Friday, October 09, 2015

From codeswitching to borrowing in une génération?

It's not unusual to hear sentences like the following from middle-class Algerian adults, especially women:

عندنا ان تيليفيزيون كبير
ʕəndna æ̃ tilivizyõ kbir
"we have a big TV"

شرينا لو تيلي
šrina lœ tele
"we bought the TV"

If I had in fact heard these from an adult, I would unhesitatingly classify them as code-switching, with a French noun phrase inserted into an otherwise Arabic sentence. That goes especially for the former - monolingual adults simply don't use the French indefinite article [æ̃ ] (un). In fact, however, I heard them from a monolingual 5-year old, born and bred in Algeria, who only took her first French class this term. Unless she knows more French than she or her parents are letting on, that necessarily makes them monolingual sentences. And that means that, for this young lady, [æ̃ ] (un) has become a borrowing into Algerian Arabic - an indefinite article used with words that take the definite article le.

Earlier, I noted that children don't typically initiate effective language change; and, in terms of output, this isn't a change at all. She's simply learned to produce the kind of sentences she hears all the time directly, without going through all the effort of learning French first. In terms of the underlying system, however, it's a significant change. Instead of having one indefinite article used with all nouns, she now has two: one with Arabic nouns, and one with French nouns. (Rather like the nouns borrowed from Berber that we looked at earlier, which can't take the Arabic definite article.) In Saussurean terms, one generation's parole (the relatively free Arabic-French codeswitching practiced by her parents) has become the next generation's langue. And that sort of change is by its nature something children, and only children, are extremely likely to lead.

(Note, by the way, that in French télévision is feminine; I'm not sure why she gives it masculine agreement, but probably this reflects the influence of the earlier borrowed form tilivizyun, which regular Arabic phonological gender assignment rules make masculine.)


Anonymous said...

Coud it be that entire phrases, like lœtele or æ̃tilivizyõ have been lexicalized into single morphological words, as in many creoles?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That has often happened with le/la in Algerian Arabic. What's remarkable about this case, though, is that she's apparently substituting æ̃ for lœ when the phrase is indefinite, indicating that it's no longer a single word if it ever was.

Peter Norman said...

Fascinating stuff. In Oran, from the lips of a 9-y.o. I heard both "šǝftu a la tele" (I saw it on TV) and "baba šra æ̃ tele ždid" (Dad bought a new TV). Transcriptions are from memory, and may not be wholly accurate. Not a comparable situation to the one you describe, as there is a lot of French spoken in the household, and he himself is older than your informant and speaks quite good French.

Note that both gender attributions are correct in French: in the second example, "télé" can be understood as an abbreviation of "téléviseur" (masc.). But it seems to give some support to the lexicalization of "æ̃tele", otherwise what is the "æ̃" doing there at all? Similarly, "alatele" may also be a lexicalized adverb. If it were just "latele" that was lexicalized, then why not "fi latele", or whatever preposition is appropriate?

Lots of factors to be taken into account, not least the presence of my partner and myself, as French-speakers. You know I'm not competent to anayze any kind of Arabic or Semitic language, so I must just offer it to you as "raw data".

P.S. Sorry my tildes did't print right. Insuperable technical problems, I crave the indulgence of all readers.