South Arabian Languages.

Edward Fox writes for Al-Fanar Media:

I used to think that Arabic was the only language native to the Arabian Peninsula. As a student of Arabic, I learned how the ancient grammarians built the rules of standard Arabic from the speech of the desert Arabs. I thought the language of the Qur’an and of classical Arabic literature was an only child: I knew it had ancestors, but I didn’t know it had any living relatives.

I learned that the story was not that simple many years later in Oman, when I travelled from Muscat to the sultanate’s southern province of Dhofar, a region separated from the capital by 1,000 kilometers of mostly featureless flat land. There I met a young man who told me he spoke a local language that was not Arabic. When I asked to know more, he obligingly, and to my astonishment, spoke a sample of a language called Shahri, a linguistic rarity spoken by a few thousand people in this part of Arabia. It sounded nothing like Arabic. He seemed delighted by my surprise, and proud of his ability. […]

Shahri, also known as Jibbali, is language that is spoken mainly in a remote mountainous region of Dhofar province. (The name Jibbali is derived from the Arabic word for mountain.) It is one of a handful of related languages spoken in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula that are distinct from Arabic, and are mostly unintelligible to speakers of the majority language.

The Unesco Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger identifies Shahri as one of six languages in this group. The others are Bathari, Harsusi, Hobyot, Mehri and Socotri (spoken on the island of Socotra). It’s unclear how many people speak these languages, since Oman, like many countries in the region, has never conducted a census, but experts estimate the total numbers of speakers of these languages in the tens of thousands. One of these languages—Bathari—is believed to be spoken by only 11 people.

Collectively, these languages are called the Modern South Arabian languages. Aaron Rubin, a professor of linguistics at Penn State University in the United States and the author of a grammar of Shahri/Jibbali, explains that the Modern South Arabian languages are a branch of the Semitic languages group that includes Arabic and Hebrew.

“If you look at the Semitic languages as a family tree, you will see that the Modern South Arabian languages diverged from the rest of the Semitic languages a long time ago,” he said in an interview. “Structurally, Jibbali has straightforward similarities to other Semitic languages. But the vocabulary is very different.” […] “There are sounds in Shahri that we think existed in an ancestor language called proto-Semitic, but which have been lost in Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic (a language of Ethiopia),” says Aaron Rubin, of Penn state.

There’s more on the South Arabian languages at the link, as well as two clips of Shahri being spoken. And I’m glad to be introduced to the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    Very much a cut above the usual stuff on linguistics (it’s nice to be able to give praise where it’s due.)
    Not least because the author has consulted not one but two actual experts on the subject.

    I was giving a lecture lately in which I had cause to mention Augustin-Jean Fresnel; I was happy to be able to tell the troops that he had a much more interesting younger brother, Fulgence

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulgence_Fresnel

    (Actually they seem to have been one of those families. Like the Ramsays (as in numbers and Archbishops.)

  2. David Eddyshaw says:

    (I should perhaps explain, having just noticed that Wikipedia doesn’t, that FF was the first linguist to discover the Modern South Arabian languages.)

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    After a bit of fossicking, I’ve remembered that the sickeningly polymathic family that was at the back of my mind were the children of Herbert William Fisher:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_William_Fisher

    who included HAL Fisher the historian and MP, an admiral, a chairman of Barclays Bank, the most celebrated editor of Tacitus (unfortunately killed in the Battle of Jutland), Ralph Vaughan Williams’ first wife and Charles Darwin’s daughter-in-law. No archbishops, though.

  4. John Cowan says:

    I used to have a plastic Fresnel lens stuck to the glass of the window in my living room. Very beautiful when the sun shone.

    the children of Herbert William Fisher

    Roland Fisher, statistician and co-founder of population genetics, belonged to another kettle of fishers altogether, however.

    I once worked with one of those Fodors: like me, almost the only non-Ph.D. in the family.

  5. Savalonôs says:

    These languages deserve better terminology, since the “Modern South Arabian” languages are not descended from “Old South Arabian”, plus Old South Arabian is not completely extinct in the modern era and Modern South Arabian languages presumably had ancestors that existed in the old days. Also “Arabian” might tend to confuse people into thinking that they are a subset of Arabic. I’ve heard Old South Arabian also referred to as Ṣayhadic (no idea where that name comes from) and Wikipedia suggests Yemenite as another option. For Modern South Arabian, the only alternative Wikipedia suggests is Eastern South Semitic, which I suppose is no more syllables than Modern South Arabian is.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Old South Arabian is not completely extinct in the modern era

    Oh!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Razihi_language

    I did not know that!

  7. Stu Clayton says:

    (Actually they seem to have been one of those families. Like the Ramsays (as in numbers and Archbishops.)

    The Ramsey number “solves the party problem”.

  8. David Eddyshaw says:

    like me, almost the only non-Ph.D. in the family

    I am the first in my paternal line even to have been to university; in my wife’s family, on the other hand, to have only one higher degree marks you as an underachiever.

    As I have remarked on several occasions to my daughter, no man worth bothering with for a moment wants a stupid woman as a wife (and, I dare say, vice versa.) Her significant other is pursuing a PhD which involves Python and Latin; I feel he is Worthy.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    The Ramsey number “solves the party problem”

    Small parties are always the best.
    (And otherwise we have to try to destroy the alien.)

  10. no man worth bothering with for a moment wants a stupid woman as a wife

    I was told this was a reason for South Korean female higher education.

    The entire point of it is to get a degree, work for a few years in a prestigious company, meet a promising young man, get married and become a housewife.

    Because, you know, any men worth having won’t marry stupid women.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    I am fairly confident that my daughter does not read this blog; if I’m wrong, we may be in for a flame war … (she lacks my invariable concern for courtesy above all. And she seems to have a remarkable number of Korean friends …)

    Actually, even that somewhat curdled take on the phenomenon would at least reflect an appreciation on the part of Korean manhood that clever girls are worth catching. These things take time …

  12. I was told this was a reason for South Korean female higher education.

    The inside joke in these Mormon parts of the world is that the girls go to college to get their R.M.

    Strictly speaking it isn’t one of the degrees of the alphabetic soup, but stands for Returned Missionary

  13. Stu Clayton says:

    I imagine some men appreciate the extra power kick in the idea of subduing a woman smarter than they are. It’s beset with conceptual risk, though, since if they succeed it suggests she wasn’t so smart after all.

    As Gertrude Stein used to say: plus ça change, plus c’est la même rose.

  14. John Cowan says:

    Furthermore, it’s doubtful that the six MSA languages are actually a clade. It’s clear that Mehri, Harsusi, and Bathari are closely related, but the common elements in all six may well be shared retentions: there is no clear evidence of shared innovations, nor of any shared innovations between MSA and Ethiopic Semitic. It’s the Central Semitic languages (Arabic, Aramaic, Hebrew, and their extinct relatives) that are clearly innovative, and the rest are just various leftover groups that don’t really fit together.

  15. OT/BDT (Off Topic/But Down Thread, so maybe it’s okay …)

    An article on the difficulties of translation, from that old favorite of linguists and intellectuals everywhere – Entertainment Weekly:
    https://ew.com/books/2018/10/19/harry-potter-translators/

    If it starts with a fart joke, things can only get better, right?

    I actually think it’s pretty good. Here’s a sample:

    >“There is an unhappy wizard in the Goblet of Fire who sadly is unable to attend the Triwizard Tournament, suffering from a condition named “lumbago.” For this medical term we have the common expression ‘Hexenschuss’ – witches’ shot. Of course I used this funny coincidence with gusto. There was no pun intended in the original, but sometimes it is legitimate to use a pun in our own language to make up for puns that we possibly lost in other parts of the translation.”

    I believe that was Newton’s 3rd Law of Translation – the conservation of puns.

    One amusing mistake that got past the C.E. – “Isreal.” The author would seem to be Jewish. Did she never read the final copy and ask for a correction?

  16. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    No archbishops, though.

    Not Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961, therefore?

  17. dainichi says:

    SFReader: “The entire point of it is to get a degree, work for a few years in a prestigious company, meet a promising young man, get married and become a housewife.”
    David Eddyshaw: “even that somewhat curdled take on the phenomenon would at least reflect an appreciation on the part of Korean manhood that clever girls are worth catching.”

    David, not necessarily. The young men at prestigious companies might marry their female coworkers, not because they’re clever, but just because they’re the ones around. And with the working hours they have to put up with, they might not have time to look for potential wives elsewhere. I’ve heard this about Japan too, by the way.

  18. Stu Clayton says:

    In a way those could be called mariages de convenance, if it is permitted this once to mistranslate “convenance” as “convenience”.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve heard Old South Arabian also referred to as Ṣayhadic

    IIRC, that’s a script, not a language.

  20. Lars (the original one) says:

    Also MSA so much means Modern Standard Arabic that any other name for the group would be better.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    Not Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury

    Apparently not, though I had originally misremembered him as one of the clan.

    Aristophanes’ Frogs starts with fart jokes. It’s got something for everybody.

    The young men at prestigious companies might marry their female coworkers, not because they’re clever, but just because they’re the ones around. And with the working hours they have to put up with, they might not have time to look for potential wives elsewhere.

    From Richard Gordon’s Doctor in Love:

    It is a fact well known to the medical profession that doctors marry either nurses, other doctors, or barmaids. During the most marriageable years these are the only women they meet.

  22. John Cowan says:

    get their R.M.

    A very dated mainstream-American version of this is “going to college to get your M.R.S.”

  23. @X, when I did my graduate work at BYU, I heard more people use the sexist line that L.D.S. women went for their “M.R.S.” degree, read as three letters. That they specifically went to find an “R.M.” was a given, because young men who failed to “serve a mission” were less “worthy”. (Need to wash my mouth out after all that Mormonspeak.)

    What I found fascinating were the EE/EE dances, specifically held for Elecrrical Engineering and Elementary Education majors – large programs with severe gender imbalances. Sadly this just 20-25 years ago.

    As a closeted gay graduate student who was nevertheless an R.M., I found the sociology fascinating.

    Okay, enough derailment.

  24. An anecdote of how the Soviet central planning worked at its best.

    There was a large center of textile industry in central Russian city of Ivanovo with such overwhelmingly female (and quite young) labor force that it got a nickname – “bride town”.

    The Soviet planners decided to fix the dangerous gender imbalance by building in Ivanovo one of the largest airbases of the Soviet Air Force.

    It worked very well – lots of young factory girls married young air force lieutenants to everyone’s satisfaction.

  25. John Cowan says:

    Aristophanes’ Frogs starts with fart jokes.

    The Arrowsmith translation has the hero of The Acharnians say about his wife: “The dawn comes up like thunder. So does she.”

  26. David Eddyshaw says:

    that L.D.S. women […] specifically went to find an “R.M.” was a given, because young men who failed to “serve a mission” were less “worthy”

    In William Foley’s superb (if somewhat intimidating) grammar of the Yimas language of New Guinea, I read:

    only boys who had killed in a headhunting raid were permitted to wear a pubic covering of a flying fox skin and hence be eligible to take a wife.

    Mormons, Yimas … truly, all men are brothers.

  27. John Cowan: I don’t want to toot my own horn too much here, but your comment to the effect that Modern South Arabian (=MSA) languages (and/or Ethiopian Semitic) may not form a genetic subgroup within Semitic is very interesting: If they indeed do not, this would seem to be *very* compatible with the scenario I suggested here (July 12 4:05 comment) involving the spread of Semitic out of Africa (and I meant “West Coast of Arabia” when I wrote “East Coast of Arabia”, nota bene):

    http://languagehat.com/natufian-origin-for-afroasiatic/

  28. Here‘s a direct link to Etienne’s comment.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve come across the idea that Proto-Semitic was spoken in the Rub al-Khali. When that place, which at one point was a river delta, became one of the driest on Earth, some of the people moved north and founded East Semitic, while others moved south and founded West/Rest Semitic.

    Elementary Education

    I’ve recently learned that many women of various fundamentalist stripes study that to better educate their own children, whom they expect to have promptly after they’ve married and become housewives.

  30. Savalonôs says:

    Well, if “Modern South Arabian” isn’t really a clade, then maybe “Eastern South Semitic” communicates the appropriate level of vagueness.

    @David Marjanović See https://www.academia.edu/2603460/The_subgrouping_of_the_Semitic_languages , part 7 on Old South Arabian a.k.a. Ṣayhadic.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    I must have confused it with something, maybe Safaitic.

    BTW, as useful as this introduction is, its discussion of the evidence in terms of “what is reliable, and what must be ignored” reminds me of the 1950s in biology. Right at the beginning, the most important innovation of West Semitic – and the only one we’re shown – is said to be the replacement of a past tense by a perfect tense (which comes from an older stative, preserved as such in East Semitic). But such things are capable of areal spread just like phonological and phonetic innovations. The English present-perfect tense has analogs all over Northwest Germanic today, but that is a borrowing from Romance, which in turn got it from Greek; and while I suppose it could be a borrowing into Proto-West-Germanic, I’d be quite surprised if Proto-NW-Gmc. already had it, given how rare it is in the oldest texts and how old it could be in Romance. Next, its practically complete replacement of an inherited past tense in French and Upper German has identifiable internal motivations on both sides, but the geography makes that suspicious – some or all of the internal motivations could be motivations for borrowing instead of for an internal development.

    Even further by the way, the author has a number of interesting publications on his Academia.edu page one click away. How about the first-ever study of Judeo-Urdu?

  32. SFReader says:

    Someone should publish on the Odessa dialect and call it Judeo-Russian.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    Sure, but Judeo-Urdu is written in Hebrew letters, so it’s 273% more Jewish.

  34. Didn’t anybody ever write Russian in Hebrew letters?

  35. John Cowan says:

    Ṣayhadic, says the WP talk page, was a name proposed by A. F. L. Beeston “as a convenient term after the medieval name [Ṣayhad] for the desert Ramlat al-Sab´atayn where many inscriptions have been found”. The desert is on the undefined border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia; the WP article on it says it “extends from al-Khawr to the edge of the Rub’ al-Khālī or Empty Quarter.”

    The fact that we now know about a modern Ṣayhadic language makes “Old South Arabian” an even more unapt (not to say inept) term.

  36. Owlmirror says:

    Didn’t anybody ever write Russian in Hebrew letters?

    The link posted by Savalonôs is to a work by Aaron Rubin (one of the linguists who contributed to the OP). Other works on by the same author include “The Jibbali (Shahri) Language of Oman: Grammar and Texts” (specifically relevant to the OP), and a work he co-edited and co-introduced, “Handbook of Jewish Languages”.

    While the latter is unfortunately just a ToC, it includes a chapter titled “Jewish Russian”, by Anna Verschik, followed immediately by “Judeo-Slavic”, by Brad Sabin Hill.

    Rubin contributed a chapter on Judeo-Italian, and the epilogue, “Other Jewish Languages, Past and Present”.

  37. David: I think you are a little unfair, the author refers several times to the difficulty involved in separating inherited and diffused changes. The cautious, consensus classification he offers, with all non-Central Western Semitic varieties spoken today (or, in the case of Ethiopic, spoken in the past) in the far South of the Arabian peninsula, does seem to indicate that West Semitic first broke up there, which in turn fits the theory I presented here rather nicely (whether, in addition, the rub’ al-Khālī played a role in the diversification of Semitic or not I will leave to people more qualified than I to answer). In fact, if his classification is accepted, it seems well-nigh impossible to believe that the migrants who introduced Proto-Semitic into the Middle East could have arrived from Africa via a route near the Mediterranean.

  38. Owlmirror says:

    Anna Verschik has an Academia page as well, which includes works titled: “Yiddish, Jewish Russian, and Jewish Lithuanian in the Former Soviet Union” and “Jewish Russian and the field of ethnolect study”.

    [ Not linking because WordPress doesn’t seem to like me doing so. Or at least, a comment with a link disappeared for a while before resurfacing.]

  39. January First-of-May says:

    Or at least, a comment with a link disappeared for a while before resurfacing.

    Anything with more than one link, or anything with one link that gets edited, is sent into moderation, and has to be rescued manually by the blog owner. This usually takes several hours.

  40. just a ToC, it includes a chapter titled “Jewish Russian”, by Anna Verschik, followed immediately by “Judeo-Slavic”, by Brad Sabin Hill.

    A bit more than just a TOC. Opening pages are available too.
    https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004297357/B9789004297357_021.xml?lang=en

    There, the discussion starts from Old Czech “Cnaanic” glosses but later on Hill promises to discuss “East Judeo-Slavic” spanning a later era up to XVII c., of which to my knowledge nothing exists but a lone XVII c. note in one of 9 documents appended to Wilno rabbi Shabbetai haKohen’s treatise on the halacha. Still it’s fascinating to think that somewhere in far-flung Lithuania, some – quite likely a Jew – needed a comment on the Ashkenazi traditional law worded in Slavic.

    The note is credited to Shabbetai’s father Meyer “Katz” (Kohen Tzedek) Ashkinazi, who spent his late years in Mogilev in today’s Eastern Belarus, then on the Eastern-most fringes of the Ashkenazi Jewish settlement area , having been invited from Frankfurt area to spread wisdom in the East.

  41. This usually takes several hours.

    Sometimes it only takes a few minutes; it all depends on when I notice there’s something in moderation.

  42. Dmitry Pruss says:

    In active discussions, sometimes a delay means that a comment appears pages above the apparent end of thread. And it may be a lot harder to notice, then. Is it feasible to update publication time when approving?

    I have one in this thread btw

  43. I’ve rescued it!

  44. later on Hill promises to discuss “East Judeo-Slavic” spanning a later era up to XVII c., of which to my knowledge nothing exists but a lone XVII c. note in one of 9 documents appended to Wilno rabbi Shabbetai haKohen’s treatise on the halacha. Still it’s fascinating to think that somewhere in far-flung Lithuania, some – quite likely a Jew – needed a comment on the Ashkenazi traditional law worded in Slavic.

    The note is credited to Shabbetai’s father Meyer “Katz” (Kohen Tzedek) Ashkinazi, who spent his late years in Mogilev in today’s Eastern Belarus, then on the Eastern-most fringes of the Ashkenazi Jewish settlement area , having been invited from Frankfurt area to spread wisdom in the East.
    Sorry for an extensive self quote. I was duped by a popular misinterpretation of R. Katz’s passage which travels from one study to another without assessing the original. Alexander Beider carefully debunks it in “Origins of Yiddish Dialects” (Oxford University Press, 2015). There is no “responsa in Hebrew-glossed Slavic”. Instead, a lone word is glossed, and it’s a Slavic toponym. Basically R. Katz, a Westerner, gripes that the Jews of Mogilev can’t stick to proper Yiddish and instead use Russian, as in using a toponym Brest for a town the Jews should properly call Brisk. To an uninformed observer, it may sound like a prescriptivist observation of Russian or rather Belarussian borrowing. Or maybe even, gasp, of a complete switch to Judeo-Slavic.

    Beider shows, however, that it was the form Brisk which was borrowed, from Poland’s German settlers, and by mid XVII c it has become a norm in Polish Yiddish but not yet further East. He also quotes from several Slavic documents with Jewish names of mid-XVII c Mogilev, like contracts and list of pogrom victims, to support the conclusion that Yiddish was the primary language of all of them.

    So the old wise man was just dissing the local usage for a misplaced reason, and then the modern researchers made (as both Ashkenazi and Slavs would say) an elephant out of a fly (which would be a mountain out of a molehill in English)

  45. Fascinating, I love molehills like that!

  46. Hill promises to discuss “East Judeo-Slavic” spanning a later era up to XVII c.

    An addendum from Alexander Beider: Brad Sabin Hill discusses another Hebrew-glossed Slavic line also linked to the legacy of R. Katz of Mogilev, and first discussed by Dubnow in “Jewish Antiquities” 1909 (1), 15. In this second case, the text is 100% Slavic, w/o a “Judeo” part. There, a Jewish witness retells what a Christian witness of a murder said, in Belorussian recorded with Hebrew characters.

    Here is how Dubnow re-glossed it in Cyrillics: ваш школьник, что на школьном (дворе?) живал: зарезали яго як куры резав… там богаты мужики не бардзо везьмут ~~ Your synagogue assistant, who used to live at the synagogue compound, they slaughtered him like they slaughter hens … there are rich peasants (or many peasants) who wouldn’t take much [to do it?]

  47. Owlmirror says:

    школьник

    Hm; I know I’ve seen/heard “Skolnik” (or some variant) as a family name. It means . . . beadle (Wikipedia says the Hebrew terms are gabbai or shamash)? Is that right?

    Is “shkol” the Russian/Slavic word for “shul”?

  48. Owlmirror says:

    Anything with more than one link, or anything with one link that gets edited, is sent into moderation,

    I think there’s more to it than that. The comment I posted had one link, and the whole thing disappeared as soon as I posted it (so no editing took place).

    I think the other factors may include the length of the comment, the age of the original post, the number of previous comments to the original post, the number of previous comments made by the commentator, the character sets used in the comment, certain words used in the comment, whether approval has been given previously, and for all I know, the phase of the moon and whether a carp has been properly sacrificed to the Highest God.

  49. My great-grandfather (the one who was president of the Workers’ Circle in Chicago) said he spoke two languages back in Bobruisk*: Yiddish and Russian. I think he would have scoffed at the notion of a Judeo-Russian dialect; the use of the specifically Jewish terminology in running Russian speech was just code switching into Yiddish.

    * He and his brothers talked about Bobruisk as being part of the Ukraine, not White Russia. Although the city is quite centrally located in modern Belarus, they had all gotten out of the Russian empire by 1909.

    @Owlmirror: There are other things, besides having two HTML links that can push a comment to moderation. Cyrillic letters were causing a lot of trouble a while back, although they might be safer now. However, links are by far the most common issue. And if your comment ever does not appear, you can always e-mailed Hat to let him know he has something in the moderation queue.

  50. whether a carp has been properly sacrificed to the Highest God.

    The carp is very important.

  51. I’ve seen/heard “Skolnik” (or some variant) as a family name. It means . . . beadle (Wikipedia says the Hebrew terms are gabbai or shamash)? Is that right?

    Is “shkol” the Russian/Slavic word for “shul”?
    A Skolnick was my genetics mentor. Yes it is a fairly common “professional” surname; Yad Vashem has over 70 pages of Skolnicks/Shkolniks among the genocide victims…

    I couldn’t find a good English translation to shkolnik as an occupation, and regular Russian dictionaries offer a false-friend shkolnik = grade school student, a pupil. The two words are full cognates of course, since Yiddish shul => Russian calque “shkola” (school). Only smaller congregations were officially designated as “prayer schools”, while the larger ones were officially “synagogues”. The law prescribed how many Jewish houses of prayer can be in a shtetle, depending on its population, and 2 “schools” were equivalent to 1 synagogue. But a Shulhoff was always calqued as “a school yard”, школьный двор.

    Russian translation of shkolnik, служка, is a full equivalent of shamash, but gabbai is used in Russian primarily as a Karaite title.

  52. spoke two languages back in Bobruisk*: Yiddish and Russian. I think he would have scoffed at the notion of a Judeo-Russian dialect; the use of the specifically Jewish terminology in running Russian speech was just code switching into Yiddish.
    Just like Yinglish, there was a variety of Yiddish-infused Russian dialects, with peculiar grammar often showing Ukrainian influences as well, peculiar phonetics (part-reflected in spelling since Russian spellings hew closer to phonetics) and borrowings (some of which permeated slang and over time became mainstream if low-register Russian words, like хохма or шмон). But they were universally glossed in Cyrillics, and universally derided as illiterate. Few people would consider Yinglish a “Judeo-English”, and the same ought to apply to the transitional Russian dialects which similarly didn’t last and weren’t meant to last. There is also an extant Russian idiom of Israel, grammatically and phonetically quite correct but heavy on borrowings (мазган!). It’s in all likelihood a transitional immigrant dialect, too, but we will know better in 30 or 40 years.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    David: I think you are a little unfair, the author refers several times to the difficulty involved in separating inherited and diffused changes.

    And then he uses this difficulty as a reason to exclude all phonological innovations from consideration, because they are potentially areal, while the fact that morphological innovations can be areal, too, is not mentioned.

    This is how phylogenetics worked in biology, too, back when it was an art: authors who understood the difficulties perfectly well drastically simplified these difficulties into reasons for considering a very small part of the evidence and discarding all the rest.

    In fact, if his classification is accepted, it seems well-nigh impossible to believe that the migrants who introduced Proto-Semitic into the Middle East could have arrived from Africa via a route near the Mediterranean.

    Yes.

  54. Sounds good, though one remaining option might be to treat southern Arabia as a residual zone, populated by speakers of various groups coming in from the north in several waves over the centuries. The dialectology of Arabic itself sure looks close enough to something like this… but maybe that’s actually rather due to substrate effects.

    I like the counterclockwise-eastern-Semitic theory for imaginativeness, but I’d expect to then find some evidence for it from the usual stuff like placenames along the Gulf. I would consider also a pilot expansion model: East Semitic heads north along the same route as Central Semitic, just a millennium or so earlier, so as to create (1) a trail of related varieties that can be easily assimilated entirely under a CSem. expansion, (2) a relatively distinctive language boundary once only Akkadian in the far northeast is left. (Compare Chuvash vs. Common Turkic, or Brythonic vs. Romance.)

    Some time ago I also used to change views with a guy who thinks Semitic broke up in Ethiopia and crossed north from there in multiple waves, one perhaps clockwise around the Red Sea; but this never got developed in good enough detail and I kind of suspect Teeter’s Law (he’s Tigrinya and talks up a lot the diversity of “Afro-Semitic”) and/or overapplied decolonial theory (he has tended to spend a lot of time on how racist Africanists of yore were vs. not that much on why exactly their views were wrong).

  55. Teeter’s law: The language of the family you know best always turns out to be the most archaic.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    Teeter’s law
    Heh!

    I can see an obvious mechanism for this, especially with relatively understudied families: your pet language is the only one well enough described for the archaic feature you are obsessing about to have actually been documented.

    For example: a closed but fairly large subgroup of Kusaal verbs have an imperfective form in *-ya rather than the default *-da, and I have found no description of anything similar in any other Western Oti-Volta language. It is undoubtedly ancient, with exactly parallel formations in the much less closely related language Nawdm, where the cognate suffix is quite productive; Nawdm jeɦra “is standing”, for example, matches its synonymous Kusaal cognate zi’e(ya) exactly, phoneme by phoneme.

    I strongly suspect that this appearance of uniqueness in antiqueness is simply an artefact of the relevant formations having been missed in other Western Oti-Volta languages. There are tantalising glimpses in the example sentences in some of the dictionaries …

  57. John Cowan says:

    But, but, but, there are no shared innovations (that I know of) between Modern South Arabian and Ethiopic. Surely the obvious hypothesis is that Semitic broke up in Central Semitic-land, with the homeland later innovating and the outliers (Mehri/Harsusi/Bathari, Jibbali, Soqotri, Hobyot, Proto-Ethiopic) not. I mean, like English.

    (And not like Niger-Congo, where all the outliers are concentrated on the northern edge. I discovered this truly delightful map of Niger-Congo the other day, which rather than assigning a different color to each group, assigns colors to non-Atlantic-Congo, non-Volta-Congo, non-Benue-Congo, non-Bantoid, non-Bantu, and Bantu, showing the Russian-doll structure of Niger-Congo, where at each level Bantu there are a few outlier groups and languages and then the great bulk of the languages and speech areas are in the next level, or doll. You can go further and say that Bantu A and much of Bantu B are the outliers for a True-Bantu doll.)

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is the spread of k from the first person of the suffix conjugation to the second. I believe that this is generally discounted as not meaning much, on the grounds that it’s not difficult to imagine it happening independently (Central Semitic also levelled, but the other way, after all.) It depends on what you mean by “shared”, I suppose.

  59. John Cowan says:

    On moderation: if you do not edit again after adding your one permitted link, you do not go into moderation no matter how many times you have already edited, a fact I used to advantage above. Add the link last, when you are sure everything else is right!

    UPDATE: Wrong, wrong, wrong! Doing that just postpones moderation until the timer expires.

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed. Your comment that I replied to has now disappeared. I must practice my parallel programming skills. Or my Kriegspiel.

    (I am manfully resisting the temptation to wait ten minutes and then add a link for the evulz.)

  61. David Marjanović says:

    I kind of suspect Teeter’s Law (he’s Tigrinya and talks up a lot the diversity of “Afro-Semitic”)

    I know who you mean. On the one hand, he absolutely has a point that “Afro-Semitic” is dramatically underresearched (one does not simply walk into Ethiopia); on the other, he has resorted to ideas like [f], widespread in Ethiopia, being a retention from Proto-Semitic and [p] being derived from [f] – the only way to get that to work would be a substrate strong enough to completely destroy the famous Semitic grammar.

  62. AJP Crown says:

    a closed but fairly large subgroup of Kusaal verbs have an imperfective form in *-ya rather than the default *-da, and I have found no description of anything similar in any other Western Oti-Volta language.

    You could probably clear this up if you had some examples with goats.

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    Very true. I should have thought of that.

    Bʋkaŋa la pʋ zi’eya.
    Bʋpielkaŋa la daa pʋ zi’eya.
    Bʋsabilbamma la pʋ zi’e kpɛɛ.

    I hope that clarifies the matter.

  64. David Marjanović says:

    kpɛɛ

    Is that the sound Kusaal-speaking goats make?

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    Yup. Same as modern Greek sheep go vi, vi.

  66. AJP Crown says:

    Bʋkaŋa – this goat, but unfortunately
    Bʋpielkaŋa la daa pʋ zi’eya – did not match any documents. I’m going to have to read A Grammar of Kusaal.

    kpɛɛ

    seems crazy but it makes sense when I think about it. Goats have voices several octaves higher than sheep, at least the ones around here do.

  67. I just saw Tarkovsky’s last movie, Offret/The Sacrifice, and at one point a completely unmotivated flock of sheep wandered across the field of view, bleating. Also, a dog barked in the distance.

  68. David Eddyshaw says:

    seems crazy

    Indeed it does.
    I believe that the caprine vocal apparatus has been shown to be incapable of producing doubly articulated consonants.

    I owe the observations on the cry of the sheep to Erasmus, that fine zoologist.

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    not like Niger-Congo, where all the outliers are concentrated on the northern edge

    Nah.

    This is an artefact of the tail-wagging-the-dog notion still all too unthinkingly propagated that gives Bantu (a subgroup of a subgroup) a primacy in reconstruction of Niger-Congo for which there is no evidence. Bear in mind that Bantu has expanded over central and southern Africa in something less than three thousand years (much less, for most of its current range.)

    You could create exactly the same sort of illusion for the Tarim-Liffey languages by drawing a map detailing all the Germanic languages with all their dialects in detail along with some big labels for “Slavonic”, “Italic”, “Indic” etc. Germanic outliers …
    The map shows three and a half languages in Ghana (which has about forty) and about a dozen in Nigeria, which has something over two hundred.

    The Bantu languages (or at least the better known of them) have a wonderful agglutinative exuberance combined with relatively extensive documentation which all too readily led to the idea that in reconstructing proto-Bantu (a comparatively straightforward task for a subgroup of a subgroup) you were pretty much reconstructing proto-Niger-Congo. But there’s good reason (or at least an argument not to be cursorily dismissed) to suppose that in the verbal system in particular this is the result of innovation, welding previously independent pronouns and particles to verb words, not an ancient morphological survival. As Tom Güldemann has pointed out, the very regularity and transparency of the agglutinative Bantu verbal system is a strong argument against it being a survival from proto-Niger-Congo. It must be either a relatively recent creation, or have been extensively and repeatedly remodelled by analogy.

    My own impression is that Oti-Volta as a group is pretty conservative (possibly illustrating Teeters’s Law, I guess, but …) The crucial comparative work on proto-Oti-Volta is all there still waiting to be done: the standard references are still the many-decades-old work on “Gur” of Gabriel Manessy, who achieved much and had the right ideas but was working with vastly less extensive data than are now available and made some stonking methodological errors.

    Mande is probably not related to Niger-Congo at all, and is therefore not an example of an outlier; and the connexion of (bits of) Kordofanian and Atlantic to core Niger-Congo is a long-range hypothesis right up there with Altaic, not a demonstrable fact like Indoeuropean. Calling them outliers is putting the cart before the horse.

    [Addendum: on reading your post more carefully, I see that I am in fact agreeing with you. For “Nah” at the top, read “Yup” and make minor adjustments in polarity as required …]

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    To put it fractionally more succintly: there is indeed a significant decrease in diversity of structure within Niger-Congo as you go southward, but it’s not because the northern languages are outliers: it’s because the southern languages all belong to a single twig of the tree which has expanded over a huge geographical area comparatively recently.

  71. AJP Crown says:

    bleating
    The sheep around here make deep, stentorian roars.

    incapable of producing doubly articulated consonants
    Our goats didn’t communicate very much vocally, except always as a greeting or to otherwise attract your attention. They expressed details to humans by eye movement, looking in the direction of different foods or doorways and then back at you, but between themselves – and besides the social subtleties of butting – there always seemed to be subliminal interactions that were harder for me to identify. As with dogs, smells tell them an awful lot about what’s been going on.

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