Re: Cushitic, South Semitic etc.
|From:||Thomas Leigh <thomas@...>|
|Date:||Friday, January 2, 2004, 21:33|
Robert Jung wrote:
>Does anyone know anything about these languages:
> 1. Amharic?
> 2. Tigrinya?
> 3. Somali?
> Speaking of Cushitic, does anyone know what the phonology
> (and morphology/syntax) of, say, Amharic or Tigrigna(Tigrinya),
> are? It would be very interesting to see how such langs work!!
Amharic and Tigrinya are Semitic languages; Somali is Cushitic,
as is Oromo (a major language of southern Ethiopia, with at
least as many speakers as Amharic; indeed the Oromo may well be
Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, to the Amharas' chagrin).
There is a lot of literature on (and in) Amharic. Routledge
publishes "Colloquial Amharic" and "Colloquial Somali" in its
Colloquial series of language textbooks. Both of those are
orderable from any bookstore, and probably from places like
Amazon too. Or heck, try the library.
Amharic is a wonderful, beautiful, insanely complex language.
One of my all-time favorites. It is the least Semitic of the
Semitic languages in terms of both morphology and phonology; its
structure is very reminiscent of Altaic and Dravidian: strictly
left-branching and SOV. As for phonology, two standout things
are (a) the fact that the "harsher" sounds (from the
Anglocentric POV) of Semitic -- /x/, /G/, /X\/, /?\/, etc. --
have been lost, and (b) the ejectives /p_>/, /t_>/, /k_>/,
/tS_>/ and /s_>/.
I know little about Tigrinya, save that it too has the ejectives
but has retained /x/, /G/, /X\/, /?\/. I have gotten the
impression from what I have read that it is a lot closer to
Ge'ez and to other Semitic languages in terms of morphology and
Somali is very cool grammatically speaking, though I find it
rather unattractive to listen too (too much /X\/ and /?\/ for my
taste). It is SOV, but also ergative, and it has two tones and
phonemic vowel length. It has a fascinating emphasis on
"focus" -- sentence structure, verb forms, etc., change
depending on whether it is the subject, object or the verb which
bears the emphasis in the sentence; for example, a sentence like
"I read the newspaper" can answer three questions: "who read the
newspaper", "what did you read", or "what are you doing to/with
the newspaper" -- the very grammatical structure of "I read the
newspaper" changes in Somali depending on which question you are
answering! Marvelous stuff. I highly recommend picking up
"Colloquial Somali" (and "Colloquial Amharic" for that
matter) -- great bedtime reading! :)
If you have the Real Audio player and speakers or headphones
attached to your computer, you can listen to all of these
languages. Voice of America broadcasts news in Amharic, Tigrinya
and Oromo at http://www.voanews.com/horn/, and BBC World Service
broadcasts news in Somali at http://www.bbc.co.uk/somali/.