Genetic relationship and the case of Ma'a Mbugu


  • Sarah G. Thomason


diachrony, Ma'a, Mbugu, Cushitic, Bantu


This paper addresses the general question of genetic vs. nongenetic language development, in the context of a structural and historical discussion of Ma'a (Mbugu), a language with Cushitic basic vocabulary that is spoken in Tanzania. The grammatical structure of Ma'a is compared to characteristic Cushitic and Bantu structures. The conclusion that emerges from this comparison is that Ma'a probably does not have enough Cushitic grammar to qualify as a Cushitic language in the full genetic sense; and if it does not, its origin must be nongenetic. The final section of the paper seeks to determine the particular route of nongenetic development that Ma'a has followed, using the direct evidence of published comments about its speakers' history and the indirect evidence of comparison with other languages whose origin is nongenetic or, like Ma'a, on the borderline between genetic and nongenetic.