Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some Tuareg-Songhay loans

I'm almost three-quarters of the way through Heath's Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali). The main interest lies in its efforts to reduce the bewildering complexity of Tuareg morphology to some sort of order, an impossible task which it accomplishes more successfully than any other Tuareg grammar I've looked at so far. Aside from this, however, it's raised some interesting etymological issues.

I've wondered for years where the Korandjé verb wəy "gather (firewood)" comes from. It normally appears in the idiom a-wwəy-ts skudzi [3Sg-gather-hither wood] "she gathered in firewood". On p. 333 of Heath's grammar, I found the explanation, in the following example:

i-wwáy=ədd i-sǽɣer-æn
3MaSgS-bring.Reslt-Centrip Pl-firewood-MaPl
[He] has brought firewood here.

The Tamasheq verb in question, awəy in the imperative, is simply the normal Berber word for "take, bring" (which in Korandjé is expressed with a Songhay verb, zəw), so I would have hesitated to connect them based on a dictionary entry alone. But given this attested usage with "firewood", the semantic specialisation poses no problems. What does surprises me is that it was borrowed as a bare stem, rather than with a fossilised 3rd person prefix y/i - contrast yəf (Tashelhiyt y-arf "roast", not attested in Tamasheq), ikna "make" (Tamasheq i-kna). Usually, only stems that start with a syllabic onset are borrowed into Korandjé without the y/i.

Another probable loan into Korandjé that I noticed going through the grammar is Korandjé ləwləw "shine, gleam" - cp. Tamasheq m̀ələwləw "shine".

However, a number of words have gone the other way - from Songhay into Tuareg. Heath comments on many of these in his dictionary (eg kə̀rikəw "practice sorcery"), but not all. One that struck me is the verb ḍùkr-æt "become angry at", obviously related to Gao Songhay dukur "be angry"; I don't recall seeing this verb elsewhere in Berber (not even in Alojaly's dictionary of Tamajeq), whereas it's widespread in Songhay.

Obviously cognate are Tamasheq é-tæqq "male ostrich" and widespread Songhay forms such as Gao taatagey, Fulan Kirya taataɣey "ostrich" (the shift of g to ɣ next to non-high back vowels is regular in several Songhay varieties, and in Tamasheq qq is the geminate equivalent of ɣ). The word is generic in Songhay but specific in Tuareg - the opposite of what we saw with "bring" - which suggests to me that it was borrowed into the latter, as does the fact that I don't find the term in Alojaly's Tamajeq dictionary. However, since ostriches are extinct in most Berber-speaking areas, it's difficult to prove the direction of borrowing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Berber: classification, Tasahlit, roots vs. stems

Today seems to be a good week for comparative Berber linguistics - the day's haul is worth sharing:

Maarten Kossmann has uploaded his preliminary classification of Berber varieties based on shared innovations: Berber subclassification (preliminary version). He divides Berber into seven blocks:

  1. Zenaga block (Zenaga of Mauritania, Tetserrét in Niger)
  2. Tuareg block
  3. Western Moroccan block (SW Morocco, Central Morocco, i.e. Tashelhiyt and most of Tamazight)
    possibly including NW Moroccan Berber (Ghomara, Senhadja de Sraïr)
  4. Zenatic block (Eastern Morocco, Western Algeria, Saharan oases, Tunisia, Zuara) extending towards the east with Sokna, Elfoqaha, Siwa
  5. Kabyle (N Algeria), possibly linked to the western Moroccan block
  6. Ghadames (Libya), probably to be linked to Djebel Nefusa (Libya)
  7. Awdjilah (Libya)
By and large, this appears very plausible, although it should be noted that Tunisian Berber and Zuwara are already somewhat peripheral to Zenati, not sharing western Zenati's innovative distribution of initial vowel dropping, and El-Fogaha is even more so than Siwa or Sokna. (As he notes, the much greater homogeneity and clearer boundaries of Zenati in the west imply that this group arrived in Algeria and Morocco from the east.) But, in principle, it is still necessary to identify specific innovations characteristic of each of these groups. It is also clear that the Zenaga block is by far the first split on the tree, and the list ought ideally to reflect that. But the moderately high degree of mutual intelligibility poses serious obstacles to applying the family tree model to Berber, as he discusses.

The most interesting Kabyle varieties for historical reconstruction are the little-known ones of the extreme east, "Tasahlit". As it happens, Abdelaziz Berkai has just uploaded his recent thesis, a dictionary and sketch grammar of the Tasahlit of Aokas: Essai d’élaboration d’un dictionnaire Tasaḥlit (parler d’Aokas)-français. The quality of his work appears excellent, and this will no doubt be a very useful resource. The choice of dialect, however, is not entirely ideal. It is clear from Basset's dialect atlas, and from the all too rare comments in Rabdi's grammar on neighbouring varieties, that the vocabulary of Aokas is still quite close to that of Bejaia; the really divergent varieties seem to be those of the Babor Mountains and Oued el Bared, approaching Jijel, and those are the ones most likely to give an insight into the dialect of the now largely Arabised Kutama.

I haven't yet had time to properly look at Samir Ben Si Said's thesis, De la nature de la variation diatopique en kabyle: étude de la formation des singulier et pluriel nominaux, but it tackles the synchronically as well as diachronically thorny problem of Berber non-concatenative morphology, and argues for an approach based more on roots than on stems, contrasting with another important study I've been working through lately, Heath's Grammar of Tamashek (Tuareg of Mali).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Subject-verb order in Tumzabt

Going through Brahim and Bekir Abdessalam's brief grammar of Tumzabt Berber (الوجيز في قواعد الكتابة والنحو الأمازيغية "المزابية": الجزء الأول) recently, I was struck by their discussion of the problem of subject-verb order. Berber in general allows both verb-subject and subject-verb order, with the case ("state") of the subject depending on which order is used. Determining which order is used under which circumstances, however, poses some difficulties; the same language may be described as VSO or SVO, depending on who you ask, and the determining factors certainly differ from one variety to another (cf. eg Mettouchi fc for Kabyle). Their take on the problem combines information structure with pragmatics and verbal mood. The latter two factors can very likely be reduced to information structure too, but that would require testing; in any case, the observation that VS order is required for serialization is interesting. Here's what they had to say, translated into English (pp. 129-130):

We observe that in the first set of examples, the subject precedes the verb; this is the usual form in an Amazigh clause consisting of a verb and a subject.

In the second set of examples, the subject follows the verb. This happens in the following cases:

  1. The subject may follow the verb when it is specific and known to the speaker and listener because there is a connection between speaking of it and a previous expression involving speaking of the same subject. For instance:

    twelleh! afunas-nni yetthaḍa - Watch out, that bull rampages.

    After the two parties have parted, they meet again the next day, and one says to the other:
    yak yhaḍ ufunas ay-tessečned asennaṭṭ! - Indeed that bull you showed me yesterday really did rampage!

    Here, the subject - the bull - is specific for both parties to the conversation in the second usage, since it had been spoken of earlier.

  2. For the sake of irony, which can only be deduced from the context surrounding this expression and from the circumstances of discourse, eg if we say:

    tiɣawsiwin-ess tqimant-edd ɣel wezğen, drus mi yefra igget, ay-tinid : yebṛem werğaz ! - His affairs stay half-done, rarely does he resolve even one, and you tell me: he's a careful man!

  3. The subject may follow the verb obligatorily in the serial aorist, eg:

    yuli tazdayt yuḍa-y-as wemjer - He climbed the date palm and the sickle fell from him [and dropped the sickle].

    It may also occur directly following the verb in the future tense aorist, eg:

    ad tatef teğrest ad yireḍ isemmuṛa n tḍuft or tağrest ad tatef ad yireḍ isemmuṛa n tḍuft - When winter comes, woolen clothes are worn.

They follow this up with an observation that seems quite astonishing from a comparative Berber perspective (p. 131):

A subject following the verb is put in the construct state if definite, this being the normal case for the postverbal subject, and is put in the free state if indefinite without any need for the [indefinite] article iggen / igget ["one"].

Unfortunately, they provide no examples to illustrate this claim.