Monday, December 17, 2007

Tonal languages of Darfur

I got back from a field trip to a rural area which is predominantly Fur, and close to the heart of the ancient Fur kingdom/Sultanate in Jebel Marra, and I was able to pick up a fair amount of Fur on the trip, but I didn't realize until speaking with some staff members back in El Fasher that Fur is a tonal language!! They showed me 7 words that are very similar and the main distinguishing feature is the tonal difference, or minor consonantal differences which are almost imperceptible to non-native speakers. Here is my loose attempt at reproducing the sounds with the symbols I could find... (the đ is supposed to be an almost emphatic d, not quite as strong as a ض but I couldn't find the d with the dot underneath Unicode character, so I wasn't really sure how else to represent it). Also the superscript l (thunder) is supposed to be a very light afterthought of a sound:

dēj - a lalub tree

déi - male goat

đêj - oil

déĩ - ant (NB Darfuri Arabic = darr)

dëi¹ - thunder

đēwi - tail

đeui - grass

I was surprised that I hadn't perceived it was a tonal language at first, and in fact I had assumed that none of the languages of the area were really tonal, but in fact it seems quite common... it is also part of Masalit, which you would be able to see (if one could paste accurately from PDF files) in this story recorded by John Edgar in a study on Masalit storytelling:

k e l i m b e l l i m b o singeim waka. k e l i k o r n an g s i n g e i odoore.
girls boys-with wood-loc they-went. girls getting-up wood they-collect.
The girls and boys went to the woods. The girls started to collect wood.

kimamba duu a n y a n e l d l t i k e l a koko singm toyoona. anyaneldi
bop self gum-arabic he-saw going wood-loc he-climbed. gum-arabic
One boy saw a gum-arabic tree and went and climbed up it. He tried to

a w u l te ru tend tokomingi koogi tudona.
I-take-shall saying he-did hornbill eye it-plucked-out.
take the tree (as firewood), but a hombill (that was in the tree) plucked out his eye

suru koogi fong ken karaa s a r g i n kar tununga. s i n g e i
descending eye cover doing girl back coming he-stopped. wood
He got down and, covering his eye, came and stopped behind a girl. She was

toniede. s i n g e i t i r t e n a . kimamba ngo tirnanga: a i a i k o o g i
she-chops. w00d splinter it-did. boy thus he-said: ah ah eye
chopping wood. The wood splintered. The boy said thus: 'Ah ah, you put

mbalodaga! h i l l e m wakaamolo baabata t e n d e l a . kibinu
me-you-put-out. village-loc they-came-jfrom father-his he-told. seizing
out my eye!' When they reached the village, he told his father. Taking

karailimbd j i z e h a . kimadAaga. l e i l e t o mucota
girl that-with marriage they-made. child they-hore. day one wife-his
the girl, they married her with that one. They had a child. One day, his wife

kima Auwd ( n i i b i n d ) saamtaka. kambaa g i kimakuld
child giver (seizer) well-loc she-went. husband this child taking
gave him the baby and went to the well. The husband took the child and

t i A j i k a r i g g o t e r E : tokomiggikima andlya,
he-dandles thus he-says: hornbill child me-gave,
dandled it (on his knees) and said thus (singing): 'The hombill gave me a child;

kaa koikindag k o i t o k o m i g g i k i s a r i a . ndokom ndokom!
people all you-exist-if all hornbill you-play-not. dee dunz dee dum!
people, never play with the hombill. Dee dum, dee dum! '

monjokolatd j a a r i i n i y e ( t a g i t a muiljetagiinimolo) a j i
old-woman one neighhour (house-her near house-their-fronz) song
A certain old woman whose house was near to their house heard the song and,

t ~ i n a g akimakarawosaammolotaramolo tordga a j i kambata
she-heard child girl-the wellfronz she-came-fronz she-called song hushar~d-of
when the girl came back from the well, called her and related to her all of the

k o i t e n d e l a . k a r a g i baabata Tendela, k a a g g i i l u
all she-told. girl this father-her she-told. nzan that
husband's song. The girl then told it to her father. They (the community)

divorced them.


John Cowan said...

The letter ḍ can be produced in HTML using the sequence "ḍ". The capital form, Ḍ, requires "Ḍ".

You can get these numbers from UnicodeData.txt.

bulbul said...

What John said.
And if you're lazy like me, you might want to check out Richard Ishida's Unicode picker.

By the way, you had me at Judeo-Portuguese :)

mark said...

Re: pasting from PDF files - this would be possible, if the file would have been OCR'd correctly, which it isn't as you can see from 'w00d' and other OCR artifacts. So this is a problem on the JSTOR side.

Edgar's Masalit Grammar (1989, in the same series as Werner's sketch of Midob) gives a little more information on tonality in these languages:
"According to the evidence to date the languages of the Maba group would appear to have at least two phonemic tones. This seems to be true for Masalit (...). In Maba the situation appears to be more complex with several phonetic tone levels, though whether all are phonemic or not is not at present clear; the same holds true for Aiku ('Runga')." (Edgar 1989:13)

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