How do we write this? Grammaticalisation causing trouble
There are many conundrums in writing the Ishɛ language that I’ve been aware of for some years. One is how to write a verb that pops up in natural speech sounding like ‘aguna‘, or ‘ugunu‘ or ‘egune‘, often explained as meaning ‘again’. (In the negative the construction doesn’t mean ‘again’ so much as ‘no longer’ – signifying a change to expected behaviour.) With a bit of probing this turns out to be the remnant of a grammaticalisation process which took a perfectly normal verb gui ‘return’ + conjunction ni ‘and’ and formed effectively an auxiliary… but two aspects give writers of the language trouble:
- the nasal consonant n at the end naturally nasalises the u in the middle. So should we write it agũna?
- (There’s no meaningful contrast, though with any other word, so I think we shouldn’t put a nasal sign on that middle vowel.)
- Ishɛ verbs always have an index before them, either a vowel or sometimes a consonant + vowel, identifying the actor. The gun steals the index from the next verb. So should we write this vowel as it seems to sound, attached to the gun, like guna/guni/gune/guno?
- (Notice this gives us a whole host of different words only different because of the noun class being used. And because gunX has a matching index before it we would end up with mirrored indexes: aguna/iguni/ugunu etc. All this masks what is actually going on and introduces more apparent complexity in the lexicon.)
- OK there’s a third problem:
gun in isolation means ‘noise’ or ‘make a noise’ and is totally unrelated to the meaning we intend here.
- (This would seem to suggest we should not write gun as a separate word.)
So what should we do?
- NOT agũna jẽẽ / igũni jẽẽ / ugũnu jẽẽ… ‘he/they again went’ / ‘it again went’ / ‘you again went’
- Because of 1 and 2 above.
- NOT a gun a jẽẽ ‘he/they again went’
- Because of 3 above
- a guni a jẽẽ
- Standard Ishɛ pronunciation rules mean the vowel after gun could be anything short and it would be deleted but we have some evidence that the original phrase was gui ni, so this contracted form resembles that fairly well and i appears to be the most common vowel to be dropped in elision anyway.
A completely separate issue is when in translation from English (or Hausa or Greek or Hebrew) it’s appropriate to use this expression.
What’s an ‘index’?
It’s like the mandatory ‘pronoun’ in languages that use subject agreement. It’s not a pronoun because it is essential whether or not the noun or a full pronoun is there, and behaves as part of the verb. It indexes the subject (or object) giving a little information about who is doing what. It inflects for person and noun class. We have subject and object (actor and affected) indexes which are quite different from each other.