Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Mon Mar 10 01:01:24 UTC 2008

Mark Mandel wrote:
> On Sun, Mar 9, 2008 at 4:33 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>> One I've always liked, although it involves venturing outside
>> English, is the Swahili word for 'book', _kitabu_, a borrowing from
>> Arabic, although I suppose the final vowel is epenthetic.  Anyway, if
>> you ignore that, it's a good candidate for the category because the
>> ki- has been clearly reanalyzed as the singular form of the ki-/vi-
>> noun class (typically inhabited by inanimate objects of precisely the
>> kind exemplified by books), with -tabu understood as the stem.  How
>> can we tell there's been a reanalysis?  The plural form is _vitabu_
>> 'books', which is definitely not Arabic.
> Nice. But I wonder whether that -u is strictly epenthetic.  There's a form
> _kitabun_  (indefinite? 'a book'?). I don't know Arabic, so I ask those
> listies who do, how plausible it is that Swa. _kitabu_ was borrowed not just
> from _kitab_ but from _kitabun_, or from some other Ar. form with -u.

_kitab_ is the noun stem in Arabic. For the rest, there are a host of
grammatical nuances, but, essentially, -u- is a nominative case marker
and -n an indefinite marker. These markers vary in form and, to a lesser
extent, function across dialects. Further, in most contexts, a noun
that's not marked indefinite would have a prefixed al- 'the'. It's an
interesting question, and one I have no particular thoughts about, which
morphological form would be the seed for a loanword.
Alice Faber                                       faber at haskins.yale.edu
Haskins Laboratories                            tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
New Haven, CT 06511 USA                               fax (203) 865-8963

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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