Names and spellings of languages can turn into much-discussed issues at conferences, in scientific papers and in the media. Three well-known naming issues in the history of Ethiopian studies are the cases of Galla → Oromo, Welamo → Wolaitta, Gimira → Bench and Janjero → Yem(sa). In the linguistic and anthropological literature before the 1980s, the terms Galla, Welamo, Gimira and Janjero were used commonly (see e.g. here) in reference to four Ethiopian ethnic groups and their languages. All terms are xenonyms, i.e. names by which neighbouring groups (e.g. the Amhara) called the Oromo, Wolaitta, Bench and Yem people, but not autonyms, i.e. names by which the people refer to themselves in their own language. Apart from being non-native, the terms Galla, Welamo, Gimira and Janjero were also considered derogatory by the Oromo, Wolaitta, Bench and Yem people and that’s why they are no longer used in the scientific literature. They have also mostly disappeared from public usage in Ethiopia.
Fortunately, I have not come across any derogatory terms in the literature on the Baskeet people and their language. I have, however, found a surprising number of variant names (Basketo, Mesketo etc.) and I had to ask myself how to refer – in my linguistic publications – to the language that I am studying.
As I expect to be asked, sooner or later, at a linguistic conference or by a reader of this blog (i) why I chose to use the term Baskeet, (ii) why I don’t use one of the more common other terms (or spelling variants) floating around in the literature and in the WWW, and (iii) where these variant names and spellings come from, I am trying to answer these questions in this and the following posts.
Asked about the name of his/her country, a Baskeet person answers:
te gadaa Baskeet [Recording 1]
1s land.DEF Baskeet
‘My land is Baskeet.’
The inhabitants of Baskeet are simply called Baskeet asants ‘Baskeet people’.
And if you ask a Baskeet speaker which language s/he speaks, s/he answers:
te Baskeet nooni sooli eraare [Recording 2]
1s Baskeet mouth speak.CV can.1sIPV
‘I can speak the Baskeet language (lit. “mouth”).’
In alphabetisation materials that have been developed by the Baskeet community, the language is also referred to as Baskeet. The title of the schoolbook shown below can be transliterated as Baskeet fidala mats’aafa ‘Baskeet letter book’. (More on the Baskeet orthography later.)
So there is a simple reason for choosing Baskeet as the name for the language that I am working on: Baskeet is the native name (autonym) used by the speakers to refer to their land, their people and their language.
Although Baskeet seemed the most obvious choice, it took me some time to become happy with this decision, because by choosing Baskeet as the term of reference for my publications I introduced a new variant into the (already quite long) list of names that can be found in the literature (and which I am going to discuss in my next posts). By making a decision for Baskeet, I decided against Basketo, which is the hitherto most common language name in encyclopaedias, handbooks etc. as well as the variant with which the language’s ISO-code bst is associated.
P.S. A note on the pronunciation of Baskeet: In this Recording 3 you can hear that the name is [baske:t] in broad phonetic transcription. Or said differently, the first vowel in Baskeet is pronounced like a short a in German (e.g. in the word Maske) and the second vowel is pronounced like a long ee in German (e.g. in the word Beet).