Gertrud Schneider-Blum: Proverbs Finish the Problems – Sayings of the Alaaba (Ethiopia) [PDF]


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Verbal Art and Documentary Literature in African Languages Volume 28

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XII, 102 pp.

Text language: English

Alaaba is a Highland East Cushitic language spoken by about 200,000 first and second language speakers. The capital of their area, Alaaba Kuliito, is found 310 km south of Addis Ababa. Proverbs are used in all contexts: during quarrels between families or within a family, to comfort somebody who has a problem with a child or with a neighbour, to comment on misbehaviour or to stress the importance of one’s family. Advice or reproach, which would be considered impolite when administered in plain words, becomes acceptable when couched in proverbs.

In using proverbs, the speaker does not impart his personal opinion but instead conveys an accepted wisdom, i.e. the result of many years of experience of the Alaaba forefathers. A proverb contains a genuine truth. Alaaba is a predominantly agglutinating language, but due to complex morphophonological processes, morphemes cannot always be clearly distinguished on the surface level. To make these distinctions more transparent, an additional morpheme break line is here inserted in between the Alaaba examples (continuous text in bold italics) and the interlinear glossings.

The English translations (which follow the original Alaaba structure and at the same time attempt to be as free and idiomatic as possible in order to facilitate understanding) and – where necessary – an explanation of the meaning of the proverb and/or the circumstances under which the proverb might be used (given in brackets) are added.

Alaaba is not a tone language, but accent plays a crucial role. The relevant rules are described by the author in detail in chapter 2.7 on Prosodic Features in A Grammar of Alaaba (see link below) and are not repeated here. In this book, pitch accent is marked by an acute accent and word-final devoiced vowels are bracketed to facilitate reading. For practical purposes, i.e. to easily find a certain proverb, they are sorted in alphabetical order.

This small booklet of proverbs and sayings serves a number of purposes. It can be used as an additional textbook for those linguists who have read the grammar and who would like to consult further examples. But it is also of interest to those linguists who concentrate on literature, to be more specific, on the poetic aspects of language. Furthermore it gives an interesting insight into the culture of the Alaaba people.

Under these links you will find publications by the author and descriptions of further Cushitic languages and cultures:

Gertrud Schneider-Blum: A Grammar of Alaaba – A Highland East Cushitic Language of Ethiopia [PDF]

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