This paper is intended as the first of a series on the Sadian language. Desdashpvk <Десдашпвк> [d̠ə.ˈsad.ʃpvk] (the endonym for the language) is spoken by a community of about 350 people in three valleys of the central Caucasus.1 It is apparently a linguistic isolate, although Spume (2012) proposes a link to the Mongolic family. All speakers of Sadian speak at least two other languages; Georgian is the most popular second language for Sadophones, and is viewed as “easy to learn.”
1.1. Typological characteristics
Sadian has achieved a certain amount2 of notoriety among linguists for its extremely rich consonant and vowel inventory, complex interactions of lexical tone and stress, highly synthetic morphosyntax, OSV word order, unparalleled use of suppletion, and intricate lexico-
1.2. Status of the language
Despite the small number of speakers of Sadian, it cannot be characterized as endangered, as it is being acquired by almost all children of current speakers. This situation may be due to the fact that, as Mittenloop (1985) points out in Hunting the Mountain Octopus, his brilliant anthropological study of Sadian culture, virtually all Sadian speakers are members of the Brethren of Righteousness, an extremely dour sect of Calvinism, whose adherents feel that learning this excruciatingly complex language is a form of suffering that purifies the soul.4 Nevertheless, efforts by outsiders to learn Sadian tend to meet with reactions from native speakers ranging from scorn to incredulity. Foreign accents, in particular, receive hearty ridicule, an attitude that is particularly puzzling when compared with the commonly met opinion among Sadians that “there is no correct way to pronounce Sadian.”5
Sadian’s large and complex inventory of phonemes has attracted the attention of numerous researchers.6
Sadian has an inventory of 104 consonant phonemes (Table 1).
The aspirated plosives and affricates are generally pronounced with strong aspiration; in fact, Sadian children with loose teeth are traditionally told to repeat tongue-
The dental, alveolar and retroflex stops are all laminally pronounced. In the case of the dental stops, this may be one reason many older Sadians have sharply protruding front teeth; however, it is difficult to separate cause from effect. The voiceless nasals, especially /m̥/, are pronounced with little or no pre-
Other allophony in Sadian depends largely upon phonetic space, and gaps in the phoneme inventory tend to be competently filled
2.2 Vowels and other nuclei
Table 2 illustrates the segments that can act as syllabic nuclei.
Sadian is remarkable for its large number of syllabic consonants. It has been postulated (by Turnpiker, 1997) that these segments arose historically from syncope of post-
There are seventeen Sadian monophthongs. Most of these exhibit a three-
The Sadian diphthongs are all falling, so much so that the second element is often auditorily imperceptible, so that they can sometimes be mistaken for monophthongs. This has given rise to tonogenesis; younger speakers especially tend to pronounce the diphthongs as monophthongs with a salient low tone. Those who might express a hope for this tendency to be exceptionless are obviously even more Pollyannish than Swelton. Indeed, the diphthong /œʉ/, when monophthongized, is generally realized as [a] with a salient high-
The two triphthongs in the inventory are, according to Turnpiker (1997), modern reflexes of historical diphthongs that underwent a regular breaking process in word-
Sadian vowels have no nasality distinction either phonemically or as a result of assimilatory processes.11 Returning reluctantly to the syllabic non-
I intend to publish an overview of Sadian phonotactics as soon as my hard drive comes back from the recovery shop.14
* It is with not unmixed gratitude that I acknowledge the contributions of my Sadian language consultant, Ms. Marina Slkhtvchyes; her belief that my devotion to the study of Sadian is God’s way of punishing me has restrained me from becoming overly buoyant. I must acknowledge the support of the Sadian Culture Centre, Trstryaochghk, Russia, for instructing the populace to exempt me from the usual reception afforded to non-
1 Note that the official spelling for the name of the language has a non-
2 6.7 kg, according to Dillworm (2011).
3 Jürgen Booti resigned his endowed chair in Comparative Philology at Freiburg shortly after being asked to review Hamhand’s (2001) paper on second-
4 Obtaining copies of this important work is problematical today, as following a decree by the Elders of the Brethren of Righteousness, expatriate Sadians worldwide bought up copies in order to burn them. Ms. Slkhtvchyes has explained that Mittenloop’s offence lay in referring to Sadian as a “language” rather than an “ordeal”.
5 The Rev. Zhyireoum Dzhktsseou Qhyes, a minister of the Brethren, explained this situation as akin to that of original sin. Speakers are foreordained to err in pronouncing Sadian, and to be punished for their errors. When presented with the linguistic commonplace that all native speakers are competent in their own language, his response was to reach for his ritual bundle of birch twigs.
6 Apparently most of them have been stoned to death before being able to publish their results; see acknowledgements.*
7 The present researcher is sceptical of this claim, as I have calculated that these voiced post-
8 Certain other assumptions in Swelton’s paper imply a belief in the Tooth Fairy as well.
9 Widdershins (2004) devoted her Ph.D. dissertation to an attempt to explain this phenomenon. Judging by her recent e-mails (Widdershins, pc, 2005-6) her struggle for sanity has now become a desperate rearguard defence.
10 See Füller (in review) for a more complete presentation of this idea.
11 As Ms. Slkhtvchyes explains, [bvˈɑʍ ɦβt̠ɔˑ thyː ɣəɟˈɛʔɛ øˑtto ], ‘We keep our noses out of our speech and so should you.’
12 Researchers who wish to try to articulate a syllabic plosive will not meet with any opposition from this quarter. Indeed, the suffocation likely to ensue will reduce the current intense competition for grant money.
13 Ms. Slkhtvchyes characterized this sound as [ɓyɑok͜p], ‘punishment.’
14 So back off, Swelton.
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