Saturday, May 18, 2024

Three Mubi proverbs via YouTube

In an episode of "Chadian Wisdom and Proverbs", Yaqub Muhammad Musa discusses three Mubi proverbs, providing the Mubi versions along with translation and extensive commentary in Arabic. Mubi is comparatively well-documented as East Chadic languages go, thanks primarily to Jungraithmayr's excellent 2013 monograph; but even this miniscule corpus reveals some aspects of the language that I was unable to find there.

Proverb 1:

"If a person has no elder, s/he will fall into a well."
الما عنده كبير، يقع في البير

Every element of this proverb is attested in Jungraithmayr, but the phonology contains some surprises: I hear a secondary gemination after the preposition which is not discussed, and in ùfáad we observe that regular final devoicing fails to hold, presumably due to the following vowel. Moreover, mà is glossed there as "et, puis" (and, then), which is clearly not the intended sense here.

Proverb 2:

"If your brother is sweet, don't lick him a lot"
أخوك كان بقي عسل، ما تلحسه زيادة

Based on the Arabic version of the proverb, I assume báagì is a loan from Arabic, corresponding to classical bāqī "remaining", and functioning as a sort of copula; it's not in Jungraithmayr. ísì is not there either; in fact, J doesn't discuss the formation of negative imperatives at all that I can see. But it matches well with the attested verb íisí "to refuse", and presumably reflects grammaticalisation from that (cf. Latin noli). So this gives us a new construction.

Proverb 3:

"Even if your eye itches you, don't scratch it"
عينك دي كان قاعدة تاكلك دا ما تحكّه

Here, máar is just a guess informed by context; no such form is found in J. But we find a second instance of the prohibitive construction, as well as an otherwise unattested verb sùsúm "itch". Note the OV-S construction, which alternates with SV-O under circumstances which seem to remain a mystery.

The fact that new things can be discovered about Mubi from a recording this short illustrates just how much remains to be done in terms of describing this morphologically fascinatingly complex language. At the same time, it tends to confirm the high accuracy of J's transcriptions. I hope further study will be possible.

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