Showing posts with label pidgin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pidgin. Show all posts

Friday, November 04, 2016

Lingua Franca and Sabir in "Four Months in Algeria" (1859)

I recently finished reading Four Months in Algeria, a travel diary by the English Rev. J. W. Blakesley published in 1859. It's mostly rather superficial - he couldn't speak Arabic, and spent most of his time with French soldiers and German settlers - but enlivened by occasional insights. It contains little content of linguistic interest, but it does contain two brief passages in the pidgin still used for communication between North Africans and Europeans when neither spoke the other's language - call it Lingua Franca, or Sabir. Since it would take a brave creolist to plough through the whole thing just in the slender hopes of finding such material, I reproduce them here.

The first passage (p. 340) comes from the author's description of his journey from El Aria to a place called Embadis, both in the east of Algeria, during the month of Ramadan; it shows a curious combination of French, Arabic, and "classic" Lingua Franca:

The poor muleteers had not tasted food during the whole day ; and as soon as ever the sun dipped, they produced one or two flat cakes, and ate them with avidity, not however without first offering me a sahre. I of course declined to diminish their scanty store, and reminded them that I had breakfasted at El Aria. "Toi makasch tiene carême ; toujours mangiaria," said one of the poor fellows, in the polyglot dialect which is growing up out of the intercourse between the natives and the illiterate European settlers of the interior.*
* There are a few Arabic words which the European children habitually make use of at Guelma, even when playing with each other. Makasch, no, shuiya, gently, I found invariably took the place of the corresponding French terms. On the other hand the Arabs constantly use the words ora, hour, and buono or bueno, good, to one another. Iauh, yes, a Kabyle word, pronounced exactly like the German affirmation, is also very common among the lower orders of Europeans.

In this passage, "toi" (you), "carême" (fast), and "toujours" (still) are French, while "tiene" (have) is Spanish, and "mangiaria" (eat, or perhaps food?) is Lingua Franca (from Italian), and "makasch", being used as a simple negator, is Algerian Arabic makaš ماكاش "there is no" (I discuss the latter's history here). Despite the diversity of the lexical sources drawn on, however, the grammar - simple SVO with no subject-verb agreement - matches better with Lingua Franca than with any of the lexifiers.

The second (p. 419), from a country as yet unconquered by the French, shows no such admixture, corresponding perfectly to earlier descriptions of Lingua Franca in which it often appears as little more than Italian minus the morphology:

More than once have I found in Algeria the conventional civility of the Arab to an European change into an unmistakeable expression of goodwill, when it appeared that I was an Englishman ; and in Tunis a notification of the fact at once drew forth a "Buono Inglese ; non buono Francese," from the mouth of a native.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

APiCS online, ASJP

Any readers interested in pidgins, creoles, or mixed languages (one of those things is not like the others!) will want to know that the data for the Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Languages, APiCS, is finally online and publicly browsable. Think of it as WALS for pidgins and creoles, basically – lots of pretty maps, with the nice bonus that language-internal variation in features like word order can be represented proportionally by a pie graph instead of having to choose a single value per language.

Also released lately is the data underlying the ASJP (Automated Similarity Judgement Program). The program's results itself remain thoroughly unreliable as a guide to classification – as of the latest version, it auto-classifies Songhay with Masa (Chadic), Berber with East Chadic, Kanuri with various Biu-Mandara (Chadic) languages (and not with Teda-Daza), Turkic with some New Guinea language named Kuot, and Hebrew with Tigre and Tigrinya against the rest of Semitic. For low-level subgroupings they aren't always too bad, though – their Berber tree has become surprisingly plausible. In any event, having the data, you can analyse it yourself, or try running your own algorithms if you feel up to it...

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Lingua franca / Sabir

Mi star trovato un bonu libro sopra il sabir: Dictionnaire de la langue franque ou petit mauresque. Avanti l'attaca del Fransis, l'Algerino parlar con il Rumi ne in esbagnol ne in italiano ne in fransis, ma in questa lingua, una miscolantza dell'italiano e dell'esbagnol, muchu facile anche per un muchachu. Il mariniero parlar il sabir non solo in Algieri ma in tutto portao straniero. Ma doppo 1830, il genti star imparato fransis, presto scordato il sabir. Ellu star lasciato giusto qualche parola in l'arab del mariniero, come in Dellys "timpu" (il tempo bello). Per ancora imparar, andar a A Glossary of Lingua Franca, di Alan Corré.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The earliest recorded pidgin - Maridi Arabic?

Some years ago, browsing in a bookstore, I came across a mention of a Mauritanian Arabic-based pidgin recorded by the medieval geographer Al-Bakri. For years since, I have been regretting not having written down the details; even reading through a copy of Al Bakri's description of North Africa brought no joy. Today, I finally found the mention again, and managed to track down the original reference - and understand why I didn't find it before...

Al-Bakri (1014-1097) was a noted geographer and less noted writer from Huelva in modern-day Spain. His description of North Africa was the most detailed since Roman times, and his descriptions of West Africa are among the earliest surviving - despite the fact that he himself never seems to have left Spain, relying instead on travellers' descriptions. Only some twelve manuscripts of his greatest work, al-Masālik wal-Mamālik, survive, none complete. The passage containing the pidgin text, unfortunately, is absent from most printed editions of al-Bakri, including every edition that I could find at SOAS: according to Thomason and Elgibali, "we have found our text only in a printed copy of al-Bakrī located in the national library of Egypt in Cairo; this copy is dated 1943, but we do not know who compiled it or - more importantly - what its manuscript source was."

Without further ado, here is the text, as given by Thomason and Elgibali, who apparently found it somewhere in a section describing Aswan and other Egyptian towns:

Someone told me that a dignitary from the people of Aswan used to travel a lot. One day he reached a small town called Maridi. Upon his return, he said to the prince of the believers: 'Sir, may God give you plenty of good and honour your face, here is my case! Its goal is to preserve and spread the word of God. The Blacks have mutilated our beautiful language and spoiled its eloquency [sic] with their twisted tongues. During my visit, Sir - may God protect you - only God's guidance helped me escape the dangers and understand their miserable Arabic. Sometimes, and may God forgive me if I did wrong, I could only laugh at what they called Arabic; and may God forgive me if I call what they uttered Arabic. Listen, Sir:

[and here I add my entirely conjectural vocalisation; for the original, see below] bī waħid yūm rādūl, Dūmā lū 'isim. damal lū 'ū wa bin lū 'ū. 'umnī dī rūħ 'a`adnī bī maħall. kīk lū 'ūl "ħaram, 'inta barbar, bin mū rūħ, 'inta barbar; 'a`adū!" 'umnī damal fū' 'ū, kīk lū 'ūl "ħaram, 'inta barbar, bin 'a`ad, dūmā rūħ." kīk lū 'ūl ħaram 'inta barbar. Dūmā 'ūl: "kīk mū diyyid mū muhī."

One day there was a man whose name was Jumu`a. He had a camel and a son. They were going to stay in a place. People(?) said to him, "Shame! You are a barbarian! Your son should not walk, you barbarian; seat him!" They were on the camel. People(?) said to him, "Shame! You are a barbarian!" The son sat and Jumu`a walked. ̂People(?) said to him, "Shame! You are a barbarian!" Jumu`a said "People(?) are neither good nor important."

The prince of the believers ordered that his need be met.

The chances of copyists having mangled this bizarre passage are high; the chances that the printers mangled it (or left out whatever vocalisation might have been present) makes the situation even worse. (Certainly De Slane's edition shows instances of both; thus his īħan Yākūš, given as Berber for "God is one", is almost certainly a mistake for ījan Yākūš, by the omission of a dot.) However, it shows some striking features.

The near-absence of morphology, the apparent presence of tense particles, and the simplification of the phonology are all suggestive of a pidgin, and a pidgin is exactly what one would expect given the nature of the trans-Sahara trade. Phonetically, the substitution of ' for qāf is characteristic of lower Egypt and the Levant, but also of several city dialects in the Maghreb and of Maltese; the substitution of d for j is widespread in upper Egypt, but I know of no modern dialect that has both features. The word kīk scarcely looks like Arabic; Thomason & Elgibali suggest a possible interpretation, based on two etymons reportedly widespread in Nilo-Saharan (koi "person", -k "plural"), as "people".

Where was this pidgin spoken? Unfortunately, the text is thoroughly vague on this point, and Maradi's location is unknown. The paragraph after it is a condensed version of a passage elsewhere in al-Bakri describing the Lamtūna tribe of Mauritania, so Thomason and Elgibali suggest that it was spoken in Mauritania; however, Owens notes that both the phonetics of the text and the attribution to a person from Aswan (not to mention the possible presence of a Nilo-Saharan word) suggest a location somewhere in modern-day Sudan.

Of course, until someone finds the manuscript containing this passage, I will be unable to banish a slight suspicion that this whole passage might be an obscure joke by the printers (whoever they might be - the book in Cairo in question does not appear in Thomason and Elgibali's bibliography) on linguists worldwide... However, if authentic (and it scarcely seems likely that the printers would have made it up), this may well be the earliest attested passage in a pidgin, and certainly the earliest Arabic-based pidgin reported. It also provides an illustration of several rather common responses to pidgins and creoles: the half-shocked half-amused contempt for its differences from the lexifier language, the idea that the pidgin itself constitutes an obstacle to learning that needs to be overcome by education in the lexifier language, and the idea that this latter task is the state's responsibility.

PS (23 Dec): In Arabic, this story is more usually told of Juha; it occurs to me that دوما (Dūmā) may well be a misreading/miscopying of دوها (Dūhā), which would be a plausible rendition of Juha, rather than of the rather unusual name Jumu`a.

Arabic: (unfortunately, the portion given starts at "Sir, may God give you plenty of good"; the typeface is also extraordinarily blurry. I have taken the liberty of adding some punctuation.)
مولاي الخليفة جزاك الله خيرا وأكرم وجهك، إليك قضيتي ومحتواها حفظ كلمة الله ونشرها... فإن السود قد قطعوا اوصال لغتنا الجميلة تقطيعا وأفسدوا بيانها بشرير ألسنتهم المعوجة، فأثناء زيارتي (حفظك الله) كان إلهام الله ووحيه المعينين الوحيدين للنجاة من الأخطار وفهم ما أرادوا قوله لي بعربيتهم المزرية، فأحيانا يا مولاي (وسامحني الله إن أخطئت) كنت لا أملك الضحك على عربيتهم - وليسامحني: الله إن أطلقت على ما نطقوا بها اسم العربية، فاسمع يا سيدي:
بي وحد يوم رادول دوما لو اسم دمل لو او وبن لو او امني دي روح اعدي بي محل كيك لو لوب حرم انت بربر بن مو روح انت بربر لو اعدو امني دمل فوء او كيك لو اول حرم انت بربر بن اعد دوما روح كيك لو اول حرم انت بربر دوما اول كيك مو ديد مو مهي

  • Al-Bakri, Description de l'Afrique septentrionale, M. G. De Slane, trans. (Alger, 1913).
  • Jonathan Owens. "Arabic-based Pidgins and Creoles", in Contact languages: a wider perspective, ed. Sarah G. Thomason. Amsterdam: John Benjamins 1996.
  • Sarah G. Thomason and Alaa Elgibali. "Before the Lingua Franca: Pidginized Arabic in the Eleventh Century A.D.". Lingua 68 (1986) 317-349.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gulf Arabic (and Hindi?) Pidgin

It should be unsurprising that a pidgin trade-Arabic has evolved in the Gulf, given the incredibly large proportion of the population from non-Arabic-speaking countries. But this is the first info I've seen on it online. Not much actual detail (I would add the word siida "straight ahead"), but it also mentions a pidgin Hindi, which is more surprising. Sounds worth investigating...