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Die Sprache von Nisheygram im afghanischen Hindukusch.

Die Sprache von Nisheygram im afghanischen Hindukusch. By ALMUTH DEGENER. Neuindische Studien, vol. 14. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 1998. Pp. ix + 588. DM 114.

The Nuristani (formerly known as Kafiri) languages of the isolated valleys of northeastern Afghanistan have long fascinated linguists on account of their archaic character and apparent status as an independent branch of the Indo-Iranian protofamily. But the documentation of the Nuristani languages and dialects has been and continues to be spotty and insufficient, due for the most part to the ongoing difficulty, both geographical and political, of gaining access to Nuristan. Since the pioneering field research and publications of Georg Morgenstierne beginning in the 1920s, few linguists have succeeded in carrying out fieldwork in Nuristan, and even fewer have published their results in any comprehensive form. One of the few successors to Morgenstierne's ground-breaking efforts is Georg Buddruss, and the present volume is based entirely on field notes made by him in Nisheygram and Kabul in 1969 and 1970 (pp. vii-ix, 19), which have been expertly presented and analyzed by his student Almuth Degener.

The speech of the village of Nishey, or Nisey-ala as it is referred to by its own speakers, is a dialect of the language which has hitherto been referred to in scholarly literature as Waigali, but which is, more strictly speaking, a group of dialects spoken in the Waigal Valley in southeastern Nuristan (pp. 2-3). The text materials presented here by Degener are described by Buddruss in his foreward as "die ... bisher umfangreichste Sammlung von Texten in einer Nuristani-Sprache" (p. ix), and there can be no doubt that this volume will constitute a major advance in the field of Nuristani linguistics. The book consists of three main parts: a detailed grammatical analysis; a compilation of forty-three texts transcribed by Buddruss from oral recitations, together with German translations; and a complete and painstakingly documented glossary.

The grammatical analysis is straightforward and pragmatic; in the author's own words, "[d]ie Darstellung der Grammatik dient allein dem Zweck, eine wenig bekannte Sprache zuganglicher zu machen. Sie arbeitet mit sprachwissentschaftlichen Methoden, ohne sich auf eine bestimmte Schule festlegen oder eine grammatische Theorie unterstutzen zu wollen" (p. 20). The happy result is that we have a practical yet linguistically sophisticated presentation, in which the study of Nuristani languages is brought up to date in the light of modern descriptive techniques.

Readers of this book who are more acquainted with better known Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages, both ancient and modern, will find much that is familiar. For despite their having been separated, genetically speaking, from both groups since proto-historic times, the Nuristani languages still have a great deal in common with their neighboring families, especially with the Indic group, as a result of contact phenomena and common areal features, direct loans, and the survival of archaic words and structures. Thus one not infrequently finds among the text samples entire sentences that will strike chords of recognition in readers who are familiar with various Indic languages; for example, a""a tuba istri bisam ya mrelem "ich werde deine Frau, oder ich werde sterben" (p. 104; compare, for example, Sanskrit aham tava stri bhavisyami, marisye va), or ali cua ... tuba mukamuk nisino-sto "diesen Hund... der dir gegenuber sizt" (p. 204; Sanskrit, ayam sva tava-abhimukhe nisannah).

Particularly interesting in this connection is Degener's evaluatiOn (pp. 10-12) of Nisey-ala in respect to the fourteen features identified by Colin Masica as distinctive to or characteristic of the South Asian linguistic are a. Degener finds that thirteen of these fourteen characteristics are present, in varying degrees. The only one of Masica's distinctive South Asian areal features that is totally absent from Nisey-ala is the dative-subject construction. Other features such as explicator compound verbs are present only in limited degree--"wenn auch keineswegs in dem Ausma[beta] wie im NIA" (p. 11). But many of these features are fully attested in Nisey-ala; thus "retroflex consonants, especially stops" are represented by seven phonemes, and in respect to the typical South Asian word-order features subject-object-verb, adjective-noun, genitive-noun, demonstrative-noun, postposition, standard-marker-adjective, etc., "N[isey-ala] verhalt sich durchaus wie das NIA" (ibid.). Some of the other typical South Asi an areal features are present in Nisey-ala but with significant modifications or differences. Thus the conjunctive participle (or absolutive) is "wie im IA sehr haufig verwendet," but "[i]m Gegensatz zum Hindi kann der Agens... des finiten Verbs em anderes sein als der des Absolutivs" (ibid.; see also pp. 124-25).

With regard to yet another typical South Asian areal feature, namely the absence of prefixes, Nisey-ala once again generally agrees with the South Asian pattern, but with the important exception of the "[f]ur N. and fur andere Nuristani-Sprachen charakteristich ... Lokalmorpheme, die auch als Prafixe emgesetzt werden" (ibid.). The distinctive category of locational morphemes, which is analyzed in detail on pp. 95-97, comprises three separate systems: a two-fold distinction with regard to position in the river valley, i.e., "tal-auf" versus "tal-ab"; a set of seven terms denoting fixed location with regard to direction and inside/outside distinction; and a group of ten terms denoting direction and manner of motion. These morphemes can be used as verbal prefixes, with suffixes as adverbs and adjectives, in combination with deictics and demonstratives, and as postpositions. Thus, in combination with the three-fold system of demonstrative/deictic pronouns, they can express such precise and complex locational exp ressions as, for example, alip'aaba manas "der Mann von hier schrag-unten" (p. 90). Here, it would seem (although the author refrains from indulging in any such speculation) that the structure of the language reflects the physical circumstances of life in the steep and isolated valleys of Nuristan.

Degener's presentation of the grammar of Nisey-ala is, for the most part, strictly synchronic, historical issues lying beyond the purview of this study. She does, however, briefly address the long-standing controversy about the historical position of the Nuristani family vis-a-vis Indo-Iranian, provisionally accepting Morgenstierne's classification of Nuristani as a third, independent branch of Indo-Iranian, "allerdings als einen, der genetisch dem iranischen Zweig nahersteht" (p. 8). In this, she is in accord with the generally prevalent point of view, which has also recently been supported by the historical studies of David Nelson (in his unpublished dissertation, "The Historical Development of the Nuristani Languages" [Univ. of Minnesota, 1986]), among others, although the issue remains open and is probably not soluble in any conclusive fashion.

For the same reason, etymological issues are rarely addressed in this study, though occasional exceptions are made for points of special significance. The extensive discussion of the "reportative particle" or "distance-marker" -le (pp. 172-81), for example, includes an evaluation of its possible etymological relationship with Sanskrit kilo, which is tentatively accepted (pp. 181-82), as well as an interesting comparison of the function of -le with that of the Old Indic perfect tense.

In the second part of the book, forty-three sample texts are presented under the subject headings "Nacherzahlungen nach dem Persisischen," "Mythen und Geschichten uber bestimmte Platze," "Helden und herausragende Personlichkeiten von Nisheygram," "Feldbau und Viehzucht' "Feste, Range, Spiele und Volksbrauche," "Begegnungen mit Feen und ubernaturlichen Wesen," "Volkstumliche und humoristisehe Geschichten," and "Autobiographie eines Bewohners von Nisheygram." Besides providing a wealth of linguistic data, on which the accompanying grammatical study and glossary are entirely based, these texts also provide a revealing overview of the culture and world view of the Nuristanis. In particular, the autobiography of Mohammad Alam Nuristani (pp. 275-82; pp. 348-59), who was Buddruss' main informant and who was killed in the revolution against the Soviet Union, provides a fascinating and touching account of a Nuristani's first encounter with the outside world. Indologists and others interested in the cultural as well a s the linguistic archaisms of Nuristan will be struck by the invocation of a motif analogous to the Indian "act of truth" (satyakriya p. 292 n. 49). One only regrets that these sample texts could not be printed with the text and German translation on facing pages. This arrangement would have made comparisons much easier and thus facilitated the task of those who may undertake the study of Nisey-ala.

In conclusion, this is a masterful study of an important body of hitherto unavailable material, which will certainly mark a milestone in the study of the Nuristani languages. The presentation is throughout clear, detailed, comprehensive, and linguistically sophisticated without becoming obscure. The author is to be congratulated for making the invaluable fieldwork of her mentor available in such an exemplary fashion.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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