Sunday, February 27, 2011

Linguistic Survey of India recordings

The Digital South Asia Library at Chicago have just put online for the first time the gramophone recordings originally intended to supplement the Linguistic Survey of India, collected 1913-1929. Burma is also included. If you are interested in almost any South Asian language, this cannot be passed up: Gramophone Recordings from the Linguistic Survey of India. It brings back memories of my time at the Rosetta Project...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Two poems of the Libyan Revolution

A poem from western Libya in honour of the new revolution - in Berber, I think the Zuwara dialect - that sums it up nicely:
Taẓiḍərt af akud
D asirm g timalt n agdud
D xa yəṛwa ala yəffud!

Patience for the time
And hope for the future of the people
And he who is thirsty shall drink his fill!
(Note some linguistically interesting features: the use of d "and" to link clauses rather than noun phrases is a calque of Arabic wa- - in other Berber languages d normally only links noun phrases; and the future prefix xa derives from a shortening of yə-xsa "he wants", just as English "will" comes from a full verb that meant "to want".)

Poking around on YouTube reveals a fair number of very angry Arab poets' responses to Qaddafi, some from as far afield as Kuwait, but it took some looking for me to find one in Libyan dialect (contrast it to Saif's speech yesterday); here it is, "Poem for the free men of Libya:
ينصر الله الشعب في كل أوطانه
ويسخط الظالم و جميع عوانه
يكفي سنين تحت الظلام حزانا
اليوم نسقوكم من كاس المرار اللي زمان سقانا
زال الظلام وعدى اليوم زمانا

yənṣəṛ əḷḷāh əššaʕb f kəll 'awṭānah
u yasxaṭ əđ̣đ̣āləm u žmīʕ ʕwānah
yəkfī snīn taħt əđ̣đ̣ḷām ħazānā
əlyōm nəsgūkam mən kās əlmṛāṛ əlli zmān səgānā
zāl əđ̣đ̣aḷām u ʕaddā lyōm zmānā

God grant the people victory in all their lands
And cursed be the oppressor and all his helping hands...
Enough years in the dark have we already suffered thus
Now we serve you the cup of gall that you used to serve us
The darkness now has ended and our time has come at last
(Linguistic notes: the 2nd person masculine plural [kʌm] (and 3mpl [hʌm]) are characteristic - they were one of the features that struck me most in the speech of Western Desert Bedouins. The [g] for Classical /q/ is of course a pan-Arab feature of Bedouin dialects. I took some minor liberties with the translation to get it to rhyme.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gaddafi Jr's speech

In his rather desperate speech today, Saif Al Islam Gaddafi opened with a sociolinguistically very interesting statement:

əlyōm saatakallam maʕākum... bidūn waraqa maktūba, 'aw xiṭāb maktūb. 'aw natakallam maʕakum bi... luɣa ħattā ʕarabiyya fuṣħa. əlyōm saatakallam maʕakum bilahža lībiyya. wa-sa'uxāṭibkum mubāšaratan, ka-fard min 'afrād hāða ššaʕb əllībi. wa-sa'akūn irtižāliyyan fī kalimatī. wa-ħattā l'afkār wa-nniqāṭ ɣeyr mujahhaza u-muʕadda musbaqan. liʔanna hāðā ħadīθ min alqalb wa-lʕaql.(YouTube - first minute; conspicuously dialectal bits bolded)

Today I will speak with you... without a written paper, or a written speech. (N)or even speak to you in the Classical (fuṣħā) Arabic language. Today I will speak with you in Libyan dialect, and address you directly, as an individual member of this Libyan people. And I will speak extempore. Even the ideas and the points are not prepared in advance. Because this is a speech from the heart and the mind.

Now the explicit association between dialect, extempore speech, and speaking as "one of us" is fairly obvious, if interesting. But the odd thing is that this paragraph, like the rest of the speech, isn't very dialectal at all; it seems far closer to Standard Arabic than to any dialect. Some dialectal features are present, but a lot of unambiguously Classical constructions are used; even something as basic as the first person singular oscillates between Libyan n- and Classical 'a-. What it looks more like is some sort of intermediate ground between dialect and standard - or, if you prefer, like the highest level of Arabic that he is capable of extemporising in at short notice.

Readers may recall that Ben Ali tried the same gambit in his last speech (though Mubarak never resorted to it.) An omen? Let's hope so.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What it's like learning Darja

What little spare time I have left over these days is mostly dedicated to figuring out the fantastic things going on in the Arab world. Two months ago I would have said it was impossible that two dictators could be brought down by peaceful popular uprisings in such a short time - now anything seems possible. Siwa, by the way, is fine - they seem to have remained quiet the whole time under their shaykhs' cautious leadership (although an oasis nearer the Nile Valley, Kharga, suffered brutally when they tried to march.) So don't expect too many postings unless I come up with a new linguistic angle on the political situation...

However, one thing that's not changing in the Arab world is diglossia - so, to tide you over, here's a nice personal account of Moroccans' seemingly schizophrenic attitudes towards their own language that I came across the other day: Back in the Day.... Most of it carries over seamlessly to Algeria.