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The Malagasy language is enriched with borrowings, although we do not know the reasons that motivate it or those of the great diffusion of certain words inside the island. In any case, it is certain that all navigating peoples who have had contact with Madagascar have left traces of their passage in its language or in its dialects. Even if it is not known in what region the loan was made – “as is the case with the names of domestic animals of Bantu origin” – and by what means it has spread.
Sometimes, however, the loan can be located and dated. It is the case of a number of words of English or French origin which, introduced in the merina vocabulary in the nineteenth century, are then broadcast from Antananarivo in the different regions of the island. These are large-scale borrowings.
Some have remained localized in some regions. Thus Dez discovers a loan to Swahili “mutu” in the word motro, used in the Sakalava dialect of the Northwest (Boeny) to designate fire (“afo” in merina). But borrowing from this language is found more frequently in Antakarana and Sakalava countries in the northwest and at various points on the west coast.
From the same origin is the term “mahigo” used in Sakalava to refer to cassava (“mangahazo” in merina).
While it is sometimes difficult to situate loans in Swahili in time, it can nevertheless be said that for the latter word, the loan dates back to about four hundred years, in the sixteenth century, since cassava was introduced by the Portuguese on the Eastern coast of Africa from Brazil).
On the east coast, in the usual language, there are words of French origin, “though the inhabitants consider them very well. These terms are so well entered into the use that the corresponding merina words are badly or not understood at all.
Thus in the southern Betsimisaraka, the bean is designated by “zarico”, the merina “tsaramaso” not being included in the most remote corners. The spoon is called “koera” and not “sotro”. The use of the latter word is moreover liable to be confusing because in betsimisaraka, it designates the action of cutting grass with a knife.
“These are words due to the colonization of Reunion Island on the east coast and the numerous relations between this region and the Mascarenes (Bourbon) since the eighteenth century and especially in the nineteenth century. “
The antanosy language as it is reported by Flacourt, is characterized in the seventeenth century
By the use of a certain number of Arabic words, which have since fallen into disuse. Thus, the word “moza” (in Arabic “maoûdj”) designates the wave, the word
“Farasa” (faras), the horse. The paper is still called “karatasy” by an exact reproduction of the corresponding Arabic word, whereas the “taratasy” form derived from
Assimilation has replaced it.
The term “ampingaharatra” (rifle) is used in the dialects of the west and south coasts.
“The origin of this word is found in the Portuguese espingarda (espingole). A malgachisation took place following the first deliveries of rifles by the Portuguese “, the word accompanying the weapon in its gradual diffusion on the island. From the west coast, he wins the Plateaux through the migrations of the Sakalava in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
On the other hand, in the north-western region, we find the word “basy” or rather-as the form is attested by old documents-the word “bosy”. This term is related to the Dutch “buks”, according to J. Dez. The latter tries to explain in Malagasy a term “basy” designating iron objects or iron worked as an object.
In the north-east of the island appeared the word “bosy” designating the rifle. “But as this weapon was essentially made of iron, it could even be considered as the iron object
Par excellence because of its particular effectiveness, the word basy could be used to designate this weapon. “
J. Dez ends his study by specifying that many words still pose enigmas. “There are in each dialect words which seem to belong to it in its own right and whose origins are not apparent. And to ask why the fire (“afo”) is translated “bolo” into vezo; Why the Betsimisaraka, especially those of the South, call “tokary” the pile of paddy made in the paddy field before its transport in the house …