Thursday, December 27, 2007

Is this normal in language shift?

When I first got here, I thought I was seeing a textbook language shift situation. But I gradually realised something that I don't remember encountering mention of in my textbooks: there's a whole generation of fluent speakers here (most speakers under 25, actually) who only learned it in their early teen or preteen years. Most parents since the eighties speak only Arabic to their children, but the language is in wide use in situations like football games and farm work, and the younger ones seem to have picked it up there; in fact, it seems possible that the process is continuing with the even younger kids. Does anyone know of a similar case, or am I right in thinking this is a little unexpected?


Panu said...

Does anyone know of a similar case, or am I right in thinking this is a little unexpected?

It is an intriguing question. I remember that several Irish-language writers which are usually counted as Gaeltacht authors didn't learn the language from the earliest childhood, but did in their autobiographies record that they remembered a time when they spoke only English, before starting to acquire Irish at the age of four or five or so. Their language never shows the usual shibboleths of the non-native Irish-language author. I tend to think of them as native speakers and cases of de facto intergenerational transmission.

So, I would answer you that no, you are probably not yet seeing the textbook case of language shift. I would say that there is still an intergenerational transmission going on. But are there any major differences between native and not-quite-native language? Pidginization? Instant creolization? Is the language of the youngest generation particularly Arabicized?

bulbul said...

Belated عيد مبارك to you and everyone else there :)

but the language is in wide use in situations like football games and farm work
If by 'the language' you mean Kwarandzie and the shift is Kwarandzie - Arabic, then wow. This looks precisely like what is happening in my village in regard to the shift from Hungarian to Slovak. Most oldtimers and some newcomers here speak Hungarian amongst themselves, but only Slovak to their children. The school is Slovak, too, so that doesn't do anything for Hungarian either. But somehow somewhere around the beginning of their teen years, everyone here learns Hungarian. And the setting is the same as the one you describe: football games, farm work (though there's not as much of it as it used to be) and especially the church. Our village is strongly Hungarian Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) with some Catholics. And even though I'm one of the latter (the ancient custom dictates that children inherit their mother's faith), I too went to the Reformed services and the Sunday school.
This leads me to believe that language transmission takes place along two paths: the first one is the intergenerational line, your standard language transmission where parents 'teach' the language to their children. That's how kids here learn Slovak (be that standard or dialect). In the other scenario the community (consisting mostly of one's peers) as a whole teaches the other language. In other words, we have a language that the kids learn in a private setting from their parents (Kwarandzie/Slovak) and one they learn from their friends everyone else in a public setting (Arabic/Hungarian). To answer your question, no, I don't find it unexpected. In fact, it seems pretty normal to me, but I guess this kind of language shift can only happen in a certain type of community and only under certain conditions. For example, there must a be a certain number of speakers of the original language in the community to allow this type of community-based language acquistion to take place. I have no idea what the figure is, but now that most of the people of roughly my age married and/or moved out and a lot of newcomers (monolingual speakers of Slovak most of them) came in, I know that we're below that. In the past 5 years, the number of speakers of Hungarian under 25 has dropped sharply and the Christmas service in Slovak has risen by 300-600%.

The really important question is, is there a functional difference? Do kids speak Kwarandzie with their parents? What do they speak when they talk to their friends? For example, I almost never speak Hungarian with my father, nor did my friends and classmates with their parents. Amongst ourselves, we used both Slovak and Hungarian.
What is the situation there?

Anonymous said...

It does happen that people learn otherwise moribund languages from their grandparents, as children but not as their first language. It also happens that lects of lesser prestige are considered obligatory in some situations; I remember a Viennese who only spoke dialect, and nothing else, when changing before or after sports lessons, probably as some kind of male bonding.

(Vienna is unique in Austria in having assigned low prestige to the dialects, which has resulted in a shift to... well... basically it's still the dialect, but without the most conspicuous vowel of the dialect; absolutely everyone understands the dialect, but almost nobody of my generation speaks it. -- The guy I mentioned was incapable of pronouncing a non-velarized [l]; the [l] of the 12th district of Vienna is velarized/pharyngealized due to a 19th-century Czech substratum.)

But somehow somewhere around the beginning of their teen years, everyone here learns Hungarian.

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, is magic.

Anonymous said...

Which arabic do the parents speak to their children? Are these parents educated in arabic and how did they acquire it?
If it is a form of 'darja' which one is it aand is there a local established arabophone community?
Any local radio-station broadcasting in local vernaculars? Has the state initiated any project that would go some way in recording and preserving the local history, heritage and language?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

These are some great comments - thanks! The situation Bulbul describes is remarkably similar, and seems to confirm the importance of learning from other (presumably slightly older) kids/teenagers. I think there is a difference in who the language is used with here too, but I haven't asked enough people to be sure about that yet. In Ifrenyu, the situation has arguably already tipped: Kwarandzie there is liable to attract ridicule from young people, most of whom understand it but are unwilling or unable to speak it in most contexts. In Kwara, it's still a peer-group language even of teenagers who technically speak it as a second language.

In answer to Panu, there are certainly differences - consistently smaller vocabulary (compensated for by using Arabic insta-borrowings), a tendency to regularise uncommon irregular plurals and verb+3p pronoun forms, and in some cases failure to acquire particular grammatical rules like the focus marking system. Also, the phonology is different in some ways: notably, they constrast s and sh, which most older people merge even when speaking Arabic, even in Kwarandjie words.

Amadal: Yes, they speak Darja, more or less the same dialect as other parts of Bechar but with a little more Hassaniyya influence; the local Arabic speaking community, which constitutes about half the population, comes from many tribes, including the Chaamba, Ghenanma, Reguibat, Doui-Menia, and no doubt others, who settled there from about 1900 onwards. Of course, many parents speak Fusha as well; the post-revolutionary generation were all educated to some degree. In fact, until the 1990s there was no secondary school in the area, and academically successful children were sent to board at Abadla - a Spartan experience they pretty uniformly detested, but which some managed to benefit from. There is no local radio, period: Radio Saoura doesn't make it that far south. As for the state, there have been some official efforts (often frustrated) regarding local history, but up to the present nothing regarding the language, although my arrival, which coincided with the local election season, seems to have led some local politicians to attach more importance to it. We'll see.