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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
> 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 syntax. 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, and BBC World Service broadcasts news in Somali at Thomas --Rober


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