South Ethiopian pronouns and verbs in an Arab grammatical text revisited after seventy years.

Author:Bulakh, Maria
 
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To the memory of Baruch Podolsky

INTRODUCTION

Seventy years ago, Sidney Glazer edited in the pages of this journal what he called "a noteworthy passage from an Arab grammatical text." The fragment, going back to the famous fourteenth-century Arab grammarian Ab[u.bar] Hayy[a.bar]n, is indeed remarkable in several respects, not least because of the author's attempt to provide a kind of cross-linguistic survey of the origin of verbal inflection in five Near Eastern languages: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Coptic, and Ethiopian Semitic.

Glazer's analysis of the text is focused exclusively on its implications for Arab grammatical theory, with no attention to the material evidence of any of the foreign languages treated by Ab[u.bar] Hayy[a.bar]n (hereafter AH). Our short note is intended to fill this gap in what concerns the Ethiopic material, which includes six elements: (1)

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] he beat

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] he beats

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] you beat

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Hind beats

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] I beat

[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] we beat

To the best of our knowledge, no systematic analysis of the Ethiopic forms in AH's text has been undertaken since the publication of Glazer's article. In his extensive review of Leslau's Etymological Dictionary of Gurage, Gideon Goldenberg (1987: 93) gave some attention to Au' s pronominal forms, attributing their language to "an earlier form of what is now East Gurage," (2) while in Baruch Podolsky's pioneering study of the historical phonology of Amharic (1991), AH is twice referred to in connection with the pertinent phonological phenomena. It is to Podolsky's book that the present authors owe their acquaintance with the passage under scrutiny.

THE PRONOUN

The pronominal forms adduced by AU immediately betray their South Ethiopian origin. (3)

The first person plural form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (= * enya or * en(n)a) is compatible with cognate forms in the majority of modern South Ethiopian languages: Amharic [delta]nna, Harari ina, Soddo enna, Selti ina (Kane 1990: 1254; Leslau 1963: 29; 1979: 79).

In a similar way, the first person singular form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (= * eyya) has reliable parallels in the majority of gunnan-Gurage and East Gurage: Zway?[e.bar]ya, Masqan eyya, Ennemor eya, Chaha eya (Leslau 1979: 116). (4) Close to these forms is Argobba ay (Leslau 1997: 194). There is no explanation for the word-final hamza in the Arabic rendering, nor for the kasra that accompanies it.

The second person singular form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (= * ata) drastically reduces the choice, (5) as East Gurage is the only Southern Ethiopian sub-branch where such forms are attested: Selti, Wolane, and Zway ata (Leslau 1979: 102; Gutt 1997: 911; Meyer 2006: 165; 2005: 77).

THE VERB

  1. The root

    The sample root chosen by AH to illustrate the Ethiopian verbal paradigm is m-h-t ('to strike, to beat'), functionally corresponding to Arabic d-r-b. This root, going back to PS * mhs, is well attested in Geez and in the majority of Modern Ethiopian (Leslau 1963: 105; 1979: 437; 1987: 337). In today's East Gurage it is preserved only in Zway, but this is hardly a persuasive reason to exclude other languages of this sub-branch (or indeed other South Ethiopian languages) from consideration: the dialectal distribution of this root in AH's times may well have been much broader than today.

    The presence of h in the Arabic rendering is more than expected for such an early date: as is well known, some of the South Ethiopian languages (Argobba, Harari) preserve h ( t, for which our document seems to provide the earliest piece of evidence known so far. It stands to reason that in the source...

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