On Mimi
George Starostin (Russian State University for the Humanities / Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, gstarst1@gmail.com)
Journal of Language Relationship, № 6, 2011 - p.115-140
The paper addresses the, as of yet, unresolved issue of the genetic affiliation of the so-called “Mimi” languages — two separate idioms recorded more than a hundred years ago in the Wadai-Darfur region of Northern Africa (a third idiom that also used to be called “Mimi” has already been uncontroversially demonstrated as a close relative of the much better known Fur language). Although many researchers, following J. Greenberg, have generally settled on affiliating both of these languages with the Maba group, a close analysis of available lexical data, with emphasis on the internal distribution and etymologization of proposed Maba cognates, shows that only one of the two idioms (“Nachtigal’s Mimi”) yields enough evidence to accept its (somewhat distant) relation to Maba as a working hypothesis. Relations of the other idiom, “Decorse’s Mimi”, with the Maba group, on the other hand, should more reasonably be interpreted as areal, with the language’s genetic provenance remaining somewhat of a mystery; this particular issue will most likely remain unresolved until a better understanding of the internal classification of the Nilo-Saharan macrofamily is gained.
Keywords: Nilo-Saharan languages, Mimi language, Maba languages, lexicostatistics, language taxonomy, comparative method, language relationship, Swadesh wordlist