Monday, April 14, 2008

whirlwind tour of the world

when I last wrote I was on my way to Mauritania, and I did in fact make it there, via Qatar to Morrocco and overland down to Nouakchott. On the always interesting stretch through the Western Sahara, I got to chat with some Hassaniya-speaking young men who were all too eager to share some poetry sha'bi with me, including not just givan but tulha, which are more like full sonnets where the gaf is simply a quatrain:
اصبر يا عقلي لا بعاد
وكر المدقوق بلا عنان
واصبر محدّاك بين زاد
اقلاب الدوقج ساكن
واصبر تشواشك لا نزاد
ولى حرك من ساكن
هذا ما كُن يغير بعد
أل؟ فخلاقي ما كُن
ماهو ما كُن فخلاق حد
احزيمُ ماهو ماكُن
سبحان الله الاشوي
عاد إلزم كفسارة
هذا ميجك؟ ما زال حي
وأقليبات الفرفارة

from the Tiris ( تيرس ) region...
I wish I could translate this accurately for you, but I have forgotten their explanation at the time, and too manz of the words are unfamiliar for me to spin it off right now... but on to more hassaniya poetry... this is one of my favorite tongue/twister givan:
سالكة من ورقتها تيات
وسلامة لهذاها الهاها
الهاها الين الهاها
نسات الناس لهذاها

Salecka from her leaves made tea
and Salama from over here [went] over there
that one there if over there
she forgot the ones over here

interpretation: Salecka was making atai (Mauritanian foamy espresso green tea with mint) and she spotted her buddy Salama (who in more suggestive versions of the poem is a man not a woman) over yonder. She was so preoccupied with her over there that she got the people nearby who she was making tea for. I'll have to confess I don't totally understand all the grammar and whatnot, but it always draws lots of exclamations of uskiin from the beydhan.

... carrying right along, I ended up losing my passport, getting stuck in Morocco, and ultimately denied entrance into the Sudan because of my emergency passport, and their unwillingness to accept my former residency and work permit and everything else. They even had the gall to write on my deportation papers "questionable or forged documents."

After finding out it would take a while to get a real passport with an acceptable visa, I figured I should take the opportunity to visit a friend who happened to be in Spain, my favorite phonologist and Finn, in Zaragoza, i.e. Tharagotha (homeland of Zarathustra, as one friend claimed). This city is a great example of mudejarismo, but I didn't really get a great opportunity to check that out... though I did get a bit of a start on Finnish language, which some say is magical...
I was particularly interested in the reality of diglossia among Finnish speakers - the written language is quite different from the spoken language, even to the extent that if you are learning Finnish from a book, the greeting they will teach will be "hei," when in reality people would only say "moi." As I travelled on through Barcelona, and then Switzerland, I realized that there is a surprising amount of diglossia going on around Europe. Catalan is now being written more, but it seems as though most all books and longer writing is Spanish, while in Switzerland there is quite a difference between the swizzedeutsch and spoken altedeutsch. Sure, everybody has to use a slightly different register between writing and speech, but I would have thought, there would be a tendency towards convergence, except in the cases like Arabic, where the spoken dialects are spread over many different countries. It seems like there is instead a more general move towards convergence in written language norms, and divergence in spoken language... which leads to greater difference for each individual between their speech and their writing.
Well, that is a summary of the last month, which also has seen the momentous return of bulbulovo to the blogosphere, most recently with an interesting post on foreign languages in "Law and Order."

7 comments:

Panu said...

Finnish is hardly very diglossic. Finns are avid readers, and written language exerts a tremendous influence upon spoken language. The most important reason why Finnish should be called "diglossic" are the colloquial reductions, but it is perfectly possible to mix the two varieties in an idiosyncratic way, and there is really no clear limit between formal and informal.

A Finnish linguist said...

Yes, colloquial Finnish draws a lot of influence from the literary language, but so do Arabic dialects, too. The difference is clearly smaller than in Arabic, but it's not inexistent. The core of the Arabic literary language is at least 1000 years older than the Finnish standard, so Arabic dialects have had way more time to develop.

Even if Finns read a lot, most everybody is still struggling with the ever-growing list of things to be avoided in writing, and most people fail to write "right" at least occasionally. Colloquial Finnish of Helsinki area, for instance, does not usually distinguish between some common function words (vain ~ vaan, kuin ~ kun), human and non-human pronouns (hän ~ se, he ~ ne, joku ~ jokin), 3sg and 3pl verb forms, and sg and pl past participles. In addition, (Helsinki) colloquial uses -(t)VVn instead of -mme for the 1pl verbal ending, -ks instead of -kO for the interrogative suffix, -is instead of -isi for 3sg and passive (=1pl) conditional, double marking of the passive in compound tenses (ei oltu tehty instead of ei ollut tehty), possessive suffixes only for 3sg/pl reflexive and 2sg (literary Finnish for all persons and numbers), different rules of verbal agreement for many auxiliaries (alkaa tekeen instead of alkaa tehdä, and pystyy tehä instead of pystyy tekemään), different rules of agreement for some impersonal constructions (juttu pitää olla valmis instead of jutun pitää olla valmis), different short forms of the 1st infinitive for type IV verbs (haluun tapaa instead of haluan tavata), different conjugation for type V verbs (tarviin instead of tarvitsen), lots of redundant subject pronouns (mä oon instead of olen), hardly any complex verbal phrase embeddings, no potential mood etc.

As for the vocabulary, the colloquial has different phonological forms for a multitude of words and word forms in addition to the sporadic reduced forms I think Panu is referring to (such as meen for menen, for minä): The /d/ sound of the literary language is consistently dropped in the colloquial in /hd/ (yheksän instead of yhdeksän, tehä instead of tehdä), and sometimes between vowels, too (meiän instead of meidän, syyä as an alternative to syödä), literary /ts/ is often /tt/~/t/ in commonly used native words (ite and itteensä instead of itse and itseään), clusters of vowels belonging to different syllables are often simplified, often resulting in different inflections, too (tärkee and tärkeetä instead of tärkeä and tärkeää, haluu instead of haluaa), a couple of common derivational suffixes with a diphthong ending in -i drop the i (punanen instead of punainen, kirjottaa instead of kirjoittaa). Even still, many words which belong to a fully neutral register in speech, are hardly used at all in writing: one should write pitää instead of tykätä (to like), aikoa instead of meinata (to intend), kappale instead of biisi (a piece of music), pesäpallo instead of pesis (a Finnish sport resembling baseball), ensimmäinen instead of eka (first), hankkia instead of hommata (to get oneself something), pudota instead of tippua when talking about solid objects (to drop) etc.

This might not be called diglossia, since nobody is arguing colloquial Finnish and literary Finnish were actually two different languages and not just two different varieties of a single language, but you can certainly see the diglossic there. Two diverging registers on their way to diglossia, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Two diverging registers on their way to diglossia, perhaps?

This would be much more to the point. However, I don't really think the divergence is irreversible. My point is that very formal and very informal registers can be used side by side. On Internet discussion boards, for example, one person can use a very informal, another one a relatively formal style - there is really no definite imperative telling that you MUST use a particular style here. And, also, I must say that even young persons tend to be more formal than you would expect. The written representation of unedited spoken language is not very typical of the written Finnish of real youngsters. It is more typical of advertisers appealing to the young, or Anja Kauranen-Snellman-whatever torturing her readers.

Panu (too lazy to sign in)

bulbul said...

Welcome back, khawaji, and thanks for the plug :)

As a student of the Finnish language, I find myself agreeing with our host and the finnish linguist: there is something eerily diglossic about Finnish. I had studied Finnish for three years before I came to Finland (Jyväskylä) and I still remember the frustration I felt when trying to understand my roommate, let alone trying to express myself in Finnish.
Thanks for the comprehensive list of differences, by the way. Most of the items there apply to the colloquial Finnish I heard in Keski-Suomi. I wonder where does stadin slangi fit here...

This might not be called diglossia, since nobody is arguing colloquial Finnish and literary Finnish were actually two different languages and not just two different varieties of a single language
Actually, diglossia describes a situation where two different varieties of one language coexist, each fulfilling different functions. Kathereusa vs. dimotiki in Greece, Hochdeutsch vs. dialect in, say, Vienna, Modern Standard Arabic vs. ammiyya/darija and so forth. Two different language needn't be involved. Well, actually, that depends on what constitutes a separate language...

Anonymous said...

What I find problematic about the idea of Finnish diglossia is the fact that the two varieties are not strictly compartmentalized. You can speak literary Finnish to a person who addresses you in colloquial. You will not be ridiculed, except probably if you are both teenagers. There is very much variation, but diglossia? I think the sociolinguistic part of diglossia is not there.

Panu (still too lazy to sign in)

bulbul said...

two varieties are not strictly compartmentalized.
Are they ever?

You can speak literary Finnish to a person who addresses you in colloquial. You will not be ridiculed
Of course not, literary Finnish is the variety with the prestige.
But how about the other way around - say the prime minister would address the press corps in colloquial Finnish or in a dialect. What would happen?

David Marjanović said...

You seem to have come across an Italian who explained the situation of German in Switzerland to you. The dialects are collectively called Schweizerdeutsch or rather Schwyzerdütsch (with [i:]), and the standardized language is called Schriftsprache ("script language") or Hochdeutsch ("High German" -- though actually this term applies to all southern varieties of German, spoken where the land is high: the Swiss dialects are much higher than the standard!).

Such a situation also characterizes most of Austria, except that there the register divide is lower down (in Switzerland the TV weather is presented in dialect), and there are a lot fewer attempts to write Austrian dialects (though one reason for this is clearly their vowel system, which diverges far from that of Standard German).

Enough parentheses yet? :^)