Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gendered verbs: A thought experiment

Plenty of languages have gender for nouns. As far as I know, no language has gender for verbs. Obviously some languages have subject agreement in gender (Arabic, for one), but what I mean is a language in which some other word agrees with the verb it modifies or refers to. This is a bit odd, because - even if we assume that gender always starts out as a property of nouns, which is a pretty big assumption if you think about it - it's not too hard to imagine how verbs could develop gender.

Imagine a language that, like Japanese or Persian, expresses a lot of verbs using "do/make" plus a noun (English allows this in some contexts: "make a donation", "do a runner"). But, unlike Japanese or Persian, let's suppose this language has gender - like Kurmanji, say - and adjectives that agree with the noun in gender. In such a case, it would seem reasonable to have at least some adverbs expressed as adjectives agreeing with the verb's noun: "make frequent donation" for "donate frequently", say. Likewise, ellipsis could be handled with an appropriate pronoun: "I made a donation (masc.) to the library, and he made one (masc.) to a charity."

Now let the forces of phonetic erosion work on the verb phrase for a while, until the former support verb is reduced to a mere suffix attached to the stem (rather like what happened to Latin habere in the development of the future tense in Romance.) Unless the rest of the system has been reworked in the meantime for some reason, the result should be a language in which adverbs and pro-verbs agree in gender with verbs.

Is there any language that has done this? If not, why not?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Blida Atlas Tamazight

In the mountains above the town of Blida south of Algiers, there still survives an isolated variety of Kabyle, a remnant of the era when this region was Berber speaking. If you look through bibliographies for material on this, about the only thing that comes up is Laoust's (1912) Etude sur le dialecte berbère du Chenoua : comparé avec ceux des Beni-Menacer et des Beni-Salah, in which only the Beni-Salah material scattered here and there in the book comes from the region under discussion, while the rest deals with the varieties west of Algiers (almost as badly documented, but not closely related). But I recently came across a PDF that single-handedly changes this. Tamazight de l'Atlas blidéen (from Atlas de Blida) is a 57-page trilingual French-Berber-Arabic dictionary, followed by a sketch grammar, comments on toponymy, and a bibliography. The anonymous authors have done a fine job, and apparently are still working on it.

Leafing through it, I was struck by the extension of deg "in" to "from", replacing seg. While this is clearly not a Zenati variety, it seems to have picked up some Zenati characteristics, as you might expect from its westerly location: for instance, "one" is m. , f. ict. It's kept the word aryaḏ* "lion" (pl. iyraḏen); this explains the form recorded more than a thousand years earlier in Ibn Quraysh (with a slight copying error, 'ry'r), much better then the more widespread Berber form ar/ahar that Cohen (1972) suggested for it. There are some etymological puzzles to be examined - for example, why the prefixed q in iqic "horn", and why the shift d > l in laba "now"? The prefixed j in ijifer "wing" is presumably originally the indefinite article "one", but it occurs in the plural as well (ijufar). The double negative is ur...-k rather than ur... ara, a sort of non-Zenati version of the widespread Northern Zenati ur... -c (which I posted about a long time ago). No doubt plenty more remains to be seen. (* Typo corrected.)