Back in London it is, sadly, much easier to write on African languages than from the continent itself. The obstacles do not only concern internet access, a major hurdle to equitably shared information, but also access to and awareness of printed research. In this regard, African researchers are much more excluded from information flows and access to repositories than their counterparts in the Global North, but the difficulties persist in both directions: it is often impossible to discover, let alone have access, to scientific publications authored and distributed on the African continent (especially if they were not created in South Africa). CODESRIA, the Council
for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, is a beacon in its various activities aiming at redressing this imbalance and making African research visible and accessible. There are other initiatives, such as ILISS Africa, a German library service providing information on and access to a broad range of information not only on but crucially also from, Africa, on an internet platform. But its funding is temporary, as is that of many initiatives aiming at overcoming the digital divide, and so it is often left to personal connections and sheer luck to fill in the cracks. In this case, serendipity took the form of a lunch conversation with my Malian host, Prof. Mohamed Minkailou, from the Department of English at Bamako’s Université des Lettres et Sciences Humaines.
I was reporting my taboo hunt form the previous week, and to my delight, Prof. Minkailou said that he had published an article on euphemisms in Songhay. The data are from Faraw! Mother of the Dunes, a film in standard Songhai (which is based on the Songhay variety spoken in Gao, Gao Senni). It turns out that snakes are seen as such distasteful entities that their names – salaamun and gondi – tend not to be pronounced at all. Instead, the euphemism gandarfu ‘a rope on the ground’ is used at all times. We didn’t have the time to explore the motivation for this taboo, or its relations to other items unsayable in the darkness. But the article also mentions the word for witch, carkaw, which cannot be said at night and has to be replaced by cijin boro – ‘person of the night’ – so the dangers of witchcraft seem to linger in Songhay taboos, as they do in other languages of the wider area.
But euphemisms in Songhai go much further, even prompting marriage partners to avoid calling their spouses ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ and making them employ the term filaana ‘someone’ (from Arabic fulaan), sometimes preposed by aru ‘man’ or woy ‘woman’. I would love to share the article with you – the journal in which it appeared even has a website: http://www.recherches-africaines.net, but it had only a spurious existence – the link is broken. I have permission to share the paper, so here the link to the PDF and the reference:
Minkailou, Mohamed. 2016. Exploring euphemism in standard Songhay. Recherches Africaines. Annales de l’Université des Lettres et Sciences Humaines de Bamako 16: 31-39.
And please, if you know of websites disseminating African research from the continent, please leave the link in a comment below the line!
13 thoughts on “Persons of the night and special someones in Songhay”
Hello, I can’t access to the link; http://www.recherches-africaines.net,
Is it possible to send me the paper?
Hi, Wordpess turned the text into a link, but in the text I mention that the link is broken and that I’ll ask the author whether I can scan and share the text. Please bear with me a little while!
Thank you very much!
Hi Sandra, the PDF of the paper is now uploaded!
Thank you very much ! I downloaded it and will read it. Have you some mail contact with Minkailou?
YesI do. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want me to put the two of you in touch with each other.
This issue of access to publications so important!
Just an idea, but in cases where the author retains copyright and wants to disseminate their work, it might be worth them considering posting it to a repository such as Zenodo (zenodo.org) or SocArVix (socopen.org) so that the job of hosting is out-sourced from personal websites and blog to an institution with a commitment to long-term access!
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A great idea! Some of us should get together and find some funding to hire someone to do some groundwork contacting researchers, sorting out copyright and uploading eligible papers…
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Ok, adding it to the list with joint post about Afrobarometer data 🙂