Granted there may have been changes in the Vai script, for example the modern writing is much more wavy than the ancient symbols but basically they are identical.
You can read the Oued Mertoutek inscription and Olmec inscriptions generally because of linguistic continuity of the Mande languages.
I discussed this feature of African languages in a peer reviewed article published years ago see: Clyde A. Winters, Linguistic Continuity and African and Dravidian languages, International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 23 (2), 1996:34-52.
The rate at which languages change is variable. It appears that linguistic change is culture specific. Consequently, the social organization and political culture of a particular speech community can influence the speed at which languages change.Based on the history of language change in Europe most linguists believe that the rate of change for all languages is both rapid and constant (Diagne, 1981, p.238).
The idea that all languages change rapidly is not valid for all the World's languages.The continuity of many African languages may result from the steady state nature of African political systems, and long standing cultural stability since Neolithic times (Diop, 1991 ; Winters 1985; Anselin 1992a, 1992b).
This cultural stability has affected the speed at which African languages change.The political stability of African political institutions has caused languages to change very slowly in Africa (Winters 1996). Pawley and Ross (1993) argue that a sedentary life style may account for the conservative nature of a language Diop, 1987, 1991; Niane, 1984).
This leads to the hypothesis that linguistic continuity exist in Africa due to the continuity or stability of African socio-political structures and cultural systems. This relative cultural stability has led African languages to change more slowly then European and Asian languages. Diop (1974) observed that:First the evolution of languages, instead of moving everywhere at the same rate of speed seems linked to other factors; such as , the stability of social organizations or the opposite, social upheavals. Understandably in relatively stable societies man's language has changed less with the passage of time (pp.153-154).
In Nouvelles recherches sur l'egyptien ancien et les langues Negro-Africaine Modernes , Diop wrote that:The permanence of these forms not only, constitute today a solid base...upon which...[we are to re-]construct diachronic African [languages], but obliges also a radical revision of these ideas, a priori...on the evolution of these languages in general (p.17).There is considerable evidence which supports the African continuity concept.
Dr. Armstrong (1962) noted the linguistic continuity of African languages when he used Glottochronology to test the rate of change in Yoruba. Comparing modern Yoruba words with a list of identical terms collected 130 years ago by Koelle , Dr. Armstrong found little if any internal or external changes in the terms. African languages change much slower than European languages (Armstrong, 1962). For example, African vocabulary items collected by Arab explorers who visited Mande speaking people over a thousand years ago are analogous to contemporary lexicaal items (Diagne,1981, p.239).
Arab explorers including al- Bakri (c.1054-55), Ibn Battuta (c.1352), and Ibn Khaldun (c1394) collected Manding lexical items (J.S. Trimmingham, A History of Islam in West Africa, Oxford,1962: pp.60-83). Below is a comparison of Medieval and Contemporary Manding terms
Medieval Manding …………English…………Contemporary Manding
Ba ( r )…………….great…………………..ba
Gana………………war chief………….gana, kana
The grammar of Mande languages has not changed either. Mahmud al Kati caste called [i]tyindiketa[/i] “cutters of grass” which was responsible for the collection of grass for the horses (Trimmingham, p.78). Let’s break down this term
-n- first person particle
di ‘smooth surface’
Thus tyindiketa means literally ‘the grass my smooth surface cut man”, i.e., “the man (who) cuts the grass of my smooth surface”.
This linguistic pattern agrees with the SVO pattern of modern Manding. It also shows that “Old Manding” and “Modern Manding” are identical. This supports Obenga’s theorem that sedentary living causes ‘enduring correspondence and regular similarities’ among complete forms, morphemes and phonemes with African languages.
In addition there are striking resemblances between the ancient Egyptian language and Coptic, and Pharonic Egyptian and African languages (Diagne, 1981; Diop, 1977; Obenga, 1988, 1992a, 1992b, 1993,).The fact that Mande terms collected over a thousand years ago have not changed over this period of time highlights the continuity of Mande vocabulary items and explains the steady state linguistic reality of the Malinke-Bambara language. It is this slow process of change within the Mande languages which allow me to read ancient Olmec and Saharan
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Thursday, July 17, 2008
Linguistic Continuity and African Languages
Posted by Dr. Clyde Winters at 8:53 PM
Labels: African linguistics, Arab explorers, Mande languages
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