Tsessebe/Sassaby.

This is another of those posts sparked by my noticing an unfamiliar word and spending too much time trying to figure it out. There’s an African antelope (Damaliscus lunatus lunatus) called either tsessebe or sassaby; Wikipedia and AHD have it under the former, the OED under the latter. The duality goes way back; Richard Lydekker’s The Game Animals of Africa (R. Ward, 1908) has a section headed THE TSESSEBE OR SASSABY. Why hasn’t a single form been settled on? Furthermore, the OED (entry from 1909) gives the pronunciation as /səˈseɪbi/ (sə-SAY-be), with early alternate spellings that fit it (sas(s)ayby, sassaybe, sassaybi), but the current pronunciation stresses the initial syllable (AHD tsĕsə-bē′). The OED says it’s from Setswana tsessébe, tsessábi, the AHD from Tswana tshêsêbê (Tswana is of course the same language as Setswana). Webster’s Third New International has “sassaby or tsessebe or tsesseby” (initial stress), with the same etymology as AHD. And just to add to the fun, the Russian word (at least according to Wikipedia) is топи [tópi], which is not in any of my dictionaries and for which I cannot find an etymology. As always, all thoughts are welcome.

Comments

  1. Topi appears to be the name of one of the subspecies in English, too. Google’s etymology says it’s from Mende.

  2. Topi is also a valid English. Precisely as a specific tsessebe subspecies, Damaliscus lunatus topi. Generally as some kind of similar antelope. The word seems to be its name in some Swahili dialect like Kiamu.

    For example, Baron Lugard.

  3. Having named my daughter Tabitha (gazelle in Aramaic, related to tsvi, the Hebrew for antelope), I find these words interesting, both Tsessabe/Sassaby and Topi, though I’d be hard pressed to make a case for any etymological relationship.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    I think the initial tse-/sa- might reflect the different phonological outcomes of the Bantu noun class prefix *ki- (or at least the same phonological development). Based on self-designation, Setswana and Sesotho have se- while Tsizulu and Tsindebele have tsi-.

    This is the noun class that most Bantu languages use for language names, i.e. rather adjectives of manner, and not the usual noun class for animals, but it is also used to form diminutives. The latter would explain why some animals have made the leap over.

  5. I heard that English speakers usually pronounce the initial /tsu/ in “tsunami” as [su], due to it not being a word-initial onset natively. Could it be that an initial /tse/ was anglicized in the same way?

  6. marie-lucie says:

    Trond, I don’t know much about Bantu languages (except that they have many noun classes identified by prefixes), but I think you must be right.

    Leoboiko, the names mentioned by Trond show that some languages have ts- and others s-, the latter most likely from a “deaffrication” or more generally simplification rule unlikely to be due to English influence.

  7. George Gibbard says:

    Actually Trond is mistaken — the Zulu and Ndebele languages are isiZulu and isiNdebele:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_South_Africa#Language_demographics
    Tshivenḓa (that’s a dental diacritic) in the NE corner of South Africa has the prefix [tʃʰi-], meanwhile tsh in the (Se-)Tswana antelope word is [tsʰ].

    The wiki “Tswana language” page gives no noun class prefix beginning ts(h)-, but does say that class Ia, with no prefix in the singular, contains “names, kinship, animals”. I wonder if the animal words might be borrowed from Khoisan?

  8. Fascinating, I’m glad I asked! I should have thought of looking up topi as an English word, and it should also have occurred to me that the tse-/sa– part might be a Bantu noun class prefix. If the latter is the case, then presumably the earlier (OED) penultimate stress is “correct” (in that it reflects the structure of the Bantu word), and the new one with initial stress is some kind of normalized form. I am at a loss as to how to say it myself, but fortunately I will almost certainly never have to.

  9. George Gibbard says:

    I haven’t gotten farther on Tswana but related Sesotho has a class prefix tse- ([tsʼe-] with an ejective affricate). Unfortunately it is a plural class marker, and appears only as concord on adjectives and a few other things, while the noun itself will have di-, so this is not likely to be what’s going on with the antelope word.

    In Sesotho the pattern: no prefix in singular, bo- in plural is “mostly human nouns including nouns of kinship”, while the semantically “miscellaneous” class 9 prefix “N-” is realized as zero before (some?) consonants. If the same actually is or was the case in Setswana too, *N- > Ø might be what’s going on with Tsessebe, and it wouldn’t have to be borrowed.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    Actually Trond is mistaken

    Neither for the first nor for the last time. If Tswana has the form with ts-, then of course my suggestion falls flat. Borrowing from Khoisan does sound likely for words without a noun class prefix.

    the Zulu and Ndebele languages are isiZulu and isiNdebele:

    I misread the list.on Wikipedia. Time to wipe my screen. Or my glasses.

    Tshivenḓa (that’s a dental diacritic) in the NE corner of South Africa has the prefix [tʃʰi-]

    Also chi- in the general area of Zambia. It seems that *ki- was first palatalized, then deaffricated, and finally pre-iotazized (or whatever it’s called) on the way south. On that basis I’d expect a tsi- (or shi-) somewhere in Zimbabwe. But if it existed, it may well have been wiped out by later movements.

  11. Trond Engen says:

    (Forgot to reload before posting. I’ll shut up and listen now.)

  12. George Gibbard says:

    Xitsonga, next door to Tshivenḓa in SA and Mozambique, has [ʃi-], spelled as in Portuguese.

    The first i in isiZulu is not from a sound change of prosthesis, it’s thought to have originally been a definite article realized as copying the vowel of the class prefix (cf. U-bu-ntu ‘human-ness’). It has disappeared in some Bantu languages, while in others it’s present or absent depending on the grammatical context; it’s called the “augment”.

  13. Thanks, I never knew that.

  14. George Gibbard says:

    Having read the first paper Google found on the Bantu augment (http://www.lingref.com/cpp/acal/42/paper2763.pdf), I can report that its form is more complex than what I suggested in Lubukusu: o-muu-ndu ‘person’, ba-baa-ndu ‘people’, ku-mu-saala ‘tree’, ki-mi-saala ‘trees’.

    The paper says that in Kirundi, the augment is found for both definite and indefinite nouns, but is absent in a context reminiscent of the Russian genitive of negation: in ‘there is no exam’, ‘exam’ has no augment. There is no augment in proper names or vocatives, or on nouns in compounds like ‘fire’ in ‘fire-fighter’, or after what I understand to be the locative noun classes: i-ki-bazo ‘the/an exam’ : mu ki-bazo ‘during the exam’. (If Kirundi is like Swahili, the locative marker is considered to be a second noun class marker, because the locative phrase can be the subject of a sentence whose verb will have the locative marker repeated as subject agreement; a real Swahili example with a different locative noun class is ha-ku-na ma-tata ‘there (ku-) doesn’t (ha-) have (na) trouble’.) Finally, embedded clauses and infinitivals as objects of prepositions have an augment.

  15. George Gibbard says:

    Sorry, really the example should be “ku-Noun Phrase hakuna matata” meaning ‘at Noun Phrase there is no trouble’.

  16. Trond Engen says:

    Xitsonga

    With Portuguese spelling. I should have noticed that.

    Prosthesis.

    Yes, of course.

    The first i in isiZulu is {…] thought to have originally been a definite article realized as copying the vowel of the class prefix (cf. U-bu-ntu ‘human-ness’).

    Right. But still, its presence in language names seems to be an areal feature of the southernmost Bantu languages.

    It has disappeared in some Bantu languages, while in others it’s present or absent depending on the grammatical context; it’s called the “augment”.

    An augment in Bantu! I haven’t seen that on the whole Internet. I’ll have to start again from page 1.

  17. And stop when you get here.

  18. Man, that takes me back!

  19. Oh, that page still exists?

  20. It will always exist. How could it not? It’s the last one!

  21. I thought the internet had grown so large that the number of pages was uncountable.

  22. I’m pretty sure the Internet is and will remain countable in the mathematical sense, but it may be effectively infinite in the sense that a single user (or computer) will be unable to enumerate it fast enough to ever finish, even with the best bandwidth available. (Google does it nightly, of course, but cheats).

  23. I thought the internet had grown so large that the number of pages was uncountable.

    It is, but there’s still a last page. It’s one of the Axioms of Internet Infinity.

  24. Google has several indexes: some are updated daily, some more frequently, and some only very infrequently, as the pages there have historically changed rarely or not at all.

  25. Axiomatic: Like the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end — it exists though nobody ever reached it.

    And yes, that is one of the ways they cheat, but they can also outpace Moore’s law by adding more server halls.

  26. >a real Swahili example with a different locative noun class is ha-ku-na ma-tata

    And a reference to a song from the Lion King seems to allow me to reintroduce my 4-year old, Tabitha, who is a big fan of the movie.

    Why a Khoisan borrowing and not something from a South Semitic language? Which presumably could have been present when some of the Bantu ancestry emerged from their trek through the deep forest of central Africa into the more hospitable (to antelope) arid plains of the east. Particularly if selling the meat to the kingdom of D’mt was a part of the economy of east Africa. From tsvi to Tse-tsabi?

    The Comparative Dictionary of Ge’ez offers Tabita as Ethiopic for gazelle, (with a putative relation to Amharic tubb ala – “jump down.” That seems dubious.) So the root had crossed the strait at some point. Perhaps it “jumped down” over the strait. Moore-Cross’s Dictionary of Old South Arabian shows a root of zabT for gazelle, and zaby for she-camel.

    A Tigrinya dictionary online gives Telebeidu for antelope. There’s probably no way to explain away that L, but it’s an interesting word in context. Tigre, with ‘tetal’ for antelope likely offers a better window into Telebeidu.

    Of course, there are other words for antelope and gazelle in these languages. I’m cherry-picking, and have no sense of the sound changes that led to the diversification of Semitic languages, so there’s no method at all. But my cherry-picking seems as plausible as positing a Khoisan origin without even knowing of a Khoisan word that might have been the source.

  27. Tzvi and Tabitha are cognate with Arabic đ̣aby (as in Abu Dhabi), reflecting proto-Semitic *ɬʼaby-. I wouldn’t care to bet on there being a connection, but animal names can be pretty mobile.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    proto-Semitic *ɬʼaby-

    Are there really Semiticists who reconstruct ejective fricatives instead of affricates? Even apart from the general global rarity of ejective fricatives, the affricate in Hebrew and the plosive in Aramaic clearly hint at an affricate.

  29. David Marjanović says:

    There’s something about Semiticist that triggers the spam filter. emitic is allowed, though, and editing it to mitic doesn’t cause trouble either. I put some HTML between Semi- and -ticist.

  30. Weird! Sorry about my overzealous spam filter.

  31. It may not be the spam filter it’s triggering.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    ~:-| What else?

  33. As I recall, “semiticism” has had some usage among neo-Nazis. I don’t recall ever hearing of “semiticism” used in such a context, but it may be being flagged by an overzealous filter. Filters that are nominally designed to weed out spam are often quietly programmed to catch some other highly undesirable content as well. Of course, I don’t know anything specific about the spam filtering software Hat (or Songdog) has installed here.

  34. It’s Akismet.

  35. January First-of-May says:

    It’s probably the Scunthorpe problem in action.

    (I wonder if it filters out Scunthorpe. It probably doesn’t.)

    (EDIT: No, Scunthorpe went through just fine.)

  36. Censorship implemented through the use of spam filters: spamsorship. I was told I can create new word.

  37. That’s downright Shakespearean.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    I assumed it was the Scunthorpe problem. I just fail to find out what kind of cunt could be hidden in Semiticist.

  39. Are there really Semiticists who reconstruct ejective fricatives instead of affricates? Even apart from the general global rarity of ejective fricatives, the affricate in Hebrew and the plosive in Aramaic clearly hint at an affricate.

    The Hebrew affricate is a Central European affricate; Classical Hebrew had an emphatic sibilant, [ṣ] (whatever “emphatic” exactly meant). Some styles of Quranic recitation still pronounce this consonant as a pharyngealized voiced lateral fricative; I think this is the only known instance of such a sound.

  40. George Gibbard says:

    Classical Arabic has three sounds all corresponding to Hebrew צ. One, ض, is the pharyngealized (vel sim) voiced lateral fricative, but standardly romanized as ḍ; another, ص, is a pharyngealized s (ṣ); and the third, ظ, is a pharyngealized ð, but standardly romanized ẓ.

    Even within South Semitic (which Rubin says is not a thing), ’emphatics’ are not always ejective: in Mehri of Oman and Yemen, they are sometimes ejective and sometimes voiced, and they lower surrounding vowels suggesting some sort of retracted tongue root component. I think the publication I downloaded before it was published is:
    Watson JCE; Bellem A (2010) A detective story: emphatics in Mehri. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 40, pp. 345-356.

    Elsewhere in Afro-Asiatic, emphatics in Berber are quite like those of Arabic, though the native ones are all voiced, I believe.

  41. David Marjanović says:

    The Hebrew affricate is a Central European affricate; Classical Hebrew had an emphatic sibilant, [ṣ] (whatever “emphatic” exactly meant).

    Reportedly, [t͡s] is also used in Persian pronunciations of Hebrew; and צ was added to the Greek alphabet as the Cyrillic letter ц [t͡s] in a context that was European but really not very Central. I see no reason why a fricative would be reinterpreted as an affricate across the board either.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that * started out as [t͡sʼ], and… oh, I have to run, see you later. 🙁

  42. צ was added to the Greek alphabet as the Cyrillic letter ц [t͡s]

    That’s one idea about where Cyril and Methodius (or whoever) got Glagolitic Ⱌ, but it’s not the only one, and is highly conjectural. There’s a longish discussion (which I’ve only skimmed) of the views on Proto-Semitic fricatives on Wiki. The sound in question is *ṣ́, which it seems is reconstructed either as [ɬʼ] or [t͡ɬʼ].

Speak Your Mind

*