As someone who has never had much do with agriculture or animal husbandry, fieldwork in Ethiopia is not only an opportunity to study a new language but also to learn more about cattle, goats, sheep, chicken, milk and meat production. I must admit that when I collected the Baskeet vocabulary of animal husbandry, I sometimes didn’t know how to translate certain terms into my native language German, although translational equivalents do exist – just not in the internal lexicon of urbanised people like me.
There are, however, Baskeet lexemes for which roughly equivalent one-word translations are impossible to come by, because they reflect concepts that are absent from the languages I speak. One of those concepts is the topic of today’s post: the geep-concept.
In the semantic field of goat and sheep, I have found the following mono-morphemic (i.e. unanalysable) non-periphrastic Baskeet lexemes (1):
- dorti ‘goat’ (sex not specified)
- kol ‘billy-goat’
- gawli ‘uncastrated, bad-smelling male goat’
- korp ‘young female goat (before sexual maturity)’
- dori ‘sheep’ (sex not specified)
- dak’sha ‘young female sheep (before sexual maturity)’
- marzi ‘ram’
Apart from the terms given above, Baskeet also has a cover term for an animal that is either a goat or a sheep:
- deyshi ‘goat or sheep’
This term is used when it is not considered necessary to specify whether an animal is a goat or a sheep. As plural number does not have to be overtly expressed in Baskeet, the term can also refer to a group of animals that consists of either goats or sheep, or of goats and sheep. Which convenient translation can I use? Let’s just say geep, which is a blend of the words goat and sheep, keeping in mind that the animal referred to by the Baskeet term deyshi is, of course, not a goat-sheep hybrid.
Sheep and goats are biologically closely related and it is not very surprising that a language should have a term for the sub-family including goats and sheep. It is just that most languages have chosen not to lexicalise ‘geep’. Therefore, I was curious to find out more about the distribution of this lexicalisation pattern. As I had some anecdotal evidence that other languages of the area also had ‘geep’-lexemes, I browsed the books on my shelf and found examples in the following works:
- Dhaasanac (Cushitic): ʔáy ‘sheep and goats’ (Tosco 2001: 480)
- Tunni (Cushitic): áran ‘sheep and goats’ (Tosco 1997: 286)
- Arbore (Cushitic): ʔeɗi ‘sheep and goats (collectively)’, ʔeɗante (msc.) / ʔeɗinte (fem.) (2) ‘individual sheep or goat’ (Hayward 1984: 183, 338)
Note that all languages mentioned above are Cushitic languages (and languages of pastoralists) (3), whereas I have not yet found any ‘geep’-lexemes in Omotic languages, the language family to which Baskeet belongs (4). I am curious to know which other languages in Ethiopia and in the world have a ‘geep’-lexeme. Just leave a comment below!
A final note on language change: The influence of the national language Amharic, which has no term for ‘geep’, can be perceived in the language of Baskeet people that are fluent second-language speakers of the national language. They tend to use deyshi only to refer to a goat. In their language, deyshi has become synonymous to dorti ‘goat’.
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