Foundation for Endangered Languages
1. Celebrations: In Praise of the Particular Voices of Languages at Risk Nancy C. Dorian (Bryn Mawr College)
Editor’s introductory comment
Here she offers a personal insight into what concern for language loss if really about: what faculty is it that is lost when a language goes? Her answer is based on the language that she is famous for studying, the Scots Gaelic of East Sutherland.
We very much hope that this topic will become a regular one in Ogmios. Every language has its distinctive jewels, and we all benefit by taking them out and looking at them once in a while. But for this to happen, readers will have to contribute views of the ones that they know personally. I (and Nancy) look forward to your manuscripts!
In the absence of a parallel in English to the German subjunctive of indirect discourse, an author writing in English would have to take a much more circuitous route to achieve an effect at all similar to the one Joseph Breitbach had ready to hand in his skillfully wrought novel. Adverbs such as purportedly, seemingly, apparently, evidently, and supposedly would probably appear with considerable frequency, and the first-person narrator would need to resort to phrases such as I took that to indicate, one could assume, there seemed to be, and that seemed to suggest, when reporting on other figures in the novel. Some of the same implications could be introduced in that way, but such turns of phrase would quickly become repetitious in a way that ongoing use of a single verbal tense-and-mood choice does not. A different tone would result, and a stylistic economy that contributes to the novel’s power in German would certainly be lost.
Although I’m suggesting that the stylistic economy with which Breitbach achieves his effect could not be matched by English, it would be unwise to argue that no English translation of Breitbach’s novel, however inspired, could ever render the deliberately distancing formality of this report-as-novel. Translation is a commonplace and workable activity, even if it’s often an imperfect one. George Steiner argues that to fault translation for imperfection is pointless: "No duplication, even of materials which are conventionally labelled as identical, will turn out a total facsimile. Minute differences and asymmetries persist. To dismiss the validity of translation because it is not always possible and never perfect is absurd" (1992:264). Steiner considers that there is slippage at every point in our linguistic performances: between the thought and the word, between two renditions of "the same" words by a single speaker, between two speakers’ constructions of a mutually heard message, all with reference to a single language. All the more so, then, when two different languages are involved.
Still, who would read Breitbach in English (or Dostoyevsky, or Ibsen, or Tagore in English) if s/he had the requisite language skills to read the work in the original language? Languages have their individual voices, created equally by the means which they deploy and by the details of the deployment. Steiner himself agrees: "Each human language maps the world differently. ... Each tongue ... construes a set of possible worlds and geographies of remembrance" (1992:xiv). Semantic mappings across the lexicons of any two languages are often so obviously different that the rankest beginner confronts them immediately and sharply; more subtle differences continue to emerge and confront the second-language learner for years, as familiarity increases. The full significance of different grammatical mappings can take even longer to make themselves felt. Dell Hymes, patiently teasing forth the details of a once unsuspected narrative verse patterning within Chinookan myth, offers in the final chapter of his 1981 book In Vain I Tried to Tell You: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics an example of "an interpetation of the meaning of a set of Native American texts on the basis of a linguistic variable, a stylistic device that cannot be represented in English translation" (p. 343). The device in question is variation in the prefixes attached to noun stems in Clackamas Chinook, and after a detailed exposition of the forms encountered in a set of texts featuring Grizzly Woman, Hymes concludes: Inquiry into a minor, almost neglectable, variation in grammar has turned out to implicate the major modes of organization of discourse. In larger context the choice of shape of a prefix with apparently constant meaning, feminine singular, has turned out to imply an additional dimension of meaning. Wa- has to do with an active, a- with a passive state, in those texts in which the two alternate. In those texts, shape of prefix varies with point of view (1981:354).
Hymes cites renowned predecessors in the interpretation of Native American myth -- Claude Lévi-Strauss, Melville Jacobs -- who explicitly ruled out any important contribution to the study of structure and meaning from focus on linguistic detail. Hymes himself, with conviction derived from a lifetime’s study of ethnopoetics, considers that "close attention to a detail of language can illuminate the meaning that Native American myths must have had for their narrators and can have for us today" (1981:342).
Linguists have the preoccupations of their specialty, naturally enough. The properties of a language that fascinate and please them are those that are unusual from a specialist’s point of view: a prominent role for one of the grammatical devices less widely encountered among the world’s languages, or a region’s (infixes, say); the appearance of a syntactic property that had been thought not to exist (languages with both classifiers and gender as separate categories; see Aikhenvald forthcoming); the occurrence of one phenomenon without another phenomenon believed to be routinely co-occurrent with it (massive grammatical restructuring despite near-absence of lexical borrowing from the language that provides the model for the restructuring; see Aikenvald 1996). All of these things are of understandably high interest to anyone who studies linguistic properties, but dear as they are to the linguist they are no more likely than much commoner features to form the basis of the very particular effects that native speakers are able to achieve with their languages. A grammatical feature unfamiliar to speakers of English, Spanish, or other Western European languages, such as the partial-reduplication prefixation that expresses intensification in Turkish (beyaz ‘white’, bembeyaz ‘extremely white’; yalniz ‘alone’, yapyalniz ‘absolutely alone’; etc.), attracts the instant attention of an English speaker who learns Turkish as a foreign language. But the same English speaker who’s struck by intensification prefixation in Turkish may never have noticed in his or her own speech the subjunctive marked by absence of the present-tense indicative 3rd-person suffix -s in the finite verb of the subordinate clause in sentences such as I suggest she try again, I’d prefer that he not go. Sophisticated native English speakers, much given to lamenting the disappearance of the subjunctive as a grammatically marked category in English, commonly overlook the faithfulness with which they and their peers produce this subjunctive, despite the fact that some speakers deploy just this device to achieve overtones of sarcasm, dry humor, and so forth ("Smith says he can’t find the folder." "I’d suggest he look again -- in the appropriate filing cabinet this time.").
Many linguists are used to arguing, in talking to non-linguists or in introducing the subject matter of Linguistics to students, that each language is unique and has highly individual features that lend it its inimitable and irreplaceable character. Yet as a profession we’ve done very little to date to demonstrate that this is so or to celebrate the particular voices of individual languages. To make good our claims of individually unique expressive capacities for each human language, we need to follow the example set by Tony Woodbury and Marianne Mithun, who in papers given at a conference on endangered languages (held in 1995 at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA) discussed the way in which special properties give two threatened languages their particular expressive flavor: the affective affixes in Yup’ik, in the instance Woodbury discussed, and the evidentials and certain other grammatical devices in Mohawk, in the instance Mithun discussed. (Their papers appear as chapters in Grenoble & Whaley 1998.) Discussions such as these, acknowledging and celebrating the unique voices of endangered languages, make their point best when they’re mounted in terms of the language(s) that actually threaten to supplant a language poised on the brink of shift (or already over the brink). So, for example, even if the K’emant language of Ethiopia has various properties that seem interestingly exotic from the point of view of English or Spanish (and of English- or Spanish-speaking linguists), the relevant question is not whether K’emant speakers can create semantic or discourse effects that English or Spanish speakers can’t, but whether Amharic, the Semitic language to which K’emant speakers are rapidly shifting, does or does not have properties that offer expressive parallels for the semantic distinctions and the discourse effects that K’emant (a Cushitic language) makes possible (Leyew 1997). That is, the focus needs to be on what K’emant-Amharic bilinguals lose in expressive capacity if they stop speaking K’emant, and on what expressive capacity their descendants never gain if K’emant is not transmitted to them. If speakers of a language that offers an unusually large number of infixes deploys those infixes to express grammatical or semantic categories equally well expressed by prefixes or suffixes in various other languages that they and others around them speak, then they have no particular expressive advantage from the infixing property of their language. If on the other hand the infixes express concepts, make distinctions, or create discourse effects unavailable in any other languages spoken by mother-tongue speakers of the high-infix language, then no matter how multilingual they may be, they lose some expressive capacity if they cease to use their mother tongue.
Unless speakers of the high-infix language are lucky enough to be exceptionally well schooled in their ancestral language, or to be unusually observant and reflective about the structural differences between two or more languages they speak fluently, they are not likely to be consciously aware of the losses in expressive capacity that they would face if they stopped using their ancestral language and switched over entirely to an expanding language. This is no discredit to them at all. Most speakers of any language have a hard time becoming aware of some of the most distinctive features of their own language and discovering just how those features work. (See the example of the zero-marked subjunctive in English, above.) Linguists often come to learn about such features and their use in the course of professional training, of course, but relatively few of us were fully aware of them beforehand.
Ogmios , as the newsletter of a foundation devoted to endangered languages, seems like a particularly appropriate place to celebrate various properties of "local languages" (Ken Hale’s term [Hale 1992]), typically small and threatened languages, that allow the speakers of those languages to create effects that would not be available to them, or would be only weakly available, if they no longer spoke their ancestral languages and acquired only the expanding language(s) of their region. All too often, the history of small languages is such that their speakers have been afforded very few chances to recognize, much less to revel in, the special expressive capacities of their ancestral languages. Many local languages have a small population base, and most have much less prestige than some other language spoken in the same region. Schooling is often available only in a higher-prestige, wider-currency language, and under those circumstances it can be still harder than in the wide-currency languages themselves to recognize and appreciate the uniquely expressive resources that an ancestral language offers. The material used to create some notable effect may be quite unremarkable in itself (a change in word order, the use of a suffix or prefix), but since the effect created has no match in local speakers’ other language(s), only the resources of their heritage language offer them the opportunity to create the expressive effect in question. Whether native speakers are fully aware of the uniquely expressive features of their ancestral language or not, most of them have the ability to make very effective use of them when they argue, tease, scold, joke, or tell stories, skilled native speakers that they are. Examples for one endangered language follow. Expressive bleaching in the shift from Scottish Gaelic to English in East Sutherland, Scotland
(I would like here to look at East Sutherland Gaelic (ESG) from the point of view of expressive uniqueness, highlighting an expressive resource that ESG speakers, all Gaelic-English bilinguals, have available to them in their Gaelic but not in their English.)
The Gaelic dialect at issue here is a variety spoken in the second half of the 20th century by a dwindling population of fisherfolk and their descendants in three villages of coastal East Sutherland in Highland Scotland. ESG speakers represent the last local population segment to shift to English in a regional shift process that began in the 12th century, when vast lands in the region were granted by a distant monarch to a non-indigenous family without either linguistic or cultural ties to the local population. The upper social strata (not just the ruling aristocratic family, but also their upper-level estate administrators and functionaries, and likewise the clergy whose placements the ruling family controlled) grew more and more exclusively English in speech and culture over the centuries. The large farmers became exclusively English-speaking quite abruptly, by contrast, in the process of massive lease transfers in the first half of the 19th century, transfers that simultaneously weakened the position of Scottish Gaelic by displacing great numbers of the original Gaelic-speaking population; the evictees either became fishermen (involuntarily, by estate design) or emigrated. Craftsmen, small tradesmen, sub-subsistence agriculturalists (crofters), and large populations of agricultural wage-laborers and fishers remained exclusively or predominantly Gaelic-speaking throughout most of the 19th century. By the early 20th century most craftsmen and small tradesmen were going over to English, however, and by mid-20th century the crofters and such agricultural laborers as remained had also largely shifted to exclusive use of English. Since only the fisherfolk and their descendants remained proficient speakers of Gaelic as well as English when my work in East Sutherland began in the 1960s, the materials I draw on here represent fisherfolk ESG. The feature of ESG that I’ll chiefly be discussing, the emphatic marker, takes somewhat different phonological forms in other dialects of Gaelic. Since this suffix has merged phonologically with a deictic suffix in East Sutherland, the details of its use in ESG differ from those in other dialects as well. The general phenomenon of an emphatic marker is common to all dialects of Scottish Gaelic, however, and to Irish Gaelic as well.
One notable thing about this feature is its ordinariness in structural terms. It consists of a few rather similar forms of a single suffix, and suffixes could hardly be commoner, in Gaelic or in the world’s languages, as a grammatical device. The grammatical structure of Scottish Gaelic is celebrated among linguists, and among language enthusiasts generally, but not for its suffixes. The celebrated feature is rather its abundant consonant mutations. They occur both at the beginnings of words (very commonly) and at their ends (less frequently). As a grammatical device consonant mutations are much less common in the world’s languages than suffixes, and consequently they have the allure of the unusual. Consonant mutations strike the English speaker as highly unusual, since there’s nothing like them in English, whereas English has a reasonably good supply of suffixes. Some of the consonant mutations carry grammatical information, which makes them functionally important to native speakers and learners alike. Examples (with written forms here and throughout given to suit ESG, rather than as in standard written Scottish Gaelic): /fo:s a/ phòs a ‘he married’, vs. /pho:s a/ pòs a ‘marry him!’; /ha khath am/ tha cat a’m ‘I have a cat’, vs. /ha khach am/ tha cait a’m ‘I have cats’. Some of the mutations are obligatory and yet do not carry grammatical information, which doesn’t trouble native speakers in the slightest but can seem an unnecessary and unkind complication to learners. Despite the fact that consonant mutations are relatively unusual as a high-frequency grammatical device, there is relatively little expressed via consonant mutation in ESG that is not either fully matched as a grammatical category by some grammatical element in English, as is true of the past tense and the plural, the two grammatical categories expressed by consonant mutations in the examples given above. (The major exceptions are direct address, the vocative case, which is marked only suprasegmentally, e.g. by pitch -- and stress-contours and by timing-- in English but by consonant mutation, as well as by suprasegmentals, in ESG; and grammatical gender, which is marked by consonant mutation for one class of nouns, provided the definite article is present, but can be marked by other devices in various other grammatical environments).
By comparison with the attention lavished on the consonant mutations of Scottish Gaelic in most grammars, the emphatic suffix, the chief feature to be discussed here, is only briefly mentioned in most treatments of Gaelic dialects. One reason for the disparity in treatment is natural enough: the consonant mutations affect a large number of different consonants and appear obligatorily in many different environments (and optionally in still others), whereas the emphatic suffix takes a limited number of forms and can be suffixed to only a limited number of elements, while its use largely optional. Still, there is most likely another reason as well. The emphatic suffix serves above all to create discourse effects, rather than to express grammatical categories, and both traditional grammars and linguistic descriptions show a tendency to concentrate on grammatical elements whose domain is the sentence. Some of the expressive force of the emphatic suffix can be seen within the sentence, or across one or two sentences, but to see its most striking effects it’s necessary to look at longer stretches of discourse.
The emphatic suffix, a focus marker
More nearly mainstream dialects of Scottish Gaelic have a set of so-called emphasizing particles which can appear after nouns, but only if the noun is preceded by the possessive pronoun. These emphasizing particles traditionally take different forms according to person and number, just as the possessive pronouns do. Insofar as these emphasizing particles can be said to exist in ESG, however, analogical levelling eliminates all person-and-number forms except the one common to the 1st and 2nd person singular, [-s((at))] in more westerly dialects (see Oftedal 1956: 212) but [-(at)s] in ESG:
‘Her father was an architect here.’ (Golspie speaker, 1968)
Scottish Gaelic grammar also recognizes a set of three unstressed and postposed enclitic particles with deictic force, expressing roughly ‘this’, ‘that’, and ‘yon’. The first two of these are recognizably present in ESG, but only one of them is productive, a proximal deictic which takes exactly the same phonological form as the the dominant allomorph of the emphatic suffix, namely /-(at)s/ ‘this’. The deictic force of proximal /-(at)s/ is clearly recognizable when it’s applied to nouns with temporal reference, e.g. an t-seachdan-as /(at)n jaxkAn(at)s/ ‘this week’, but otherwise the deictic force is less obvious, often undiscernible. The phonological merger of all these elements -- emphatic suffix, emphasizing particle, and deictic enclitics -- blurs their distinctiveness in ESG, and it appears that the /-(at)s/ suffix can now combine their semantic force to some extent.
In view of the ESG merger of the emphazing elements (suffix and emphasizing particle) with the deictic enclitic, it would be most accurate to speak of an emphatic-deictic suffix for the dialect. But since the emphatic function is considerably the more prominent in contemporary usage, the rubric ‘emphatic suffix’ can be used for economy’s sake to cover the single phonological outcome.
The emphatic suffix appears at highest frequency with the personal pronouns and with the prepositions that conjugate for person. Among the latter the pronominal forms of the preposition aig ‘at’ are most frequent, since conjugated forms of aig, in conjunction with the verb ‘to be’, serve in the absence of a verb ‘to have’ to express possession (‘I have a brother and a sister’ is expressed as ‘a brother and a sister are at me’). As an example of emphatic suffixation, the ESG forms of the personal pronouns and of the prepositional pronoun aig are given here with their emphatic euqivalents (with the forms from the village of Embo cited wherever there are inter-village differences):
Apart from its appearance with the personal pronouns and the conjugated prepositional pronouns, the ESG emphatic-deictic suffix can attach to certain other pronominal forms (e.g. an té ‘the one’ [used for feminine nouns only in standard Gaelic and also in ESG where humans are in question, but used in ESG for both female and male animals and for all inanimate nouns that have purely grammatical gender]) and to either noun or adjective when either is the final element in a noun phrase with a possessive pronoun: [m(at) fyu:r(at)s] ‘MY sister’ (mo phiùthaireas), [(at)n dE mo:r(at)s] ‘their BIG house’ (an taigh móras). Note that by contrast to English, where the voice emphasis falls on the possessive pronoun in the case of ‘MY sister’, it’s the noun that takes the emphatic suffix in Gaelic; the possessive pronoun, [m(at)] in this case, is always unstressed and can not combine with other elements. In ESG just one verb form can add the emphatic suffix, namely the first person singular of the conditional: [raxin´(at)s ar aS] ‘I WOULD GO back!’ (rachainneas air ais).There are occasional occurrences with numerals: [ver mi n(at) Ya:(at)s Sax(at)d] ‘I’ll pass THESE TWO on’ (bheir mi na dhà-as seachad).
Uses of the emphatic suffix Of particular interest here are uses of the emphatic suffix over more extensive stretches of speech to create discourse effects. I offer below some examples from recordings of ESG interviews, narratives, and taped "letters" to show typical discourse effects. They begin with an instance which could be paralleled quite effectively in English by use of suprasegmentals alone, since emphasizing the equivalent words by stress and pitch in the English translation creates a similar effect. In the later examples, however, the number of emphatic suffixes used goes beyond what could appropriately be matched by voice emphasis in English; the number of sentence elements that can take voice emphasis in English without semantic or affective distortion, over an extended stretch, is limited by comparison with the number of sentence elements with emphatic suffix attached that can comfortably appear in an extended stretch of ESG.
ABBREVIATIONS IN TRANSCRIPTIONS:
LINES IN TRANSCRIPTIONS:
2. morpheme-by-morpheme gloss; a period within the gloss signifies a complex morpheme the constituents of which can not be designated by segmenting the surface structure
3. orthographic rendering of East Sutherland Gaelic; words with emhatic suffixes are capitalized and boldfaced
4. English translation; words that correspond to Gaelic words with emphatic suffixes are capitalized and boldfaced.
1. correction of a misapprehension: ‘You’ve got it wrong!’ (Source: Embo male, aged 54 at the time of the recording in 1974.)
2. Contrast between two different eras: ‘Those were the days!’
wel va ka:likh an(at) do:rnax t(at) va mati pyo: mati m______
3. you/your party vs. me/my party: ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you!’
(a) a serious matter
va n´ inrinn´ ad-´s k´j& ´n -- n´h u:l-´n am-´s er c‡i sø:rn was the daughter at.you-emph stealing the -- the.pl apple-pl at.me-emph on Saturday “Bha ’n irinn A’DAS goid an -- na h- ùibhlean A’MAS air Di-Sathairn.” “YOUR daughter was stealing the -- MY apples on Saturday.” s hurd m a:r n´ s´l-inn´-´s k´m bi-u i and said my father if think-cond.1.sg.-emph that be-cond she ’S thubhard m’ athair, “Na SAOILINNEAS gum bitheadh i And my father said, “If I THOUGHT that she would be k´j& u:l-´n xa-in´-´s ´ belt c‡i stealing apple- pl take-cond.1.sg.-emph the belt to.her goid ùibhlean, GHABHAINNEAS am bealt dith.” stealing apples, I WOULD TAKE the belt to her.” ’ (b) joking (Source: Golspie female, aged 69 at the time of the recording in 1964.) ax pai køli m´ vi-s tu-s fiax-´n n´h au:ran-n am-´s but by golly if will.be-rel fut you-emph show-gerund the.pl song-pl at.me-emph Ach, by golly , ma bhithidheas DUS feuchan nah amhran’n A’MAS ‘But by golly, if YOU show MY songs t´ s°u´u mwi ?´d yo u-s vum-´s a to people out yonder will.get you-emph from.me-emph it do sluagh muigh siod, gheobh THUS BHUAMAS a! to people out there, YOU’ll get it from ME!’
Note that in the case of the oppositional emphatics of 3(a), line 2, and 3(b), line 2, both parties are represented by pronouns that show the emphatic suffix, whereas in English one pronoun in each line would certainly receive voice emphasis but probably not the other. This sort of symmetrical emphasizing of the pronoun forms representing both speaker and hearer is frequent in the use of ESG emphatic suffixes, highlighting the interactional dimension of the material.
To see the emphatic suffix come into its own most fully, in ESG, the best place to look is a narrative told with plenty of feeling. In the tape-recording from which example 4 is taken, the narrator tells of a rivalry between choirs from the villages of Golspie and Brora. A Gaelic choir from each village will be competing for a cup at the provincial Gaelic music festival, and the singers (none of whom speaks the standard language in which competitive singing is done, and many of whom don’t speak or understand Gaelic at all) will need the services of a Gaelic coach to help them prepare. The narrator of the story, a bilingual Golspie woman, doesn’t take kindly to the woman who has come to coach the East Sutherland choirs, and the force of her opposition to the woman is felt not just in the words she uses but also in the number of emphatic-deictic elements that appear in the narrative.
4. exception is taken to someone or something: ‘Not if I can help it!’ (Source: Golspie female, aged 73 at the time of the recording in 1968.)
s va khønsert mo:r ãn´ as ´ dril hal ´n °ø: ha ?ø ag´s va i and was concert big at.us in the drill hall the day is this and was she ’S bha consairt mòr a’inn a’s an drill hall an latha tha seo, agus bha i -- ‘And we had a big concert in the drill hall this day, and she was -- hã:nig ´n j&e:-´s ´ ste came the one-emph in thànaig AN TÉ-EAS -- a staigh. THAT WOMAN came in. s t´r ´ g a°u i hurd min hinãn ri penn m____ and when pret went she said I self to Mrs. M____ ’S dar a dh’ fhalbh i, thubhard MI FHÉIN ri Bean M____, And when she went off, I said to Mrs M____, te: ´n dan´s ha ´n j&e: ?´n ?ir-u ?ø what the devil is the one that seek-gerund here “Dé an danas tha an té sin sireadh seo?” “What the devil is that woman looking for here?” ag´s ørs i-? o an al fis ak-´m n´ ´ ga:likh ekh hen:n and said she- emph oh not is knowledge at-me or the Gaelic at.her self Agus ors IS, “ O, ’an ail -- fios agam” -- no -- ... a’ Ghàidhlig aic fhéin And SHE said, “Oh, I dont -- know”, or -- her own Gaelic. s ørs mi-? wel m´r c‡e:j i max e ?ø and said I-emph well if.not will.go she out of here ’S ors MIS, “Uail, mar téid i mach á seo, And I said, “well, if she doesn’t go out of here, ver mi khikh s ´ don:n c‡i will.give I kick in the rear to.her bheir mi cic ’s an tòn dith.” I’ll give her a kick in the rear.” ag´s ørs penn m____ r´m-´s wel ha i-? thic‡gy-u ´ ga:likh and said Mrs. M___ to me-emph well is she-emph teach-gerund the Gaelic Agus, ors Bean M____ RIUMAS, “Uail , tha IS tidsgeadh a’ Ghàidhlig.” And Mrs. M____ said to ME, “Well, SHE’s teaching the Gaelic.” s ørs mi-? wel an al i tu t´ hic‡gy-u ?inn´-´s and said I-emph well not is she going to teach-gerund us-emp ’S ors MIS, “Uail, ’an ail i du’ do thidsgeadh SINNEAS. And I said, “Well, she’s not going to teach US. t´r ax t´ go i-? ?inn´-´s t´r ´ h´rnig aj& ´n ø:rd when not pret took she-emph us-emph when turned t hey adv high Dar ach do ghobh IS SINNEAS, dar a -- thurnaig aid an àrd, When SHE didnt take US, when they turned up, t´r ´ hã:nig aj& ... k´s ´ hal when came they to the hall dar a thàinig aid ... gus a’hall when they came to the hall. vel i smøxk-u k´ vel a ãn´-´s ri fe:-u i-? is.interrog she think- ger. that is.interrog it at.us-emph to pay-gerund her-emph Bheil i smochdadh gum bheil a A’INNEAS ri phàidheadh IS, Is she thinking that WE have to pay HER? ´ ni? ørn hinãn ´n ø:rd ax a rig i hen:n l´es adv now for coming adv high but not reach she self benefit. an nis, oir’n thighian an àrd? Ach ’a ruig I FHÉIN leas. Now, for coming up? But SHE needn’t [think so]. m´ ha i-? ?ir-u hic‡gy-u kwair-içen if is she-emph seek-gerund teach-gerund choir-pl Ma tha IS sireadh-- thidsgeadh cuaoirichean. If SHE’s looking to -- teach choirs. ?ul-u i-? t´ vru:ra ag´s pi-i i thic‡gy-u ´n´ y´un e pru:ra walk-3sg.imper she-emph to Brora and be-fut she teach-gerund the group from Brora Siubhaileadh IS do Bhrùra, agus bithidh i tidsgeadh an fheadhann á Brùra. Let HER go to Brora, and she’ll be teaching the ones from Brora. ag´s phe:-u e:j&-´s i w´l an al ?inn´ tu t´ fe:-u i and pay-3sg.imper they-emph her because not are we going to pay-gerund her Agus pàidheadh EIDEAS i, uaoil ’an ail sinn du’ do phàidheadh i.” And let THEM pay her, because we’re not going to pay her.” ’The expressive power of the emphatic suffix
Quite generally speaking, the narrator from whose recorded story example 4 is drawn is a highly expressive speaker. In most of her interviews and stories, not just this one, she makes use of a particularly rich array of interjections, and she doesn’t shy away from using mild profanities and other indelicate lexical items, even when she’s being tape-recorded. The pitch- and stress-contours in her stories tend to be greater than average, and she’s inclined to hilarity when there’s the least shade of impropriety or absurdity in whatever matter she relates. In English as well as in Gaelic her stories are lively, then, but in her Gaelic arsenal she has some weapons not available to her in English. One of them is the emphatic suffix, supplemented on occasion by use of fhéin ‘self’
There are 27 clauses in the narrative stretch offered as example 4 above. Twelve of them, or almost half, include an emphatic suffix; in two instances there are two emphatic suffixes in a single clause. (There are also two instances of emphatic use of fhéin.) The tone is set immediately, when the narrator speaks of seeing the Gaelic coach come into the hall and refers to her as an té-eas ‘that one(-female)’. Two sentences earlier the narrator had referred to the same woman as am boireannach seo ‘this woman’ and had then also used two unemphatic pronominal forms in referring to her; but as she begins the particular story in which the woman appears as an unwelcome, intrusive presence, the narrator selects an té-eas, creating a distancing effect by using the indefinite pronoun and the emphatic-deictic. An unfriendly tone is set by this change, and it continues throughout the part of the narrative that concerns the offending woman. An unusually high incidence of emphatic suffixes captures the high affect that attaches to this tale of a strongly disliked woman; they pursue the unfortunate woman across many of the clauses that follow her introduction as an té-eas. Registering this trail of emphatic suffixes, the auditor or reader can’t be altogether surprised to find the narrator asking ‘what the devil’ the woman is doing there or threatening to give her ‘a kick in the rear’.
Of the 14 emphatic suffixes in example 4, ten are attached to personal or prepositional pronouns that refer directly to the Gaelic coach (as is one of the two emphatic uses of fhéin). The four others (and the other emphatic use of fhéin) appear in conjunction with ors ‘said’, a defective verb used only quotatively. In the full corpus of this speaker’s tape-recorded material, it’s evident that strong affect inclines her to select ors instead of the less marked quotative verb thubhard ‘said’. The additional emphatic pronouns used with ors are therefore in keeping with this additional high-affect word choice.
The English translation I chose for an té-eas, ‘THAT WOMAN’, with the boldface capital letters used here to indicate strong stress on both words in the English, can serve as an example of an instance in which English offers a good parallel, in the heavy stressing of both words and the choice of a distancing deictic element, to the effect of the emphatic-deictic -eas added to an té in Gaelic. Other features don’t correspond so well.
Looking first at the resources of English, an English speaker has structural freedom to apply voice emphasis to any noun-phrase element whatever, and to two or more of them together, using voice emphasis to highlight a whole noun-phrase or even a whole clause at a time. This not the case for ESG speakers. Neither the pre-nominal nor the post-nominal element of the usual (unmarked) nominal construction ‘that woman’ could take voice stress in Gaelic in a noun phrase such as am boireannach sin ‘that woman’ (lit. ‘the woman that’), and the emphatic suffix, too, would be restricted in its occurrence. It could appear only once within a single noun phrase, and it could be applied only to the subject noun or pronoun, or alternatively to a modifying adjective.
Thus far it sounds as though English speakers, with their suprasegmental resources, have more scope for expressing emphasis than Gaelic speakers with their suffixes. But voice emphasis in English is much more intrusive over a long narrative stretch than is the Gaelic emphatic suffix, and narrators who use voice emphasis continually or repeatedly within a limited narrative space risk overdoing the effect and detracting from the story development. Precisely because the emphatic suffix in Gaelic doesn’t require any particular pitch or stress prominence, it can be employed multiply within a single clause and repeated frequently over a series of clauses without making the narrative sound overwrought and without distracting attention from the unfolding of the story line. Gaelic makes available a separation of voice emphasis and focus that English, with only suprasegmental features to indicate emphasis, can not provide. The speaker in example 4 uses emphatic forms of the personal pronoun four times in leading up to direct quotations, as she reconstructs a conversation within her narrative. By keeping the emphatic suffixes coming, she keeps the discourse tone (continuing intense interest in the objectionable Gaelic coach) constant over a long stretch. None of these personal pronouns has voice stress in the Gaelic, and it’s precisely the absence of stress that makes it possible for a series of emphatic personal pronouns to play their role in maintaining discourse tone without diminishing the salience of the quotations that they precede. In addition, symmetrically placed emphatic suffixes can highlight speaker-addressee or subject-object oppositions in ESG (see especially example 3(b) above) in a way that multiple contrastive occurrences of voice emphasis in English can not, at least without distortion.
For the written language there is of course also the advantage that the discourse tone of the spoken Gaelic text persists, thanks to the visible presence of the emphatic suffixes, while the discourse tone created by voice emphasis is lost in formal written English. (It can be evoked in casual written English by means of underlinings and exclamation points, liberally resorted to by some people in their private correspondence by way of a substitute for the missing suprasegmentals.)
As is evident in example (4), where the use of fhéin ‘self’ is seen to supplement the discourse effect of the emphatic-deictic suffix, languages not only offer distinctive resources but offer the possibility of combining them in distinctive fashion. Gaelic speakers, besides combining the emphatic use of fhéin with use of the emphatic-deictic suffix /-´s/, are known for their frequent use of clefting to allocate emphasis (as are Irish speakers). So prevalent is clefting in both Scottish and Irish Gaelic that in its frequent carry-over into Highland and Irish English it’s become a sterotyped feature (e.g. "It’s nothing but lies he’s telling!"). And once again, speakers can combine this device with the emphatic suffix or fhéin to produce a particularly strong effect. The following two examples drawn from narratives recorded from an octogenarian Embo man in 1970, combine, respectively, clefting with emphatic suffixes and clefting with fhéin:.
5. focus-marking by a combination of clefting and emphatic-deictic suffixation (cf. also final line of example 1 above).
? e e-:? ´ xur cop it he-emph rel put.pret ’S e eis a chuir
´ çi´d te ri´u ´n ø:rd as ´ val-´s the first house ever adv high in the village-emph a cheud taigh riamh an àrd a’s a’ bhaileas. ‘It’s HE that put up the first house ever in THIS VILLAGE.’
6. focus-marking by a combination of clefting and fhéin
? e min hinãn hug ´ stex ar a? i cop it I self take.pret in back her ’S e mi fhéin thug a steach air ais i. ‘It’s MYSELF that took her back in’ (a fog-bound boat).
In Irish, clefting and the emphatic suffixes are used to the exclusion of suprasegmentals to mark focus and emphasis, according to Cotter’s analysis of the Irish of radio broadcasting: The Irish language does not use pitch prominence in the intonation contour in the way that English speakers do, but uses instead syntactic reordering through what could broadly be called clefting, and the so- called ‘emphatic suffixes’ (Cotter 1996:48).
East Sutherland Gaelic is not an especially conservative Gaelic dialect in this respect, and voice emphasis can be used in some environments, in addition to the emphatic-deictic suffix, fhéin, and clefting. But voice emphasis is applicable to far fewer elements in Gaelic than in English, since stress can not be applied to particles and many other functors, and this means that a prominent role falls to alternative devices such as the emphatic-deictic suffix, fhéin, and clefting. By comparison with the practices of English speakers, furthermore, Gaelic speakers quite generally pay a great deal of attention to marking focus, as the very existence of three special devices that can be deployed for the purpose suggests. The frequent use that ordinary speakers make of these elements is evident in the examples given above, but of course gifted creative writers draw on them to powerful effect as well. Here are the opening lines of Gaoir na h-Eorpa (‘The Cry of Europe’) by the late Sorley Maclean, considered by many the finest of modern Scottish Gaelic poets (MacAulay 1976:74-75):
A nighean a’ chùil bhuidhe, throm-bhuidh, òr-bhuidh,
Girl of the yellow, heavy-yellow, gold-yellow hair,
In this first verse of a poem evoking what was for Maclean the dark Europe of the 1930s after Franco’s victory in the Spanish civil war, three emphasizing particles appear in the Gaelic (bheòil-sa ‘your mouth’,latha-ne ‘our day’, and phòig-sa ‘your kiss’), two applied to the lovely girl whose spirit and beauty are set against the darkness of contemporary Europe and one applied to the time of darkness and disgrace itself. The emphasizing particles are an important element in establishing the contrast in Scottish Gaelic, but though the translation is Maclean’s own, nothing is available to him in written English to create a similar effect. If the English version of the poem were to be read aloud, furthermore, and voice stress were applied to your and our, the effect would be distorting, not enhancing.
Among the ESG examples offered above, the expressive potential of the Gaelic emphatic suffix is especially evident in the fourth. The deployment of the emphatic suffix seems a pretty straightforward matter in example 1, and perhaps also in examples 3(a) and 3(b). It’s less obvious (at least to me) why some pronominal forms appear with the emphatic suffix in examples 2 and 4 while others don’t. (Why not gheibheadh aid Gàidhlig BHOIDHEAS ‘they would get Gaelic from HIM’, for example? And why does the high-frequency expression ’s am bidh ‘whatever, at all’ [literally ‘in the world’], never pick up an extra degree of intensification and become ’s am BIDH-EAS?) Already in example 2, but even more so in example 4, we reach the realm of skilled-native-speaker stylistic choices. It’s beyond me both as linguist and as learner to account fully for the motivating factors behind the native-speaker choices, in texts such as these, where stylistic choices were obviously made not to use the emphatic suffix in some potential environments, as well as to use it in others.
At the same time, it’s well within my capacity both as linguist and as learner to recognize and relish certain stylistic effects from the speakers’ deployments of the suffixes, and to celebrate the liveliness and coherence of tone that the emphatic-deictic suffix brings to their Gaelic discourse. The use made of the emphatic-deictic suffix by the speaker in example 4 is not subtle, and it’s easy to imagine sophisticated story tellers who might introduce suffix-bearing forms less frequently but more slyly and strategically, to more cunningly designed effect. But the particular way the speaker in example 4 uses the emphatic suffix is well suited to her personality and speaking style. The grammatical environment surrounding the central figure, the an té-eas ‘THAT WOMAN’ of the narrative who then also appears as the direct focus of nine emphatic suffixes, creates a consistent discourse environment in which that high-focus figure becomes an unsurprising target for ‘a kick in the rear’ or an invocation of the devil. The Gaelic passage has a well-sustained narrative tone in which the ESG emphatic-deictic suffix plays a substantial and -- for all my morpheme segmentations and glosses -- never fully translatable part. Sorley Maclean, practiced translator of his own poetry that he was, fared no better when he came to render the Gaelic of Gaoir na h-Eorpa into English; he had to forego in English the special contrastive effect that the emphasizing particles had given his opening verse in Gaelic. The very distinctiveness of a language’s most particular features creates the insoluable problem any would-be translator (or celebrator) faces, of course: belonging uniquely to that language, they are essentially untranslatable.
Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 1996. Areal diffusion in Northwest Amazonia: The case of Tariana. Anthropological Linguistics 38:73-116.
Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. Forthcoming. Classifiers: A typology of noun categorization devices.
Cotter, Colleen Marie. 1996. Irish on the Air: Media, Discourse, and Minority-Language Development. Unpublished University of Calfironia, Berkeley, dissertation.
Grenoble, Lenore, & Whaley, Lindsay, ed. 1998. Endangered Languages: Current Status and Future Prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hale, Kenneth. 1992. On endangered languages and the safeguarding of diversity. Language 68:1-3.
Hymes, Dell. 1981. In Vain I Tried to Tell You: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Leyew, Zelealem. 1997. Some structural signs of obsolescence in K’emant. Paper given at the Endangered Languages in Africa conference, Leipzig, August, 1997.
MacAulay, Donald (ed.). 1976. Nua-bhàrdachd Ghàidhlig / Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems. Edinburgh: Southside.
Mithun, Marianne. 1998. The significance of diversity in language endangerment and preservation. In Grenoble & Whaley ed.
Oftedal, Magne. 1956. The Gaelic of Leurbost Isle of Lewis. (A Linguistic Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland, Vol. III; Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap, Supplementary Vol. IV) Oslo: H. Aschehoug and Co.
Steiner, George. 1992. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (second edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Woodbury, Anthony. 1998. Documenting rhetorical, aesthetic, and expressive loss in language shift. In Grenoble & Whaley ed.