Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Siwi corpus

A small part of the Siwi corpus I gathered during PhD and postdoctoral fieldwork is now publicly accessible online, with more planned. Despite my best efforts, there will undoubtedly be some number of errors in transcription and translation; hopefully being able to listen to the audio will make these easier to correct in the long term. (Feel free to comment here or by email.) Some of these recordings may be of particular interest:
  • Four facts about Siwa, short as it is, is a perfect starting point for understanding Siwa anthropologically; the speaker chooses four questions about Siwa, of his own devising, and answers them.
  • The story of the Prophet Joseph is probably the best long narrative I was privileged to record during my fieldwork, retelling a well-known Islamic story with energy and eloquence, and giving numerous examples of grammatical features rarely attested in shorter texts.
  • Paradigm of the Siwi verb əlməd "learn" - does what it says on the tin, and as such makes a great introduction to Siwi verb morphology. Pay particular attention to the position of stress. Not all forms of the verb are included in this recording, but the remainder can easily be derived from these ones.

The speaker recorded in these, Sherif Bougdoura, was a thoughtful and intelligent person, trying to find the right balance between local and national cultures, who made his living as a repairman for lack of opportunities to take his education further. He sadly died young in a work accident several years ago. I hope these recordings will serve to preserve his memory as well as to facilitate linguistic analysis.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Instrument nouns between Dholuo and Arabic

In Dholuo (a West Nilotic language of Kenya), instrument nouns are formed using ra-...-i (the final -i is dropped after sonorants and semivowels), as in the table below (Tucker 1993:111-112, retranscribed). Both English and Arabic have comparable formations. In English, instrument nouns are occasionally formed with the -er suffix, like agent nouns. In Arabic, instrument nouns are more systematically formed, but with a variety of different patterns, starting with mi-..., or in modern colloquials with a feminine agent noun CaCCaaC-a.

However, taking a look at the cases listed by Tucker, we may note a striking cross-linguistic difference in distribution. In Arabic, all but three of the translated nouns use an instrument noun pattern of some sort, and two of the others use a more general verbal noun pattern; only "ladder" appears completely underived. In English, "peg", "billhook", "pestle", "tongs", "lid" all seem to be underived and simplex, and for several cases with zero-derivation (notably "hoe", "rake", "drill", "sign"), intuition suggests that the verb derives from the noun, the opposite of what we see in Arabic or Dholuo.

This suggests a typological difference in the structure of the lexicon: perhaps some languages "prefer" to mark instrument nouns as such and to form them from corresponding actions, while some prefer simple instrument nouns from which verbs may be formed indicating the corresponding actions. I wonder whether that holds up on a larger sample? What does your language tend to do, dear reader?

cut toŋ-o قطع | billhook, cutter ra-tóŋ̂ منجل
slash bẹt-ọ مزّق | slasher rạ-bẹ́t-ị̂ منجل طويل
hoe pur-o عزق | hoe ra-púr̂ معزق
scratch gwạr-ọ خدش | forked rake rạ-gwạ́r̂ مدمّة
see ŋịy-ọ رأى | mirror rạ-ŋị́ị̂ مرآة
strain dhịŋ-ọ صفّى | strainer rạ-dhị́ŋ̂ مصفاة
pound yọk-ọ دق | pestle rạ-yọ́k-ị̂ مدقة
pierce cwọw-ọ ثقب | piercing instrument ra-cwọ́p-î مثقاب
hold mạk-o مسك | tongs rạ-mạ́k-ị̂ ممساك
plug up din-o سد | stopper ra-dín̂ سدّادة
hang ŋạw-ọ علّق | peg for hanging ra-ŋạ́ŵ علاّقة
cover um-o غطّى | lid, cover ra-úm̂ غطاء
show nyis-o أظهر | sign ra-nyís-î علامة
climb ịdh-ọ صعد | ladder rạ-ị́dh-ị̂ سلّم