Monday, February 22, 2016

From existential to indefinite determiner: Kaš in Algerian Arabic

One of the few characteristics of Algerian Arabic that are genuinely unique to Algeria is kaš كاش "some, any". At first sight, this rather frequent word must baffle Arabic speakers from other regions, to say nothing of learners of Arabic. However, it turns out to be a quite recent development, completed only in the 20th century, from two well-known Arabic words: kan كان "there is" (originally "was"), and ši شي "some, something, thing" (originally "thing"). I've just published a short article examining its usage and development: From existential to indefinite determiner: Kaš in Algerian Arabic (in the Proceedings of AIDA 11). Its core findings are summed up in this little graphic:

The center of the image has already been explained above. For the rest, you need to see examples of the five principal functions of kaš. The most central seems to be as an irrealis indefinite determiner, as in:

جا كاش واحد؟
ja kaš waħəd?
came any one?
"Did anyone come?"
However, it can also be used existentially in questions, as in:
كاش حليب؟
kaš ħlib?
any milk?
"Is there any milk?"
And, of course, it forms the second half of the extremely frequent negative existential "there is no":
ماكاش الزهر
makaš əz-zhəṛ
NegExist the-luck
"There is no luck."
In combination with the complementiser ma ما, it yields another two rather surprising constructions:
كاش ما شريت؟
kaš ma šri-t?
any that buy-2Sg?
"Did you buy anything?"
كاش ما جا؟
kaš ma ja?
any that came?
"Did he come (at all, by any chance)?"
For full details of how Algerian Arabic managed to produce all these functions by combining an existential marker and a quantifier, you'll have to read the article!

A rather similar grammaticalization seems to have taken place in Chinese for yŏu 有; can you think of any other comparable cases?


Hans said...

In the last example, you transcribe Kaš ma ja, but the Arabic is
كاش ما شريت؟.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Oops! Fixed.

Jim said...

"A rather similar grammaticalization seems to have taken place in Chinese for yŏu 有;"

It's not really a grammaticalization. 有人 is both a clause "there are people" and a quantifier + noun phrase "some people" (actually a relative clause "people who exist.) Any verb - object phrase has all the same formal structure. And that structure is simultaneously all those I list above.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Except that "some people" and "people who exist" don't mean the same thing, even though there are obvious bridging environments. It's in the extension from the latter meaning to the former that I see grammaticalisation at work.

David Marjanović said...

I think the claim is that Chinese doesn't distinguish "some people" from "there are some people who" at all. Based on what little Mandarin I know, this seems entirely realistic to me.