LINGUIST List 5.1351

Thu 24 Nov 1994

Disc: Original Karamojong / Jie language

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  1. , Re: Original Karamojong / Jie language

Message 1: Re: Original Karamojong / Jie language

Date: Wed, 23 Nov 1994 10:54:26 Re: Original Karamojong / Jie language
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Subject: Re: Original Karamojong / Jie language

Leo Connolly cross-posted a question about Karamojong on Linguist and
sci.lang. I posted a response on sci.lang, and I'm cross-posting it

In article (,
) A colleague of mine would like to know the latest opinion concerning the
) original language of the "Karamojong hordes" and/or Jie, who have abandoned
) their original language in favor of that of the Masai. Does anyone know
) whether their tongue is best described as "Nilotic" or "Sudanic"? Or doesn't
) it matter? And if Greenberg classified this language, which se seems to ave
) done, does anyone know if his classification is still generally accepted (a
) fair question in view of his more recent Amerindian debacle)?

Bill Welmers, in his "Checklist of Language and Dialect Names"
(Sebeok, T.A., 1971, Current Trends in Linguistics, Vol. 7:
Linguistics in Sub-Saharan Africa, The Hague: Mouton) lists
Karamojong as a member of the Chari-Nile branch of Nilo-Saharan. In
the same volume, Greenberg's article "Nilo-Saharan and Meroitic" gives
a little more detail, assigning it to the Teso group of Eastern Nilotic,
itself a branch of Eastern Sudanic, which is a branch of Chari-Nile.
Its cognate languages within Teso are Teso, Toposa, and Turkana. I
don't work on Nilo-Saharan, so I'm not up to date on current
classification. However, in African languages as a whole, Greenberg's
four major families, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Afro-Asiatic, and
Khoi-San have stood up pretty well for the last 30 years. There has
been some discussion of a relationship between Niger-Congo and
Nilo-Saharan, but no convincing case has yet been published. Within
Niger-Congo there has been some realignment (John Bendor-Samuel, 1991,
The Niger-Congo Languages, University Press of America), the most
significant being the shifting of the Benue-Congo boundary some 600 or
so miles westwards to include what Greenberg called Eastern Kwa.
Greenberg's Southern Cushitic (Afro-Asiatic) is now referred to as
Omotic and its membership in Afro-Asiatic seems to be in some doubt.
Otherwise his African classification works remarkably well.

As an Africanist who was in graduate school towards the end of the
debate on Greenberg's African classification, I see some strong
parallels with the Amerindian debate. The vehemence, even rancor, of
his critics back in the fifties and sixties was no less than what
we've seen more recently. It is certainly unfortunate that there is
apparently so much flawed data in his American work, something I can't
judge but apparently much more than was in his African work, but at
the same time his method of mass comparison is more archeological in
nature than linguistic and has a remarkably high tolerance for error.
I consider the jury still out.

Flames accepted but probably ignored.

Herbert Stahlke, Associate Director Email: 00HFSTAHLKEBSU.EDU
University Computing Services Phone: 317-285-1843
Ball State University Fax: 317-285-1797
Muncie, IN 47306
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