LSAL 47: Areal and Genetic Factors in Language Classification and Description: Africa South of ...

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Areal and Genetic Factors in Language Classification and Description: Africa South of the Sahara
Petr Zima (ed.)

Papers prepared by Siegmund Brauner, Norbert Cyffer, Peter Gottschligg, Herr-mann Jungraithmayr, Robert Nicolaï, Henry Tourneux, Rainer Vossen and Petr Zima.
Charles University

This is intended to be a collection of papers the origin of which is the set of lectures given by selected scholars from different Universities of Europe at Charles University in Prague in 1997-1998 on present-day problems of language classification and description, with particular attention to Africa. In these lectures, particular attention is paid to languages, language families/or branches and areas the status of which still remains to some extent open to discussion, despite years of more or less concentrated and concerted efforts. Most such lectures were subject to further discussions in the Czech Grant Agency Research Team 403-96- 0787 and the Groupement de Recherche Européen No 1172 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, and then re-written and extended for the purpose of this volume.

It is in this context that several lectures of the above-mentioned set are devoted to problematic languages, language branches, families and areas of Africa south of the Sahara. This is, in fact, a region where even today, more than two hundred years after the publication of S.W.Koelle's Polyglotta Africana and more than thirty-five years after the publication of J.H. Greenberg's Languages of Africa, open options in language classification and description remain almost as frequent as cases of the firmly and reliably established ones. That is why only such attempts at language classification (be they traditionally oriented or be their orientation an attempt at some sort of a new methodological and theoretical platform) were accepted for publication within this volume, which were based on genuine experience in describing the languages concerned. In this respect, new methodological and theoretical concepts originating from recent experience with field work in Africa are also supposed to be of crucial importance. Hence it follows that synthetic approaches to comparative studies and/or areal classification of such "problematic" language families/branches or areas as Chadic, Khoisan, Mande, Saharan etc. were accepted, as well as cases of such "problematic" language and dialect clusters as Fula, Hausa or Songhay. In this respect, the volume may perhaps serve some of the aims of a future team work oriented to present a sort of Introduction to African linguistics, its pretentions being restricted, obviously, to certain language groups and areas of Africa for the research of which the respective authors feel competent.

While disputable cases and options concerning classification of language families and areas of Africa south of the Sahara were in the focus of most contributions in this volume, there was another, much broader pretention behind the efforts to compile it. Tending to stress either the genetic comparison of languages or their areal contrastive confrontantion, many linguists are well aware of the fact that while both approaches serve different purpose using different methods (which are not to be mixed together), there is a profound link between particular methods and areas. Or better, one could say there are links between the historico-sociolinguistic types of language communities in question and methods chosen to analyse them. While theories and methods of the genetic comparison and classical language diachrony were established and elaborated for languages with ancient traditions of written culture (the long-lasting traditions of the existence of written documents being at the very origins of such a historical comparison), the situation of language communities deserving oral cultures offered other opportunities and imposed other methods (areal studies, mass-comparison, reconstructions, etc.). After all, was it not the absolute faith in the validity of the tree-like model of language development manifested by several excellent Indo-Eurpeanists of the past generations that lead them to the neglect of other possible models of language development? Yet, as thorough synchronic language description of hitherto unknown areas of Africa brought reliable comparative and genetic reconstructions, in particular regions where no long lasting tradition of written texts had ever existed (the Bantu and Chadic fields being only the most obvious cases, but by far not the only ones), so did the recent 'returns' of areal and pidgin cum creole studies bring new results even in the traditional IE fields. Thus, much of what has been said and neglected in the period of the neogrammarian polemics with Hugo Schuchardt in their times comes to the front of the stage again, albeit in the new theoretical and methodological light. It is in this sense that this volume does not intend to re-open the past confrontations between the genetic and the areal approach to language classification and description, but - rather - to face the new opportunities in their combined efforts, as they can be illustrated on data from problematic dialects, languages, vs.language families and areas.

ISBN 9783895869389. LINCOM Studies in African Linguistics 47. 240pp. 2000.
Browse this category: LINCOM Studies in African Linguistics (LSAL)