Saturday, October 02, 2021

Cardinal points in Northern Songhay

Following a recent message from Mohomodou Houssouba, I was wondering where the names of cardinal points come from across Northern Songhay. The first step towards answering is to realize that "cardinal points" don't seem to be an emic category across Songhay in general. In mainstream Songhay, mostly spoken along the Niger River, the river itself provides a more useful coordinate system: upstream (daŋgey), downstream (dendi), left bank (hawsa), right bank (gurma). The sun provides a useful supplementary axis - east (wayna-hunay, "sunrise") vs. west (wayna-kaŋey, "sunset"). North vs. south, on the other hand, is less significant; these tend to be referred to by the names of countries or regions, rather than using absolute terms. In Niger, for example, Hamadou Soumana Souna gives Azawa (ie Azawagh) for "north"; the Azawagh Valley is indeed north of the Zarma region, but it would be east of Timbuktu or Gao, which accordingly use other expressions.

In the Sahara, the river-based system is naturally of little use. Korandje instead preserves the east-west axis, using the same structure as mainstream Songhay varieties: inə̣w n ṭʕạ-yu "east" ("sunrise"), inə̣w n yạṛaħ-yu "west" ("sunset"). This is not, however, accompanied by any fixed north-south axis; for "north", elicitation sometimes yields bəlhadi, properly "the North Star", but this term is not used to describe locations in the way that "east" and "west" are, and there seems to be no proper equivalent to "south". I'm tempted to suggest that this reflects the oasis' general reluctance to think about its historic southern ties, but in a way it maps on to another, better-established three-direction coordinate system used in Tabelbala. The latter is not perpendicular, and not in my limited experience ever used for describing locations; rather, it relates to the wind directions.

Korandje winds
As near as I can make it out by comparing a wind rose for Tabelbala's climate, it consists of asərqi "east-northeast wind", tumiyya "north-northeast wind", ssaħliyya "southwest wind". (In an unpublished source, Champault lists a fourth, qʷəbliyya "east wind", which I did not encounter.) Asərqi comes via Berber from the Arabic for "east", šarq; ssaħliyya from sāħil "coast"; qʷəbliyya from qiblah "direction of prayer (towards Mecca)"; but the source of tumiyya is unclear to me. (Suggestions are welcome.)

In the rest of Northern Songhay, spoken in and around the Azawagh Valley - as far as I gather from secondary sources - the relevant vocabulary is largely Tuareg-derived, with no attested Songhay survivals. Tagdal, spoken by the largely nomadic Igdalen, has borrowed the system whole from (Tawellemmet) Tamajeq: "west" is ataram, "east" dinnik, "south" ággaala, "north" támmasna. (Among these, "north" is originally a toponym, "desert".) Tasawaq, spoken in the oasis of In-Gall, differs only in the name for "east": alkubla (from Arabic alqiblah "direction of prayer"). Emghedesie, the extinct variety of the town of Agades, agrees with Tasawaq on "east" and "west", but uses toponyms for "north" and south", respectively air (ie the Air Mountains) and asudán (Arabic as-sūdān "(land of the) Blacks"). (Note, however, that Tayart Tamajeq too uses ayəṛ for "north".) I have no data on Tadaksahak directions for the moment.

Einə̣w n ṭʕạ-yuelkúblaalkúbladinnik
Winə̣w n yạṛaħ-yuatáramátáramataram

1 comment:

David Eddyshaw said...

On toponyms for compass points:

My main Kusaal informant gave tuon "in front" for "west" and nya'aŋ "behind" for "east" (they stand the opposite way round from Muslims!); for "north", he gave Barʋg "Busanga country" and for "south", zuoya "hills" (i.e. the Gambaga escarpment.)

The Bible translation, understandably feeling (I imagine) that these last two did not transfer well to Palestine, uses respectively datiuŋ "right" and dagɔbʋg "left" instead.