"Our tongue", "we", "mother tongue", "The Language" &c.

Gideon Goldenberg msgidgol at MSCC.HUJI.AC.IL
Tue Dec 17 11:03:03 UTC 2002

Dear Colleagues,
"Our tongue" is the term commonly used by speakers of the various
Neo-Aramaic Jewish dialects referring to their own special speech
variety, viz. 'lishana deni', 'lishan didan', 'lishana didan', 'lishana
noshan', or simply 'lishanan' (as it is in one's own dialect). This
term marks the language of the speaker's own community as distinct
from neibouring dialects of the Christian Assyrians or from the
dialects of other Jewish communities. Other languages or speech
varieties have names. Hebrew is 'lishan-qodesh' or the like ("Sacred
Language"), as in European Jewish communities.
The city of Harar in Ethiopia is called 'ge' ("The City") by the people
of the originally Harari community that inhabit the Old City, the
members of the comminity are referred to as 'ge usu'' ("City-men"),
and the Harari minority-tongue which is surrounded by other languages
is referred to by its speakers as 'ge sinan' ("Language of The City");
"of The City" refers exclusively Harar.
All these appellations refer to communities and community speech-forms
of minorities, but the distinction from the surrounding dominant world
should not necessarily mark the local as less prestigious; it may rather
express intimacy and nostalgia.
Some other appellations of minority languages, like 'mame-loshn' ("mother
tongue") or 'jargon' for Yiddish, do not refer to a special speech-form,
but (in this case) to Yiddish in general. So is also 'al-lugha' ("the
language") which Arabic speakers would use for general reference to
Arabic outside the Arabic-speaking countries.
Speakers of the Soddo-Gurage dialect in Ethiopia call themselves
Kïstane ("Christians") and their language Kïstanïñña (as distinct
from neighbouring communities of Pagans and Moslems), but the
independent personal pronoun 'ïñña' ("we" [not related to the language-
marking suffix -ïñña]) will exclusively refer to members of that
community, excluding foreigners (for including others they would use "I
and you, we and you" or the like). Cf. the possessive suffix '-enij' ("our")
in some forms of Neo-Aramaic, which exclues foreigners, as against the
non-marked '-an' (all-inclusive "we").
                                        Best regards,
                                                       Gideon Goldenberg

Prof. Gideon Goldenberg
Department of Linguistics
The Hebrew University
Mount Scopus
IL-91905  Jerusalem
I s r a e l
Telephone (972-2-)5665135
Fax (972-2-)5634891
msgidgol at mscc.huji.ac.il

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