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.)