Sunday, September 9, 2007

Numbers: Centenary of Discovery of Austronesian Origins

Googling about earlier today, to see if someone outside there in the big wide world could help me with the etymology (how the word came about) of the Borneo version of number 9, jalatien, I came across this, serendipitously:

The Oceanic Languages, Their Grammatical Structure, Vocabulary, and Origin
By Daniel Macdonald
London ; New York : Henry Frowde, 1907.

Now, I've been told by some very eminent linguists (Lawrie Reid for one) that I should just buckle down, get my nose into some books about linguistical know-how, and learn the trade from the bottom up, as the real professionals did.

So when I came across this (most of Googlebooks are shown only as teaser fragments) I began to read, very earnestly. It becomes seductive if you do enough of it.

(I have to say that reading most linguistics papers makes my eyes glaze over, and going to Google's Define: to find out what the technical words mean, breaks the stream of thought somewhat. And, of course, most of this was impenetrable stuff about grammar, that I've loathed aqnd feared since being stuffed with Kennedy and Donkin's Latin Grammar at boarding school, a long time ago).

But then I searched within the book (you can do that with Googlebooks) and came across:

"These twelve Oceanic numerals are the ancient
Semitic numerals, but some of them have been
lost from certain dialects. Thus, eg only the
first five are now found in Ef., and in Ambrym
the first five, and that for 'ten'. In Santo you
find all the twelve in one village, and only the
first five in a neighbouring village. In such
cases as the latter the natives have found it
easier to remember the first five than to remember the
second five to substitute for them combinations
of the first five thus: 51, for 6; 5+2 for 7; 5+3
for 8; 5+4 for 9; 2 of 5 for 10. These
combinations in Ef. are la-tesa 6, larua,7,
latolu, 8, lifiti, 9, rualima,10, latesa being
for lima tesa, &c., and rualima, two of five,
for 10. And Ef. having lost or forgotten the
ancient words for 100 and 1000, has substituted
for them other words, bunti and manu'.

Well, a little interesting (eyes hadn't glazed over completely), although I might not have blurted out quite so easily that the (black) natives couldn't remember numbers 6-10, 100, or 1000, so had to be lazy sambos. For want of mental capacity, they had to casually make do with something else.

But then I read on, and realised this gentleman was actually proving that the language of the natives of Efate, in Vanuatu (then The New Hebrides) was a direct descendant of the Semitic languages of the Middle East (once the Fount of Civilisation, and now the Fount of War).

And this year is the Centenary of the publication of the revelation that the Austronesians came from the Fertile Crescent if not the Holy Land itself.

And, I've never seen this hypothesis refuted, although the mountains of SW China, and from there through via Taiwan, and on to Hawaii, about as likely, are the current paradigm for Austronesian origins in historico-linguistic circles.

Now, insinuating that this fellow was yet another nutter looking for the Lost Tribe of Israel, would be to belittle his efforts a great deal more than he deserves.

The 'real' Lost Tribe of Israel (also here) has now been found, and they've been repatriated here. (Tr: The Judaean Hills are the same thing as the Occupied Territories. The white bits are what the colonists reckon they should keep, and the brown bits are the ghettos).

MacDonald wrote the first dictionary of the Efate language, in Vanuatu, and he was a man of some integrity:

D. MacDonald DD
The New Hebrides Mission
Member of The Societe D'Ethnographie, Paris

- a missionary, and spite of my personal reservations about proselytising any particular religion at all, he seems to have been a very good one.

He possibly stopped them from eating their neighbours or visitors.

And his findings are still being quoted:

"The preverbal pronominal position is recorded in Macdonald's 1907 dictionary, where he says, "thus instead of ka fano, ke fano we have aga fano, iga fano, in exactly the same sense, but, literally, 'I to go,' 'he to go. This variation in Ef. of the order of the three elements of the expression in no way varies the sense, and seems to be purely for euphony" (Macdonald 1907:84-85). If his conclusion about the sense of these forms is correct, it indicates that the grammaticalization of the benefactive was only incipient at the end of the nineteenth century. However, it is more likely that the benefactive was already a functioning construction that was not taken into account by Macdonald's analysis, especially considering that there are examples of benefactives in the 1874 Genesis translation, as seen in (23) above".

I'll keep the linguist in this case anonymous. Perhaps you'll understand why my eyes glaze over some times.