The linguistic landscape of Baskeet

In Baskeet, expressions of written language are relatively uncommon in public places. There are very few road signs, billboards or banners and thus there are not many opportunities to practise reading when walking through the streets. The few signs that are visible in Laska, along the roads and close to governmental and religious institutions, are either written in Amharic or they are symbolic. Signs can, for instance, be found on the gates of the local administration, the court, the police, the schools and some churches.

Sign pointing to the Laska Museum

Sign pointing to the Laska Museum (in Amharic)

In the compounds of institutions, one can also come across a few posters with instructional content (e.g. governmental policies, rules of behaviour); see, for instance, the anti-deforestation poster in the compound of a primary school:

Saattsa Primary School: Sign about the Dangers of Forestation

Saattsa Primary School: Sign about the Dangers of Deforestation (in Amharic)

Sometimes banners are put up in the market areas to announce religious or political events. A couple of shops, coffeehouses and eateries along the Laska main road have their (often quite unusual) names (e.g. Arsenal Café, Sport Restaurant) written above their entrances. But apart from that, one can hardly speak of a linguistic landscape (in the sense of Peter Backhaus) in the Basketo Special Woreda.*

Amharic is the language of instruction in primary schools in the Basketo Special Woreda. Baskeet was introduced as a subject only about three years ago. Signs written in the Baskeet language (and in the Baskeet official orthograpy**) cannot yet be found in public places. This may change in the future and I will keep an eye on the developing linguistic landscape during my next fieldtrip(s). I am only aware of one place where a couple of Baskeet words are publicly visible: on the walls and on the trees in the garden of the Baskeet Museum in Laska Baakkalla .The picture below shows a fragment of the painting on the museum walls. It displays a traditional Baskeet leader (kaati) and the caption ካቲ [kati].

Paiting of a traditional leader on the walls of the Laska Museum

Painting of a traditional leader (kaati) on the walls of the Laska Museum

All over Baskeet (and beyond), food and drinks are not advertised by written signs but by symbols. If you want to attract the attention of hungry and thirsty passers-by and sell them food, self-brewed beer or self-distilled brandy, you put up a plate, a mug, a glass or a bottle beside your front door or, if your house is not easily seen from the road, on a pole in front of your compound. On the picture below you can see a blue plastic plate and a red plastic cup on a pole by the roadside – which is to indicate that you can have a beer and a simple lunch in the house close by.

Food and drink ad in Baskeet

Food and drink ad in Baskeet (Picture taken in the Obc'a area)

It is good to be aware of this symbolism when you are walking through Baskeet and you feel that you won’t manage a walk back to Laska with an empty stomach!

© 2011 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved
*This can, of course, be attributed to the low degree of literacy in the area. Unfortunately, I don’t have any figures about reading and writing skills in the Baskeet area yet, but I’d suspect that, outside the small town of Laska, illiteracy is the rule rather than the exception among people above 20. Most adults outside of Laska are monolingual Baskeet speakers and have not attended school. At the present time, the majority of Baskeet children attend school and acquire the basics of the Amharic language and the Ethiopian writing system. Three years ago Baskeet was introduced as a subject in grade 1 and 2.
**While the great majority of Omotic and Cushitic languages are written in a Latin-based script, the official Baskeet orthography is a modified version of the Ethiopian script. The regular Ethiopian script (that is used e.g. for Amharic) was supplemented with two new character series for the syllables starting with [d’] and [ts] and with three diacritics marking consonant and/or vowel length. (More about the problems of this orthography in a later post).
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3 Responses to The linguistic landscape of Baskeet

  1. Pingback: The Baskeet Museum | Basket to Ethiopia

  2. Pingback: Multifunctionality | Basket to Ethiopia

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