumerian Grammatical Texts available online! The title is a misnomer - most of the texts given are early Sumerian-Akkadian lexica arranged by topic, or just plain Sumerian texts - but there are other interesting things, such as a phonetically organised syllabary (vowel order: u-a-i), and a series called "ana ittišu" (p. 30) with some rather paradigm-looking stuff, such as:

SumerianAkkadian, English
ùrsûnu, lap, bosom
ùr-bisûn-šu, his bosom
ùr-bi-šúana sûni-šu, upon his bosom
ùr-bi-šú in-garana sûni-šu iškun, he placed upon his bosom

which I guess offer a clue about the teaching methods used. These tablets were used to teach young Akkadian-speaking would-be scribes Sumerian, long after Sumerian itself had become extinct.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Kurdish giving way to Turkish in some areas?

Found a telling first-hand account of language shift. I had no idea the last decade or two had made such a difference.

until the end of 1980s the kurdish language was still preserved, because the kurds were still in their villages [...] most of them would not know one single word turkish and the women, in specific, did not know one single word turkish! [...] but at the beginning of 1990s, and since then going on, we have been losing the kurdish language [...] and it is mainly because around four or some say five thousand kurdish villages were forcibly evacuated, i should use "they were destroyed by the turkish army" instead. and more than three million people(kurds) were displaced! and of course it had its consequences! [...]

all the kurds started to go to school, where they would only speak turkish, and if, in any way someone were to speak kurdish s/he would punished for speaking kurdish and this way it would have a deterring effect on the other children(students) as well! kurdish students were despised and made fun of because of their accent so the families of those kurdish students thought that if they spoke only turkish at home it would help their children and they would be able to speak turkish better, and nobody would be able to fun of them. [...]

they only watched the turkish tv channels! and especially the mothers were very badly affected by this, because they wree the ones who would stay at home and when they did not have anything to do they would watch the tv and improve their turkish, but after a while they started to use turkish words while speaking kurdish, keep in mind that their children were not taught kurdish, so even if some of those children wanted to learn kurdish they would learn it wrong because their parents would not speak appropriate kurdish! i still cant believe that some kurds would say "qapi qepamiş bike" for "close the door" in kurdish: i have a very hard time understanding this, qepi originally is kapı(it is pronounced liek qepi in kurdish) "qepamiş" means nothing, it is supposed to mean "close", they combine turkish root of "to close" and add a kurdish suffix to it and make it kurdish. when i see people using those words, and killing kurdish it really hurts me very badly!

The extreme borrowing is an interesting point - and probably a universal of low-status languages. I can sympathise - excessively Frenchified Arabic really grates on my ears...

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mountains of Lebanon - some etymologies

Lebanon's cities and villages, tragically now in the news, have some interesting etymologies. I always used to wonder about the different names: why is the same city called Tyre in English, but Ṣuur in Arabic? or Byblos in English, and Jubayl in Arabic? The reasons illustrate the sheer length of these towns' history, and the time depth of Greece's contact with them.

Sometime before the characteristic sound shifts of Proto-Canaanite happened - perhaps 1200 BC or so? - Tyre would have been known by a Semitic term meaning something like "peak" or "crag": θ'uur-u. This was borrowed by the early Greeks as tur-os > tyros (when u got fronted to y) > Latin Tyrus > English Tyre. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, that glottalised θ', perhaps unsurprisingly, was among the first sounds to disappear; in Canaanite (that is, Phoenician, Hebrew, and assorted minor languages of the area), it became s' (or ṣ - it's hard to be certain whether the Canaanite emphatics were glottalised or pharyngealised). Case endings also vanished. This gave the Phoenician name: S'uur (or Ṣuur). It was adopted without change into Aramaic, and thence Arabic, as the region's languages shifted over time. The regular cognate of Proto-Semitic θ'uur-u in Arabic would have been ظور đ̣uur; this root is unattested as far as I know. However, in Aramaic *θ' became ṭ, and from this source the root entered pre-Arabic as طور ṭuur "mountain", a rare but well-attested term used in the Quran, notably for Mount Sinai. (In Ugaritic, freakishly enough, *θ' became γ (gh), and γuur- "mountain" is a well-attested Ugaritic word. In Ugaritic, incidentally, Tyre was actually called ṣuur-; so either my etymology here is wrong, which is possible, or Ugaritic borrowed the name after it had already changed *θ' to γ.)

Likewise, Byblos would have started out as gubl-u (attested in Ugaritic and Akkadian), which (judging by possible Arabic cognates) may have meant "mountain" as well. This went into early Greek as gwubl-os > byblos (Mycenaean gw > Greek b, u > y) > English Byblos. In Arabic, the g of course became j; and, for some reason (maybe it was a little town at the time?), it looks like a diminutive got added, turning it from *jubl to jubayl (colloquial žbeyl), which in Arabic just means "little mountain".

Let's hope the day that these towns appear on the news for their history or their beaches, not for the bombs being dropped on them, comes more quickly than looks likely.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Polysemy vs. homonymy: some Algerian Arabic examples

I'm recently back from Algeria (hence the blog gap), so I thought I'd post some more meditations on Algerian Arabic...

Q: Which of the following words from Algerian Arabic are cases of polysemy (different meanings with a shared conceptual core) and which of homonymy (different meanings coincidentally identical in phonetic shape)?

`ṛuṣa عروصة - bride; daughter-in-law
ħjəṛ حجر - stone; lap
bakuṛ باكور - early-ripening figs; young bonito fish

A: `ṛuṣa, from Classical Arabic `aruusah عروسة, is a case of polysemy; a new bride traditionally goes to live in her husband's family house together with her new parents-in-law, so the extension is natural.

ħjəṛ is a case of homonymy: "stone" comes from Classical ħajar حجر, and "lap" from Classical ħijr حجر. Though it would be amusing to try and find a common conceptual core, I can't see any plausible one.

bakuṛ is etymologically a case of polysemy: both derive from Classical baakuur باكور, "coming early, early; premature; precocious" (Wehr). But synchronically, given the two independent restrictions of its meaning - it isn't used to mean first fruits in general, or young fish in general - I can only take it to be a case of homonymy.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I used to live in the Bay Area for a while, so naturally I tried to find out about its pre-colonial language group, Ohlone. This turned out to have been a set of fairly closely related dialects/languages stretching from San Francisco down beyond Monterey, plus the coast of the East Bay. Their only reasonably close relative is Miwok, another small language family spoken to its north and west, although wider relations with languages further north along the Pacific coast are likely. Among the more noteworthy features of Ohlone are regular metathesis processes - for example, the plural suffix can be either -mak or -kma, depending on whether it's preceded by a consonant or a vowel.

Dave Kaufman has just posted some interesting Ruminations on Rumsien, one of the southern dialects; or, if you speak Spanish, you can read a grammar of Mutsun, a southeastern dialect. Wikipedia has a map.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tunisian Berber

Amazing things turn up at the University of Western Sydney: a complete thesis online offering An outline of the Shilha (Berber) vernacular of Douiret (Southern Tunisia). Check it out; the rather endangered Berber varieties of Tunisia are quite ill-documented.

Friday, June 16, 2006

North African language policy

MoorishGirl has an interesting post on an article on a round-table debate on Moroccan Arabic, or Darija, as "a medium of cultural expression". She comments:

I'm fully in favor of using Darija, because of the huge impact it would have on the creation of a reading culture. Imagine: All children's books right now are in Modern Standard Arabic, which is a language no one learns until first grade (i.e. age 6 or 7), by which time reading habits are already in place for many kids.

I think this is a crucial point. Developing a literature of sorts in Darja would allow kids to get into the habit of reading way earlier. A fair number of kids in the West are reading by the age of three; for an Algerian or Moroccan kid to even understand much of the language his/her books are written in at that age would be unheard of. With Darja literature for them to use, they could start reading before they ever started school; it might even lead to them acquiring literary Arabic faster. Moreover, an oral literary tradition already exists, best exemplified by the traditions of melhoun poetry and chaabi lyrics; the language used in these is recognizably a literary register, and all that would be needed would be to write it. My puristic instincts would also rejoice in a move with the potential to stem the tragic loss of inherited vocabulary, and overuse of French, now afflicting Darja. And after all, why should Arabic-speaking kids continue to be deprived of the chance to read in their native language now that Tamazight-speaking ones are finally getting that chance?

However, I would envision Darja as a supplement to literary Arabic, not a replacement. Arabic connects Algeria (and no doubt Morocco), not only to the Arab world but to its own past, not to mention allowing it to engage more fully with its religion. The language in which Amir Abdelkader and Ibn Khaldun wrote - and of which generations were deprived by French rule - should always be a crucial part of an Algerian education. Also - as the ongoing struggle to get adequate higher educational textbooks published even in literary Arabic reminds us - a written Darja would take centuries at least to build up a literature comparable to major languages.

As long as I'm pondering educational policy, what should be done with foreign languages is obvious: end the domination of French. Nothing wrong with French per se, but an all-French policy is a handicap in a global context, isolating Algeria in the ghetto of Francophony at a time when English is a prerequisite to serious scientific work even in Paris, and an embarrassment at home, where it remains a scandal in conservative eyes. From 3rd grade on, have a choice between French and English (and maybe even Spanish) as the second language, and raise a generation of educated North Africans that do not all share a single foreign language; only thus can the domination of French in North Africa, with all its attendant sociological divisions and economic problems, be ended. Of course, in an educational system that has a serious shortage of good teachers as it is, this is a distant dream... but dreaming can be useful.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

"-gate" suffix reaches Arabic

Algerian football fans (that is to say, probably most of the population) are up in arms about not being able to watch the World Cup unless they subscribe to ART - a Saudi company which bought up the rights to World Cup footage for the MENA region and is selling it so expensively most terrestrial stations (including Algeria's) can't afford it. I don't particularly care myself, to be honest, but I was impressed to see the following headline in the newspaper Ech Chourouk:

الجزائر على أبواب فضيحة "آرتي-غايت"!

al-Jazaa'ir `alaa 'abwaab faḍiiħat "aartii-gaayt"!
(Algeria is on the verge of an ART-gate scandal!)

The development of "-gate" from a random morpheme at the end of a hotel name into a suffix indicating a political mess (Monicagate, Fostergate, etc.) is remarkable enough; that it should be borrowed into Arabic, even in the weird world of headline idiom, is incredible to me. I guess bound morphemes aren't necessarily as hard to borrow as one might think.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Nandi relatives and Arabic center-embedding

Two random interesting bits thrown up by my current research:

Nandi, a Nilotic language of Kenya with VSO order, would appear to allow you to relativize virtually any constituent of a sentence. I was particularly impressed by examples like:

nikò ce:pyó:sé:t ne â:-nken ci:tà ne kí:-ká:ci kitâ:pú:t
this woman Rel 1s-know person Rel Past-give book
"This is the woman that I know the person that gave [her] a book / that [she] gave a book to."

á-ké:r-é ci:tà ne pè:nt-í: àk la:kwe:-nyi: kâpsá:pit
1sg-see-impfv person Rel 3pl-go and child-his Kapsabet
"I see the person who [he] and his son are going to Kapsabet."

Take that, Subjacency Constraints! (Well, more seriously, I'm guessing ce/ne is probably not a fronted relative pronoun, especially since it agrees in case with the head noun and not with the position of the gap, so maybe no movement is involved - but that just raises other issues, like what does the gap consist of? Surely not pro? And what is ce/ne - a complementizer?)

And, in case you've ever wondered what an Arabic incomprehensibly double center-embedded sentence would look like, here's one:

رأى الولد الذي كتب الرجل الذي عينه الرئيس الرسالة إليه أخاه
ra'aa lwaladu lladhii kataba arrajulu lladhii `ayyanahu rra'iisu rrisaalata 'ilayhi 'axaahu
saw [the-boy [that wrote [the-man [that chose-him the president]] the letter to him]] brother-his.
“The boy the man the president chose wrote to saw his brother.”

Note that Arabic's VSO order renders it less vulnerable to subject- and object-relativization in this regard, but leaves it helpless against relativization of other positions - which is nonetheless permissible.

(Nandi examples from Creider & Creider 1989.)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A little Algerian Arabic folk poetry

I recently came across a nice book (in English for once!) on the Algerian folk poet Muhammad ben Tayeb el-Alili, The Graying of the Raven. It's titled after this stanza, from a poem about a drought:
məššərq ləlməɣrib
fiha lɣ°ṛab yšib
a `aləm əlɣib
wətħənn bəttisir

من الشرق للمغريب
فيها الغراب يشيب
ها عالم الغيب
وتحن بالتيسير

From the east to the west
The raven turns white
O Knower of the Unseen
Grant us respite

(I've substituted my slightly more literal translation.)

His works are not particularly famous, and, while worth a look, are not in the top rank of the genre - but I'll bet they're the only ones available in English. For a perhaps better example, consider Dahmane El Harrachi's famous song - I was going to try and translate the whole thing, but frankly it's not easy, so I'll just give a sampler:
šħal šəft əlbəldan əl`amrin wəlbərr əlxali
šħal ð̣iyyə`t əwqat wəšħal tzid mazal ətxəlli

اشحال شفت البلدان العامرين والبر الخالي
اشحال ضيعت اوقات واشحال تزيد مازال تخلي

How many crowded cities and empty wilds you've seen,
How much time you've wasted - and how much more will you waste?

Incidentally - yes, the pessimism of both examples is characteristic.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Algerians sure can code-switch

Algerians are rightly renowned for their code-switching wherever they go (or should be). I disapprove of it in general - it often reflects the unjustly low esteem Algerians tend to have for their mother tongue, and encourages the abandonment of less commonly used Algerian Arabic (Darja) terms in favor of unnecessary French loanwords. But you can't help but love an example like this one that I just heard here in London today:

gal-li y-ḥəbb to move
say+PF+3MSg-DAT+1Sg 3sg+IMPF-want "to move"
He told me he wants to move.

What's so weird about that? The thing is, while standard English want requires a non-finite complement, Algerian Arabic ḥəbb "want, like" takes a finite complement. In fact, there are no infinitives in Algerian Arabic - only finite verbs and verbal nouns. So it looks as if the non-finiteness (presumably generated in T) of the complement in the English half is being selected, not by the Arabic verb which precedes it, but by the English translation equivalent of it. I still can't quite believe I heard this sentence.

If you found that fun, you may wish to ruminate over another sentence (Arabic/French switching) from the same conversation:

`ənd-i un problème ta` wəqt
at-me "a problem" of time
"I've got a problem of time."

and, in particular, on what syntactic tree it suggests, and whether this really fits the idea of a DP. Note also that, while Algerian Arabic does have a sort of indefinite article (waḥəd əl-), its distribution is quite different from the French one, and I don't think it would occur in the corresponding code-switching-less sentence.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Center-embedding and Japanese

Lately I've been reading some of John Hawkins' A Performance Theory of Order and Constituency, which puts forwards some very appealing ideas about how to predict the relative frequency of different word orders (both cross-linguistically and within a language) by quantifying how easy they are for humans to parse. (For example, he derives such phenomena as Heavy-NP shift, the relativization hierarchy, and even the relative frequency of the six possible basic word orders SVO/SOV, VSO, etc.) Parsing issues certainly severely affect the grammaticality of sentences, as people who follow titles posts Language Log authors write have know.

I tried out a similar example in Japanese on a friend - going by the grammar books, one would expect "John said Mary thinks Bill came" to be translated as "Jon-wa Merii-ga Biru-ga kita to omou to itta", with three successive subjects followed by three successive objects. She unhesitatingly went for, as I recall, "Biru-ga kita to Merii-ga omou to Jon-ga itta" - moving the subjects to the "wrong" places to make the sentence processable - and said that the three-successive-subject one was "difficult". I can't think of any Arabic parallels offhand - postverbal objects and resumptive pronouns in relative clauses together stop most of the obvious possibilities - and Sylheti turns out to rather cleverly block almost (not quite) all possible ways in which problematic center-embedding might emerge. So my question to you is: in your language, can you think of similar examples of incomprehensible yet nominally grammatical sentences?

Friday, May 19, 2006

National/common/unifying language for the US?

As you may have heard on Language Log, on May 17th-18th, the US Senate approved not one but two amendments - one Republican, one Democrat - on the status of English. The first amendment, by Sen. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), amends sections 161-2 of Title 4 of the United States Code to state:

English is the national language of the United States. The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the national language of the United States of America. Unless specifically stated in applicable law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English. If exceptions are made, that does not create a legal entitlement to additional services in that language or any language other than English. If any forms are issued by the Federal Government in a language other than English (or such forms are completed in a language other than English), the English language version of the form is the sole authority for all legal purposes.

The second, by Senator Salazar (R-Colorado), makes the same section rather more reasonably, if vacuously, say:

English is the common and unifying language of the United States that helps provide unity for the people of the United States. The Government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the common and unifying language of America. Nothing herein shall diminish or expand any existing rights under the law of the United States relative to services or materials provided by the government of the United States in any language other than English.

The bill is still under debate, so it remains to be seen what, if any, of this will be left - but, after 230 years of doing just fine without one, the USA may or may not soon have a national language. Either way, it's an interesting debate to follow. I remember in San Francisco just about any governmental document seemed to be printed in English, Chinese, and Spanish; that approach - choosing the language according to what people actually spoke on a local level, rather than a national one - strikes me as eminently sensible. What I can't seem to figure out is what the plan is now that both have passed - do they stick both texts in the section, or do they just hash it out later?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Maya and Amnesty International

I went to the AI site just now, without a linguistic thought in my head, and what do I find?

Watemaal: Li risinkileb’ laj nat’ol na’ajej moko a’an ta li xb’ehil re xtuqub’alkil ru li ch’a’ajkilal chi rix li ch’och’

I applaud this, although I should point out that putting an international press release in Mayan (dunno which Mayan language - Chol?) is somewhat self-defeating...

Incidentally, if you haven't already seen it, check out the site Language Hat just found. I particularly liked the San Zi Jing.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Shawi blog

Shawiyya (Chaouia) is a Zenati Berber language of eastern Algeria, spoken inland on the Sahara-facing side of the Atlas Mountains. While spread over a far larger area than Algeria's other main Berber language, Kabyle, it has only about half the population (1.4 million or so). Unlike the Kabyles, the Shawis, as their Arabic name suggests, were traditionally seminomadic (transhumant, to be exact); after independence, many seized the opportunity to settle down in the cities, and, from what I hear, this major change of lifestyle led to widespread language shift to Arabic. Shawiyya, like other Zenati dialects of northern Algeria (Chenoua, Bissa, etc.), but unlike Kabyle or the Berber varieties of the Sahara, has the interesting sound change t > h initially in many contexts. Anyway, I found a Shawi-language-focused blog the other day, to my immense surprise, which I figured was worth linking:

Awal nu Shawi

It seems to mainly post lyrics, sometimes with translations.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A new primate and a nice talk

I went to a nice inaugural talk by Prof. Jaggar here at SOAS yesterday about African linguistic diversity, Afroasiatic, and SOAS linguists' resistance, then ultimate capitulation, to Greenberg's groundbreaking African classification - the talk was rendered especially notable by his getting up along with his choir to sing Nkosi sikelele iAfrika afterwards! However, I haven't really got time to summarize it (for the classification part, you could check out my previous post Beja and beyond), so instead I'll post a link to the discovery of a new species of primate: the kipunji, a close relative of the baboon which lives in trees instead of on plains. No news yet on its communication system :)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sylheti word order

I've been working on Sylheti - a highly divergent dialect of Bengali / language very closely related to Bengali spoken around Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh - for my field methods class for a while. The particular point I'm focusing on at the moment is the positioning of complement clauses, which obeys a simple rule: if the complement clause has a separate subject, it follows the verb; otherwise, it precedes the verb. The language is otherwise SOV, I should note, so you get contrasts like:

ami exṭa apol sai.
I an apple want-1.
“I want an apple.”

ami exṭa apol xaitam sai.
I [an apple eat-COND-1] want-1.
“I want to eat an apple.”

ami sai he exṭa apol xaok.
I want-1 [he an apple eat-3-OPT].
“I want him to eat an apple.”

This doesn't fit my Japanese-based expectations of "proper" SOV languages (in Japanese, the subordinate clause would always precede the verb) but it turns out that German has basically the same word order (if you factor out the main-clause V2 order by having an initial complementizer). There are some obvious processing motivations for such an order, but it doesn't really fit the head-position parameter idea so well. I was wondering: has anyone seen similar patterns in other SOV languages?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

West African grammars in Arabic script

I want to see this talk by Hiroyuki Eto Nikolai Dobonravine (though I'm not likely to be in Dublin for it):

Arabic and Arabic-script writing tradition in West Africa dates back to the 12th century AD, if not earlier. Local scholars were familiar with the linguistic ideas which formed part of Islamic education. Arabic grammars and dictionaries were popular in the region. The interest in the study of Arabic resulted in the development of local Arabic and bilingual vocabularies, sometimes written in verse, as well as some works on Arabic grammar. A few versified vocabularies and grammars of West African languages were also composed. Almost all of them were written in Arabic and used Arabic linguistic terminology.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries several works were written in West African languages using Arabic script. One such work, "Littafen nahwowin Hausance" ("The book of Hausa grammar"), is analysed in the paper. The work demonstrates a special approach to the parts of speech in Hausa (the verb deprived of the "person-aspect complex" is seen as a noun, although it may be used independently in the Imperative). This is a larger work of traditional lexicography, with notes on folk etymology, pragmatic rules, grammatical gender and possessive pronouns in Hausa.

The shift from Arabic to Roman script and the decline in the use of Arabic did not lead to the disappearance of the earlier linguistic tradition. New grammatical works and vocabularies in Arabic script (including a Fula-French vocabulary in Arabic script) were published. All these writings have been largely ignored by the linguists working at the universities in West Africa and abroad.

Whorf meets warmongering

Pop Whorfianism (usually in forms that Whorf would have been the first to laugh at) is something I usually associate with a slightly hippy-ish multiculturalism. However, it seems to have a certain appeal to Islamophobes as well.

The thesis they find so appealing is summarized in one James Coffman's question: "Does the Arabic Language Encourage Radical Islam?". Apparently, he did a survey in 1988 in Algiers which confirmed a number of fairly obvious facts - notably, that the younger students that year, who were the first cohort of students whose secondary education had been mainly in Arabic, were more "Islamist" than their predecessors who had gone through a partly or wholly Francophone educational system. From this, he concluded that the Arabic language encouraged "radical Islam" - not, for example, that Arabic-literate students had much easier access to "Islamist" literature (and Islamic literature in general), or that the transition to Arabic had been accompanied by a vast expansion of the school system to cover more conservative rural areas, or that many of the imported Arabic teachers who helped tide Algeria over the transition period were Islamic Brotherhood members fleeing crackdowns in Egypt, or indeed (most importantly) that the collapse of the Algerian economy in the late 1980's was encouraging the growth of anti-government ideologies. It's an old, old saw, but one that apparently still bears repeating: correlation does not equal causation.

Mind you, like most people who cite the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, he doesn't seem to have a very clear idea of its content. On my reading of Whorf, his core idea is (plausibly enough) that a language might make its speakers more conscious of some grammaticalized categories by forcing its speakers to mark them, or less conscious of them by not providing any simple way to describe them; it would thus render some ideas more intuitive than others. For this sort of deep influence to be plausible, the speaker has to do most of his/her thinking in the language in question. But both classical Arabic and French in Algeria are only ever used by most speakers in writing, or in highly formal contexts - scarcely the sort of situation Whorf had in mind...

(PS: It seems Language Log have also just done another post on "No word for X" fallacies. Another example of ham-handed anti-Arab efforts at Whorfian analysis is alluded to on Linguistic Life.)

Friday, May 05, 2006

How to find linguistic universals

I couldn't resist posting this quote:

[In this book] I examine the general conditions under which verbal complements are licensed, and provide a possible explanation for their limited distribution. The primary reference language is English, though the proposed licensing conditions for verbal complements are assumed to hold universally.

Fortunately, the author adds:

That the main proposals of this study and the analyses do indeed carry over to other languages is shown in Chapter 5, which takes a cross-linguistic perspective.

The title of Chapter 5? "Direct Perception Complements in Other European Languages". The languages considered are German, Dutch, Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, representing a grand total of two neighboring subfamilies of Indo-European.

I don't mean to poke fun at this book specifically - it looks like a very thorough analysis of clausal complements of perception verbs in English - but this so neatly encapsulates what in practice is one of the main problems of the generative program: over-reliance on English in particular and what Sapir used to call "Standard Average European" in general.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reduplication in Siouan

I've finished, handed in, and now uploaded that essay I was working on, on reduplication in Siouan. The main conclusions were that:

* Proto-Siouan-Catawban (and Proto-Siouan-Yuchi, but not Proto-Macro-Siouan) productively formed pluractionals from verb stems by full stem reduplication. Every branch of the family exhibits reflexes of this process, although these have often been affected by semantic extensions and morphological contractions.
* Stoney "adversative" reduplication is most probably borrowed from a Salish language.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A comparative linguist of the thirteenth century

I've been reading Empires of the Word recently, a quite enjoyable and informative history of the world's main languages; it skimps on Arabic to an almost absurd extent, but makes up for this by a truly excellent chapter on Sanskrit. Anyway, one surprise it provides is that, in addition to his better known poetic activities, Dante also wrote a treatise about language, De vulgari eloquentia, in which he comments on the nature of language change, specifically attempting to explain how Latin could have gradually changed into the Romance languages, a concept which his audience apparently found hard to accept:

Nor should what we say appear any more strange than to see a young person grown up, whom we do not see grow up; for what moves gradually is not at all to be recognized by us, and the longer something needs for its change to be recognized the more stable we think it is. So we are not surprised if the opinion of men, who are little distant from brutes, is that a given city has existed always with the same language, since the change in language of a city happens gradually only over a very long succession of time, and the life of men is also, by its very nature, very short. Therefore if over one people the language changes, as has been said, successively over time, and can in no way stand still, it is necessary that it should vary in various ways quite separately from what remains constant, just as customs and dress vary in various ways... (p. 321, Empires of the Word; original available elsewhere)

It's easy to forget just how difficult even the basics of historical linguistics must once have seemed, but texts like these help.

Incidentally, I hope to reestablish my website sometime soon - can anyone recommend a good free/very cheap website hosting service other than Geocities?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Free online American Indian linguistics papers

- and if that's not a title to draw the crowds, I don't know what is :) I found this handy Kansas University site while researching my Siouan reduplication essay, which is currently growing at an out of control pace (thanks partly to the help of Siouan List); just a few of the highlights are articles on:

Opata, Eudeve
proto-Siouan "one"
Klamath-Sahaptian correspondences

Oh, and while I'm posting links, a couple of non-linguistic links for your perusal - some undeservedly obscure news stories:
Bouteflika back in hospital
Central African Republic
The Israel Lobby

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ibn Hazm on conlanging (and other stuff)

Having established the divine origin of language to his own satisfaction, Ibn Hazm goes on to discuss the vexed question of what language Adam spoke, and concludes - sensibly enough - that there is no way to be certain. However, he figures it must have been "the most complete of all languages, and the most clearly expressive, and the least ambiguous, and the most concise, and the one with the most various names for all various nameable things in the world" since, having been bestowed by God directly, it must naturally have been the most perfect.

He also decides that it almost surely must have been the ancestor of all modern languages, because it was not inconceivable but extremely improbable that anyone would have decided to waste so much time and effort as to "invent a new language, which would be an enormous effort for no reason; such meddling would not be undertaken by any intelligent person... [its inventor would be] a person busying himself with what does not benefit him and neglecting what concerns him", and even if this did happen, it was even less likely that the inventor would be in a position to impose his language on any community. He specifically considers the "Esperanto" case of a multilingual kingdom adopting a common lingua franca, and argues that "it would be easier for him [the king] to make them learn one of those languages that they used to speak, or his own language; this would be easier and more plausible than the invention of a new language afresh."

He concludes by tersely stating that "Some people imagine that their own language is the best of all languages; this is meaningless" and justifying it theologically and logically.

I like this guy. Makes me wonder what other early linguists had to say...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ibn Hazm on language endangerment and the origin of language

I've been reading more of chapter 4 of the 11th-century work Ihkam Ibn Hazm - "On how languages come into being, whether by (divine) construction or establishment of convention" - and it's great. I found his description of how a language becomes endangered particularly compelling:

So when a community's state is destroyed, and their enemy gains power over them, and they are kept busy with fear and need and ignominy and serving their foes, then the death of their spirits is guaranteed - and that may cause their language to disappear, and their lineages and history to be forgotten, and their sciences to perish. This is both observed in reality and deduced through a priori reasoning. (Arabic begins: وأما من تلفت دولتهم...)‍

The main topic of the chapter is, of course, the origin of language. He argues that language must have been taught to man by God, because he argues that the three other possibilities that he considers - mutual agreement on a convention, instinct, or the influence of geography - are logically impossible. His argument on instinct is the most interesting: if language were an instinct, then we would all speak the same language. Chomsky, of course, inverts this: since language is an instinct, we all do speak the same language (modulo trivial details of vocabulary and parameters.) On mutual agreement, he notes that it is impossible that a languageless community could agree on a language; how would they have explained to each other what each word was supposed to mean? The idea that each place causes its inhabitants to speak a particular language - advanced as an explanation for linguistic diversity - he rejects as absurd, since any one place can, and generally does, have a variety of languages spoken in it.

I plan to describe more of the chapter later - his comments on conlanging are particularly amusing...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A comparative linguist of the 11th century

Ibn Hazm (994-1064) was a polymathic intellectual of Cordoba, equally well-known for his poetry and his religious commentary. Less well-known are his opinions on Semitic linguistics, which turn out to have been rather impressive. In the quote below, he demonstrates a clearer understanding of the process of historical change than Ibn Quraysh, who seems to have seen the mutual similarities as as resulting as much or more from intermixture than from common ancestry, although both ultimately succumb to the temptation of explaining linguistic family trees in terms of religiously given genealogies. As near as I can translate it off the cuff, he said:

...What we have settled on and determined to be certain is that Syriac and Hebrew and Arabic - that is the language of Mudar and Rabia (ie Arabic as we know it), not the language of Himyar (ie Old South Arabian) - are one language that changed with the migrations of its people, so that it was ground up... For, when a town's people live near another people, their language changes in a manner clear to anyone who considers the issue, and we find that the masses have changed the pronunciation of Arabic significantly, to the point that it is so distant from the original as to be like a different language, so we find them saying `iinab for `inab (grape), and 'asTuuT for sawT (whip), and thalathdaa for thalaathatu danaaniir (three dinars), and when a Berber becomes Arabized and wants to say shajarah (tree) he says sajarah, and when a Galician becomes Arabized he replaces `ayn and Haa with haa, so he says muhammad when he means to say muHammad, and such things are frequent. So whoever ponders on Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac will become certain that their difference is of the type we have described, through changes in people's pronunciation through the passage of time and the difference of countries and the bordering of other nations, and that they are in origin a single language. Having established that, Syriac is the ancestor of both Arabic and Hebrew, and to be more precise, the first to speak this Arabic was Ishmael, upon him be peace, for it is the language of his sons, and Hebrew is the language of Isaac and his sons, and Syriac is without doubt the language of Abraham, blessings and peace be upon him and upon our prophet. (Ihkam Ibn Hazm; see Wikisource for original text, beginning الذي وقفنا عليه وعلمناه يقينا أن السريانية والعبرانية والعربية...)

My attention was originally drawn to this remarkable quote by an article by Ahmad Shahlan, in a rather strange Libyan book fusing pan-Arab nationalism with Semitic philology, at-Tanawwu` wal-Wahdah fi l-lahajaati l-`uruubiyyati l-qadiimati, which probably merits a post in its own right at some point.

Friday, April 07, 2006

More from Qatar

I'm here on holiday in Qatar for a while yet, and it's been great. However, I recently heard (at second-hand) a story I just have to share... Apparently, a teacher came across a kid in her second grade class who somehow hadn't learned to talk. After enquiries, it emerged that the child's parents weren't home much. The father wasn't interested in interacting with babies, and the mother was out working and socializing pretty much all the time. So, of course, the kid was being brought up by the maid... and they had strictly forbidden her from talking to their children, for fear the kids might pick up an uncouth accent or, even worse, a different language!

This may make more sense if you consider the frankly bizarre demographics of this country, one of the world's richest and most multicultural. Of the 576,000 inhabitants over the age of 15, only 110,000 are Qataris (who are well subsidized by the legal requirement of Qatari majority ownership of any businesses formed here, and by the oil money); the rest are expatriates from all over the world (in just these couple of weeks, I've heard or seen Arabic, English, Urdu, Malayalam, Persian, Chinese, Turkish, and Swahili used here). While the Qatari population has a more or less 50:50 sex ratio, the non-Qatari population is 77% male. Among the Qataris, more than twice as many women as men make it through university; male drop-out rates are consistently higher, even in primary school (!) It will be interesting to see how the country copes with this over the coming years.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Naxi in Qatar

Yesterday I watched an excellent Chinese documentary called E-Ya Village at the Al-Jazeera TV Production Festival in Doha. It covered aspects of this isolated Sichuan Naxi mountain village's daily life, but focused mainly on their religion, covering what they did for naming, coming of age, mourning, New Year, various sacrifices...

The film was full of (subtitled) Naxi dialog, but what I found most linguistically interesting was the writing system. As everybody should know :), Naxi has a complex pictographic writing system of some antiquity, called Dongba after the priests of their religion. In the film, no secular books or newspapers featured, and the few signs (at the clinic's entrance) were written in Chinese; but Dongba was used several times, always in a religious context. In particular, its most obvious "practical" use was for prayer flags put up in mourning contexts: whenever these flap in the wind, the wind is said to carry the words written on them, sections of the Naxi holy book, to the realm of the dead. It suggests a functional interpretation of the Dongba writing system as one intended essentially, not for communication with the living, but for communication with the spirit world. This has suggestive if not exact parallels - consider Mandaic's traditional functions, for instance. But obviously one would want to see more than just a film to analyze the issue!

The festival, incidentally, was very international, with numerous Persian, Chinese, Latin American, and French films as well as the Arabic ones. Unfortunately, they were let down by insufficient subtitling: non-Arabic films were subtitled only in English, if at all, while Arabic films were not subtitled, substantially restricting the audience for both. Hopefully next year they'll try to remedy this.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Crow language

I was Googling for an essay I'm planning to write on reduplication in Siouan languages the other day, so I typed in "Crow language". I was somewhat surprised to come across an article on the vocalizations of the American crow as my second hit, so I thought I'd share it. Apparently, 27 different vocalizations have been noted in the scientific literature (with names like "scolding call", "distress call", "courtship vocalizations", and "pre-mortality call"), and many remain undeciphered, so to speak. It would certainly be interesting to get a really good idea of the communication system of an animal as intelligent as the crow; bees are all very well, but perhaps a little too alien to compare sensibly with human language.

I never did find anything very helpful online on the Crow language, but John Boyle's Siouan Languages Bibliography will certainly come in handy, and this sketch of Omaha-Ponca seems good, though of limited use for what I'm researching.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Quran on linguistic diversity

In these times of widespread language extinction and of "religious" tensions, I thought some readers might be interested to hear what the Quran has to say about linguistic diversity. The most important text is, of course, 30:22:
And one of His [God's] signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colors; most surely there are signs in this for the learned.

As the context makes clear, this is part of a more general Qur'anic pattern in which this universe itself - the normal, everyday events that we look at as just the way things are - is identified as a sign from God; the Creator's nature is reflected in His creation. So the thrust of the verse is that linguistic diversity is a part of nature, and as such a part of God's plan for the world.

Another relevant verse, which, in light of 10:47 ("for every nation there is a messenger"), puts the idea that the Quran being written in Arabic makes Arabic the best of all languages into perspective, is 14:4:
And We [God] did not send any messenger but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly; then God makes whom He pleases err and He guides whom He pleases and He is the Mighty, the Wise.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Libyan Berber and a remarkable Laghouat archaism

In case you ever wondered where in Libya Berber languages are spoken, check out this map at Tawalt. Note at least two oases that don't get any mention in the Ethnologue - Ubari and al-Fogaha.

I was talking to a guy from Laghouat the other day, and it turns out that in that area people say `ma عما rather than more widespread Maghreb Arabic m`a معا for "with". This is rather interesting, in the light of Aramaic `am and Hebrew `im... wonder whether it's a coincidence, or a Syriac borrowing somehow picked up by an Arab tribe en route to Algeria? Anyone heard of another Arabic dialect where this happens?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Chechnya Day

Apparently, it's Chechnya Day today - commemmorating Stalin's expulsion in 1944 of the entire Chechen people from their homeland to Central Asia (along with a number of other minority groups, such as the Kalmyks). Something like half the population died en route. The survivors were not permitted to return for more than ten years.

So, marking the occasion, here are some Chechen language links:

Like most Caucasian languages, it's quite interesting, with no known relatives outside the Caucasus, a complex gender system, and a remarkably large set of phonemes. Its language family, Northeast Caucasian, may be the closest living relative of two long-extinct languages once written in cuneiform north of the Fertile Crescent, Hurrian and Urartian.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Classical Kanembu

I went to a very interesting seminar on classical Kanembu this week. It's a highly conservative form of Kanembu/Kanuri, written in the Arabic script, used mainly (exclusively?) for commentary on (and translation of) Arabic religious texts. The earliest dated example is a bilingual Quran from 1669, currently being studied here at SOAS. I don't want to comment in too much detail, because I'm not sure how much they've published on it yet, but a couple of things particularly struck me:
  • Classical Kanembu is still used and written by Islamic scholars of the area - although, apparently, Western scholars only became aware of this fact quite recently.
  • It has substantially more cases than modern Kanuri, and possibly an even more complicated verb morphology.
  • Most strikingly, since vowel length is non-phonemic in Kanuri, it seems to use vowel length to indicate high tone instead; thus, for example Arabic al-'aakhirah "the afterlife" has been borrowed as laxíra, and thus gets spelled as لاخِيرَ. As far as I know, this would make it the only Arabic orthography to mark tone. (Actually, Dmitri Bondarev, who observed this, prefers for the moment the more conservative interpretation that the vowel length commonly corresponds to a modern Kanuri high tone, not ruling out the possibility that such vowels were actually long in the Kanembu of the seventeenth century.)

This already constitutes some of the oldest documentation of any West African language, and quite apart from its implications for the reconstruction of Proto-Saharan, it really makes one wonder what other valuable historical data on other African languages linguists might be missing out on by not studying Arabic/Ajami use. So keep your eyes peeled, and tell me if you spot anything!