The paradox of the Arbëresh future construction and the history of Albanian dialects
- Borana Lushaj
- Friday 2 June 2017
- Friday Afternoon Lecture
2311 BD Leiden
The oldest and most reliable dialectal feature that distinguishes Albanian Northern (Geg) and Southern (Tosk) dialects is the presence of rhotacism of the Proto-Albanian intervocalic nasal (Çabej, 1970) in Tosk Albanian. The distribution of rhotacism in inherited forms, Latin borrowings and few early Slavic loans suggests that the process concluded around the 10th century (Çabej, 1970; Ylli, 1997).
Given the overwhelming presence of rhotacized variants, Italo-Albanian (Arbëresh) is classified as a Tosk dialect. In addition, shared lexicon and morphological innovations, along with some indicative toponyms-as-family names have lead linguists to conclude that the overwhelming majority of Arbëresh speakers were from areas along the Ionian (SW Tosk) as well as from earlier Albanian settlements in the Peloponnesus (Klosi, 2005).
Another important feature that distinguishes the two dialect groups is the future construction. Tosk has a typical Balkan Sprachbund WILL-SUBJUNCTIVE future and Geg a HAVE – INFINITIVE one. The Arbëresh HAVE - SUBJUNCTIVE future looks like a hybrid form. Given the assumed Tosk origin of Arbëresh, it has been suggested that this future form is the result of contact with Italo-Romance varieties (Çabej, 1975). Compare the following transcription for “I will sing”:
Geg kam me kəndue Tosk do tə kəndoj
have.1sg inf. sing.ptcp will subj. sing.1sg
Arb. kam tə kəndoj It.-Rom. agghiə cantá
have.1sg subj. sing.1sg have.1sg sing.inf
A closer look at the grammaticalization of future constructions (Bybee & Pagliuca, 1987) with reference to Balkan Albanian, other Balkan languages, and Italo-Romance reveals that the Arbëresh future construction is not borrowed from Italo-Romance. The facts are as follows:
1) In the earliest Geg texts from the 16th century (Ressuli, 1958) we find the HAVE - INFINITIVE construction as already predominantly used to express future reference alongside deontic and epistemic modalities, as well as future in the past forms.
2) The oldest Tosk text from early 18th century (Hamiti, 2008) shows no trace of any HAVE - INFINITIVE or HAVE – SUBJUNCTIVE forms, but only a fully-fledged WILL - SUBJUNCTIVE future.
3) The grammaticalization of the Tosk WILL – SUBJUNCTIVE future may have happened earlier or alongside other Balkan languages. In contemporary and early Tosk texts, the WILL-auxiliary was already reduced to an uninflected particle, both in future and future- in-the-past constructions. In contrast, in Bulgarian, where the grammaticalization of the WILL-future is thought to have concluded around the 16th century, the WILL-auxiliary of future forms is still today inflected for future in the past forms (Fiedler, 1999; Kramer, 1997).
4) In the earliest Arbëresh text from 1592 (Sciambra, 1964), we already find a fully grammaticalized HAVE + SUBJUNCTIVE future form, where only clitics could be placed in between the particle and the subjunctive verb form. In contrast, the indivisibility and morpho- phonological blending of the Italo-Romance HABEO AD/DA CANTARE (Ledgeway, 2009; Loporcaro, 1999) would only emerge in the early 18th century.
Taking the above facts into account, we can only conclude that the Arbëresh future construction is an inherited trait from a Tosk variety, but not one where the WILL + SUBJUNCTIVE was already grammaticalized, very likely already by the 16th century. Consequently, the extreme Southern and Southwestern origin of Arbëresh does not have a very strong foundation.
The only reasonable explanation for the facts of the future construction in Arbëresh and Balkan Albanian is that the majority of the earliest migration waves were not from the extreme South, as it has been assumed thus far, but rather from a central Albanian region. Both historical and previously overlooked ethnographic fieldwork suggest that this may be accurate. Ethnographic research (Zojzi, 1962) relates narratives of massive repopulation of Northeast and central Albania around the 17th – 18th centuries in the family histories of current inhabitants. Without official records from that time, conscientious family histories imposed by the strictly exogamous relationships enforced by Albanian tradition, should be considered an important evidence in this regard. This hypothesis also opens up the possibility to reimagine the geographical position of the current rhotacism isogloss in Balkan Albanian.
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