As might be expected from the difficulty of traversing it, the Sahara Desert has been a fairly effective barrier to direct contact between its two edges; trans-Saharan language contact is limited to the borrowing of non-core vocabulary, minimal from south to north and mostly mediated by education from north to south. Its own inhabitants, however, are necessarily accustomed to travelling desert spaces, and contact between languages within the Sahara has often accordingly had a much greater impact. Several peripheral Arabic varieties of the Sahara retain morphology as well as vocabulary from the languages spoken by their speakers’ ancestors, in particular Berber in the southwest and Beja in the southeast; the same is true of at least one Saharan Hausa variety. The Berber languages of the northern Sahara have in turn been deeply affected by centuries of bilingualism in Arabic, borrowing core vocabulary and some aspects of morphology and syntax. The Northern Songhay languages of the central Sahara have been even more profoundly affected by a history of multilingualism and language shift involving Tuareg, Songhay, Arabic, and other Berber languages, much of which remains to be unraveled. These languages have borrowed so extensively that they retain barely a few hundred core words of Songhay vocabulary; those loans have not only introduced new morphology but in some cases replaced old morphology entirely. In the southeast, the spread of Arabic westward from the Nile Valley has created a spectrum of varieties with varying degrees of local influence; the Saharan ones remain almost entirely undescribed. Much work remains to be done throughout the region, not only on identifying and analyzing contact effects but even simply on describing the languages its inhabitants speak.
Friday, June 17, 2016
Sunday, October 20, 2013
First of all, insofar as we can speak of Islam as having a formal language policy at all, that policy would be defined by the extensive body of jurisprudence on which languages may or must be used in particular religious contexts. Ṣalāt, ritual prayer, has to be in Arabic (Mawdudi 1957 notes a few arguable exceptions to this). Duʕā', asking favours of God, may be in any language. The adhān, the call to prayer, has to be in Arabic according to most scholars, although Atatürk briefly forced Turkish mosques to make it in Turkish (Atalay 2012). For the khuṭbah, the Friday sermon, scholars' opinions differ – to keep on the safe side, it's common for the imam to deliver a sermon in the congregation's language followed by a much shorter sermon in Arabic. The Qur'ān may be translated, and since early times frequently has been, but no translation of it can be considered authoritative, or substituted for the original in ritual contexts; in fact, such translations are viewed more as commentaries than as versions of the original. Everyday religious formulae – bismillah (in the name of God), alhamdulillah (thank God), inshallah (if God wills), etc – are ordinarily in Arabic, though I don't know what the jurists have to say about that.
As a result, the ordinary believer is commonly exposed to Arabic in religious contexts, and is individually required to memorise a certain number of formulae and chapters of the Qur'ān in Arabic. Quite frequently, the latter in particular are learnt by heart early with only cursory explanation of their meaning, since reciting them verbatim is a precondition for proper prayer, but understanding them is only really vital at a more advanced stage. What does need to be understood immediately – the basic religious obligations, creed, etc – is explained in a language the student understands. However, the further a student advances, the more important it becomes to have direct access to the original source texts; thus learning Classical Arabic is a basic prerequisite for becoming a serious religious scholar, although the vast majority of Muslims never get that far, and indeed a majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic. Regionally, other languages may also come to assume a secondary position in religious education – for example, Urdu in Pakistan, even though most students there have a different first language. A remarkable example of this is to be found in northeastern Nigeria, where advanced religious education requires mastering not just Classical Arabic but also Classical Kanembu, an extremely archaic variety of Kanembu currently used only for explaining Classical Arabic texts (Bondarev & Tijani 2013).
Interpreting the notion of "language policy" more broadly, one might also talk about the influence of Islam on attitudes to language. In this connection, the obvious point to discuss would be the (very weakly supported) claim commonly heard that "Arabic is the language of Paradise", and the even more obviously fabricated claim sometimes heard east of Iraq that "Arabic and Persian are the languages of Paradise". Yet the weakness of the religious evidence for both assertions is a strong indication that the causality is the other way around: religious positions on language, in Islam as elsewhere, have often been influenced by extra-religious prejudices. The universal consensus that some Islamic rituals must be performed in Arabic make it difficult for any Islamic society to assert strongly negative attitudes to Arabic, but beyond that minimum, language attitudes are determined more by social and political factors than by Islam specifically.
Monday, April 05, 2010
3.592 àkú parrot: the quoted Arabic form is almost impossible as a Classical Arabic noun (and not in the Lisan al-Arab; the Arabic word is babγā’), and parrots are known in the Arab world only as an exotic import. Assuming the form exists in some Arabic dialect, it must be a loan from a sub-Saharan African language, not vice versa.
9.24 mágàsù scissors: the g and the u both suggest that this word entered directly from (Bedouin) Arabic, not via Hausa.
11.12 hàláltə́ own: if this is correctly transcribed, surely it comes from Arabic ħalāl “licit; one’s lawful property”. Arabic halak means “perish”.
11.79 ríwà dìò to earn: “ribā” means usury, and is strongly condemned in Islam; it is unlikely that this would be adopted as a neutral word “earn”. The more plausible source for both the Kanuri and the Hausa is Arabic ribħ “profit, gain”.
11.78 àlwúsùr wages: Perhaps < Arabic al-`ušr "tithe (< one-tenth)"; surely not from ma`āš.
14.451/6 kàjílí evening: “kajir” is not a possible native Classical Arabic word, and is not attested in Classical Arabic. If it’s in Shuwa, it must come from Kanuri, not vice versa.
16.34 tə́wə́rítə́ regret: Hausa tuubaa does come from Arabic, but clearly from Arabic tūb “repent”; it has nothing to do with Arabic ta’assaf (not *tāssaf) “regret”.
16.69 gàfə̀rtə́ forgive: the connection to Arabic γafar- is obviously correct, but Arabic yaʕfū is equally obviously not relevant; even if ʕ were normally reflected as g in Kanuri, it would leave the r unexplained.
18.33 kàsàttə́/àrdìtə́ admit: the Arabic form “kasat” does not exist. yarḍā means “may He hope/ approve” (as noted), not “admit”, making the connection rather tenuous.
18.45 áwúlò dìò boast: there is no Classical Arabic word “awulo”.
19.47 àmàrtə́ permit: Arabic ʔamar- means “he ordered”, not “permission”.
20.31 súlwé armor: Arabic silāħ means “weapons”, not “armor”.
21.24 àlàptà swear < ħalaf "swear" (not < allāh "the god")
21.37 àzáwù punishment: from Arabic ʕađāb “punishment, torment” rather than jazā’.
21.47 perjury: by what chain of semantic changes could “perjury” derive from “lawful”? And why would l > k?
Probable Arabic loanwords not listed as such include:
11.54 bàyîl stingy: from Arabic baxīl.
4.89 sûm poison: surely from Arabic samm?
4.93 sə̀lé bald: surely from Arabic ‘aṣla`?
5.26 kóló pot: perhaps cp. Arabic qullah (or onomatopeic?)
7.58 kábbì arch: surely from Arabic qubbah?
14.25 bàdìtə́ begin: surely from Arabic bada’?
11.29 lòrùtə́ damage: from Arabic ḍarr (impf. -ḍurr-). Cp. “judge” for ḍ > l.
24.02 wàltà become: perhaps from Maghrebi Arabic wəlli “become, return”.
In some cases, looking more widely allows the etymologies to be improved:
3.11 lə̀mân animal: < al-māl- "livestock, money", rather than al-mann "favor, benefit". For the dissimilation, compare the common Maghrebi Arabic change of n...n to n...l, eg badənjal < bāđinjān, fənjal < finjān.
2.34 lòrúsà wedding: probably from al-`arūs “bride” (Maghrebi Arabic l-aʕṛuṣa), rather than direct from ʕurs. Cp. Siwi aʕṛus “wedding”, with the same semantic shift.
There are also a few cases, many probably originally formatting issues, where the correct form is given in comments, but contradicted elsewhere:
3.25 sheep: the source cited, Kossmann 2005 (67), points out that the form quoted by Skinner, *adaman, is unattested. The correct form, adəmman, is found in Arabic as well as Berber, and refers to a type of sheep said to come from sub-Saharan Africa. Given that it refers to a specifically sub-Saharan sheep breed, 5 would seem a better classification than 4, though 4 is understandable.
3.78 camel: Kossmann 2005, cited, makes it rather clear than an Arabic origin for this word is very improbable. Moreover, there is no such Arabic word as “ləγəmal”; only the form jamal is correct.
4.87 physician: If Shuwa Arabic or some such variety has a term liktaay, there can be little doubt that it is a loan into Shuwa, not from Shuwa. As the comment indicates, this comes from English, not from Arabic.
7.422 blanket: The comments indicate a Berber form abroγ, but the field gives abrok. The Arabic etymology is less implausible than it appears, since the semantic shift to “full body covering” is well-attested, as in English “burka” from the same source.
12.081 above: here it is called areal and probably not Arabic, but under “sky” and “heaven” the same word is listed as “clearly borrowed”. One of these statements must be wrong.
13 zero: the Hausa form is transcribed correctly in comments, but wrongly under “Source words”.
18.51 write: rubuta is Hausa, not Berber, as the sources quoted make clear. The proto-Berber form had no suffix -t (as Kossmann indicates), and neither do any of the equivalent modern Berber verbs.
19.62/20.11 quarrel: If it’s related to “alhilaafu”, the Arabic form is al-xilāf. If it’s related to “judge”, that form is irrelevant. In either case, there is no Arabic word “alwalaʔ” with appropriate meaning.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The grammatical comparisons that Greenberg offers are interesting but not compelling; there are only 10 of them (only 4 with Kwarandzyey reflexes), and they often incorporate misrepresentations (as Lacroix noted, for example, -ma forms verbal nouns, not relatives/adjectives, and 1sg ay < *agay, reducing the similarity to forms like Zaghawa ai.) Some of the lexical ones, however, are rather good; similarities such as Koyraboro Senni kokoši “scale (of fish)” = Manga Kanuri kàskàsí “scale (of fish)” cry out for explanation, and, though quite rare, look sufficiently numerous that chance seems unlikely. But whether they should be explained by contact or borrowing remains unclear. Either scenario would be historically interesting, since at present rather a large expanse of Tuareg and Hausa-speaking land separates Songhay from even Kanuri, and Saharan originated closer to modern-day Darfur than to Lake Chad.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
- Classical Kanembu is still used and written by Islamic scholars of the area - although, apparently, Western scholars only became aware of this fact quite recently.
- It has substantially more cases than modern Kanuri, and possibly an even more complicated verb morphology.
- Most strikingly, since vowel length is non-phonemic in Kanuri, it seems to use vowel length to indicate high tone instead; thus, for example Arabic al-'aakhirah "the afterlife" has been borrowed as laxíra, and thus gets spelled as لاخِيرَ. As far as I know, this would make it the only Arabic orthography to mark tone. (Actually, Dmitri Bondarev, who observed this, prefers for the moment the more conservative interpretation that the vowel length commonly corresponds to a modern Kanuri high tone, not ruling out the possibility that such vowels were actually long in the Kanembu of the seventeenth century.)
This already constitutes some of the oldest documentation of any West African language, and quite apart from its implications for the reconstruction of Proto-Saharan, it really makes one wonder what other valuable historical data on other African languages linguists might be missing out on by not studying Arabic/Ajami use. So keep your eyes peeled, and tell me if you spot anything!