Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Spoken in:||Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria|
|Total speakers:||3 million|
They fall into two main groups:
- Southern Songhai is centered on the Niger river. Its largest member is Zarma (Djerma), a major language of Niger with 2 million speakers spoken throughout much of southern Niger including the capital Niamey. Immediately to its south is Dendi , spoken in northern Benin and heavily influenced by Bariba . West of Zarma is Kaado , up to the border of Mali. In Mali, Koyraboro Senni with 400,000 speakers, and Koyra Chiini to its west, are spoken almost exclusively along the banks of the Niger, while Humburi Senni is spoken in a linguistic island around Hombori, well to its south.
- The much smaller Northern Songhai is a group of heavily Berber-influenced dialects spoken in the Sahara. The nomadic varieties include Tihishit in central Niger around Mazababou (with two sub-dialects, Tagdal and Tabarog) and Tadaksahak in northern Mali around Menaka . The sedentary varieties include Tasawaq in northern Niger (with two dialects, Ingelsi in In-Gall and the extinct Emghedeshie of Agadez) and Korandje far to the north on the Algeria-Morocco border at Tabelbala. While varieties of Tamasheq are the main influence on the others, Korandje appears to be influenced more by Northern Berber.
A few pre-colonial poems and letters in Songhay exist in Timbuktu (preserved at the Ahmad Baba Center for Documentation and Historical Research ) written in the Arabic alphabet. However, in modern times Songhay is written in the Latin alphabet.
Before Greenberg, Songhay's affiliation was unclear. Westermann hesitated between assigning it to Gur or considering it an isolate, and Delafosse grouped it with Mande. At present, Songhay is normally considered to be Nilo-Saharan, following Joseph Greenberg's 1963 reclassification of African languages; Greenberg's argument is based on about 70 claimed cognates, including pronouns. This point has been developed further by, in particular, Lionel Bender and Christopher Ehret; Bender sees it as an independent subfamily of Nilo-Saharan, while Ehret (based on 565 claimed cognates) regards it as a member of the Western Sahelian branch, together with the Maban languages of western Sudan and eastern Chad.
However, this point is not uncontroversial. Greenberg's argument was subjected to serious criticism by Lacroix (1969, pp. 91-92), who claimed to have found only about 30 of Greenberg's claimed cognates to be acceptable, and argued that these were mainly between Zarma and the neighboring Saharan languages, thus leading one to suspect them of being loanwords. Certain Songhay-Mande similarities have long been observed (at least since Westermann), and Mukarovsky (1966), Creissels (1981), and Nicolaï (1977, 1984) investigated the possibility of a Mande relationship; Creissels found some 50 comparisons, including many body parts and morphological suffixes (such as the causative in -endi), while Nicolai found some 450 similar words as well as some conspicuous typological traits. However, Nicolaï eventually concluded that this approach was not adequate, and in 1990 proposed a distinctly novel hypothesis: that Songhay is a Berber-based creole restructured under Mande influence. In support of this he proposed 412 possible similarities, ranging all the way from basic vocabulary (tasa "liver") to obvious borrowings (anzad "violin", alkaadi "qadi".) Others, such as Gerrit Dimmendaal , were not convinced, and Nicolaï (2003) appears to consider the question of Songhay's origins still open, while arguing cogently against Ehret and Bender's proposed etymologies.
Greenberg's claimed morphological similarities with Nilo-Saharan include the pronouns I ai (eg Zaghawa ai), you ni (eg Kanuri nyi), we yer (eg Kanuri -ye), you (pl.) wor (eg Kanuri -wi), relative and adjective formants -ma (eg Kanuri -ma) and -ko (eg Maba -ko), a plural suffix -an (?), a hypothetical plural suffix -r (eg Teso -r) which he takes to appear in the pronouns yer and wor, intransitive/passive -a (eg. Teso -o). Only a small selection of the claimed cognates outside Songhai are given here.
The most striking of the Mande similarities listed by Creissels are the third person pronouns a sg. (pan-Mande a), i pl. (pan-Mande i or e), the demonstratives wo "this" (Manding o, wo) and no "there" (Soninke no, other Mande na), the negative na (found in a couple of Manding dialects) and negative perfect mana (cf. Manding má, máŋ), the subjunctive ma (Manding máa), the copula ti (Bisa ti, Manding de/le), the verbal connective ka (Manding kà), the suffixes -ri (resultative - cf. Mandinka -ri, Bambara -li process nouns), -ncè (ethnonymic, cf. Soninke -nke, Mandinka -nka), -anta (ordinal, cf. Soninke -ndi, Mandinka -njaŋ...), -anta (resultative participle, cf. Soninke -nte), -endi (causative, cf. Soninke, Mandinka -ndi), and the postposition ra "in" (cf. Manding lá, Soso ra...)
- Songhai/Zarma Language Page
- Relative Clauses in Tadaksahak
- Some verb morphology features in Tadaksahak
- M. C. Charles & J. M. Ducroz, 1976. Lexique songay-français, parler kaado du Gorouol. Paris.
- A. Dupuis-Yacouba, 1917. Essai pratique de méthode pour l'étude de la langue songoï. Paris.
- Jeffrey Heath , 1999. Grammar of Koyraboro (Koroboro) Senni, the Songhay of Gao. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag.
- Robert Nicolaï , 1981. Les dialectes du songhay. Paris.
- Robert Nicolaï & Petr Zima, 1997. Songhay. Munich - Newcastle : Lincom Europa.
- A. Prost, 1956. La langue soney et ses dialectes, Dakar.
- Lionel Bender , 1997. The Nilo-Saharan Languages: A Comparative Essay. München.
- D. Creissels, "De la possibilité de rapprochements entre le songhay et les langues Niger-Congo (en particulier Mandé)." In: Nilo-Saharan, Th. Schadeberg, M. L. Bender eds., pp. 185-199.
- Christopher Ehret, 2001. A Historical-Comparative Reconstruction of Nilo-Saharan. Köln.
- Joseph Greenberg, 1963. The Languages of Africa (International Journal of American Linguistics 29.1). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
- P. F. Lacroix, 1969. "L'ensemble songhay-jerma: problèmes et thèmes de travail". Actes du 8e Congrès SLAO, Abidjan. pp. 87-99.
- H. G. Mukarovsky. "Zur Stellung der Mandesprachen". Anthropos 61:679-88, 1966.
- Robert Nicolaï , 1977. "Sur l'appartenance du songhay". Annales de la faculté des lettres de Nice, 28, pp. 129-145.
- Robert Nicolaï, 1984. Préliminaires su l'origine du songhay (matériaux, problématique et hypothèses), Berlin.
- Robert Nicolaï, Parentés linguistiques (à propos du songhay), Paris: CNRS 1990. ISBN 0991-5877.
- Robert Nicolaï, La force des choses ou l'épreuve 'nilo-saharienne': questions sur les reconstructions archéologique et l'évolution des langues, SUGIA 13, Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag 2003, ISBN 3-89645-099-9
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