Greetings in Baskeet

Wozara? Kossha?

Wozara? Kossha? ‘How are you? Are you fine?’

Collecting and practising conventionalised phrases is a good way to start learning and using a language in the field. Even my first (more or less successful) attempts to greet or thank someone in Baskeet made people call out in surprise and delight: ‘Oh, she speaks our language!’ Although I often didn’t understand in the beginning what people answered or what they asked me in return, it was a great motivation to keep on practising the language in the streets, at the market, when contacting potential informants etc.

In an earlier post on thanking I have already taught you how to respond when someone does you a genuine favour, when you are served food in an eatery and when you are asked by a beggar for money but unable to give something to him/her. Today I will let you know the basic phrases for greeting Baskeet-speaking people.

The exchange of greetings in Baskeet is not very complicated and can be learnt fairly quickly. The choice of a greeting depends, firstly, on the time of the day (before or after noon), secondly, on the number of persons greeted and, thirdly, on the relation between the speaker and the addressee (same age/social status vs. different age/social status).

A. Morning (until noon)

In the morning (until noon), Baskeet people ask each other how they have spent the night.

1. addressing a single person

  • (ne) wozar ak’i?, literally ‘How have you passed the night?’, or
  • (ne) kossh ak’i?, literally ‘Have you passed the night well?’ (Listen to the pronunciation)

2. addressing several people or a respected person:

  • (yinti) wozar ak’ite?, literally ‘How have you (plural/respected) passed the night?’ or
  • (yinti) kossh ak’ite?, literally ‘Have you (plural/respected) passed the night well?’ (Listen to the pronunciation)

Like French vous, the Baskeet second person plural pronoun yinti is used to address a single (or several) respected person(s).

The simplest answer to the questions given above is:

If you are interested in a bit of Baskeet grammar, then read on. Otherwise skip the paragraphs in fine-print and jump to section B for greetings that can be used after noon.

You have probably noticed that the literal English translation of the greetings above is much “wordier” than the relatively brief Baskeet questions: six English words in the translation correspond to two or three Baskeet words. This can be explained, firstly, by the fact that Baskeet does often not express subjects (and other noun phrases) if they can be understood from the context. It would definitely not be wrong to say ne wozar ak’i? ‘How have you passed the night?’ with the subject pronoun ne ‘you (sg)’ expressed overtly – but if it is clear from the context of the speech situation and from the verb form used who the subject is, it can be left unexpressed (unlike in English where the pronoun you has to be used). In this sense, Baskeet could be characterised as quite “economical”.
The second reason for the longer English translation is the meaning of the Baskeet verb ak’– (NB: ak’- is the stem of the verb forms ak’-i and ak’-ite). There is simply no one-word translation for ak’– ‘pass/spend the night’ in English. We will see in the next section below that the Baskeet verb peeshk- ‘pass/spend the day’ also requires a multi-word translation.
The greetings can also tell us something about the Baskeet word order. Like many languages in Ethiopia (zoom in on Ethiopia here to learn about the basic word order of languages in the area), Baskeet has a strong tendency to place the verb at the end of the sentence. See some other Baskeet examples with the verb ak’– ‘spend the night’:
(i) [kossh]1 [ak’i]2? = ‘[Have you spend the night]2 [well]1?’
(ii)  [gayc’i na’]1 [mootts keetts]2 [ak’iire]3 = ‘[Shepherds]1 [spend the night]3 [(in) the barn]2.’
(iii) [kor keetts garta]1 [asi]2 [ak’baase]3 = ‘[People]2 [don’t spend the night]3 [in the rattle house]1.’
The position of noun phrases before the verb is free (or, as I should rather say, dependent on pragmatic considerations). Note that the subject (‘shepherds’) precedes the place adverbial (‘in the barn’) in (ii) while the arrangement is reversed in (iii) where the place adverbial comes first and the subject noun phrase second.
The last grammatical feature that can be exemplified with the greetings presented above concerns the verb forms used in questions. While questions in English are marked by a certain question intonation, changes in word order (You have gone. –> Have you gone?) and the use of the support verb do (You want an X. –> Do you want an X?),* Baskeet and several other Omotic languages of the area have specific interrogative verb forms, i.e. verb forms that are only used in questions and not formally related to the verb forms used in statements (declarative sentences). The declarative forms corresponding to (ne) ak’-i? ‘Have you (sg) passed the night?’ and (yinti) ak’-ite? ‘Have you (pl/resp) passed the night?’ are (ne) ak’-ade ‘you (sg) have passed the night’ and (yinti) ak’-ide ‘you (pl/resp) have passed the night’. No question morpheme can be isolated in the interrogative verb forms; the interrogative forms cannot be derived from the declarative forms. I plan to speak about these cross-linguistically unusual interrogative verb forms at an upcoming conference. I keep you posted about it. [Update 29/07/2014: The conference paper on Baskeet question has been published. See Treis 2014 here.]
I have probably digressed too much and managed to confuse you with this “linguisticky” paragraphs on Baskeet grammar. But even if the details were not comprehensible, I hope it has become clear that the first phrases collected in an unknown language can already reveal a lot about its grammatical structure, or at least help you to formulate first hypotheses about the grammar. In the present case, the greetings served to illustrate that subjects don’t have to be expressed overtly, that Baskeet has a predominately verb-final word order and that verbs have specific interrogative forms in Baskeet. But now back to the original aim of this post …

B. After noon

In the afternoon and in the evening, Baskeet people ask each other how they have spent the day:

1. addressing a single person

  • (ne) wozar peeshki?, literally ‘How have you passed the day?’ (Listen to the pronunciation), or
  • (ne) kossh peeshki?, literally ‘Have you passed the day well?’

2. addressing several people or a respected person:

The simplest answer is as above.

C. The second question in a greeting dialogue

After inquiring about how the night or the day was passed, the second question in a conversation is a very general question about one’s well-being – or, in fact, often a sequence of two questions (which are written in the Baskeet official orthography in the title to this post):

  • Wozara? Kossha? ‘How are you? Are you good/fine?’,
    or with overt subject pronouns:
  • (for one person) Ne wozara? Kossha? ‘How are you (sg)? Are you (sg) good/fine?’
  • (for several persons or a respected person) Yinti wozara? Kossha? ‘How are you (pl)? Are you (pl) good/fine?’

The answer is simply:

  • (te) kosshe ‘I (am) good/fine.’**

Don’t be surprised if you are asked Wozara? Kossha? three to five times!! Just keep on replying until your interlocutor is convinced that you are doing fine ;-)

Greetings seem to be emblematic and important phrases to exemplify the differences between languages in the area. Often when I asked people what (or how big) the difference was between Baskeet and the neighbouring languages Gofa (called Goop in Baskeet), Melo/Malo (called Mala in Baskeet) and Galila-Aari (called Gayl in Baskeet), a frequent reply was: “We greet each other [xyz], but they greet each other [abc].”

If you are interested in the greetings in other Ethiopian languages, I recommend the article by Baye Yimam (1997) on ‘The Pragmatics of Greeting, Felicitation and Condolence Expressions in Four Ethiopian Languages‘ to you – the four languages discussed are the Semitic language Amharic, the Cushitic language Oromo, the Omotic language Wolaitta (a close relative of Baskeet) and the Nilo-Saharan language Nuer.

© 2011-2 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved

* For a brief cross-linguistic overview how questions are marked in the languages of the world see WALS feature 116.
** Baskeet does not make a formal difference between adjectives and adverbs, i.e. between ‘good’ and ‘well’, both would be translated as kossh.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go to Dutse Tamiru for the recordings.
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One Response to Greetings in Baskeet

  1. Pingback: Numerals in Baskeet | Basket to Ethiopia

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