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“Däbrä Dammo”, Not “Däbrä Damo”

« Däbrä Dammo », et pas « Däbrä Damo »
Alessandro Bausi

Résumés

Le toponyme historique de l’un des plus célèbres monastères d’Éthiopie, situé dans le nord du pays, dans le Tǝgray, a une double tradition de transcription, puisqu’il est largement connu sous les deux formes non concordantes de « Däbrä Damo » et « Däbrä Dammo », qui se distinguent uniquement par l’absence versus présence de la gémination. Des recherches passées et des enquêtes récentes sur le terrain prouvent clairement, au-delà de tout doute raisonnable, que la forme utilisée par les tigrinophones (parlants tǝgrǝñña) locaux était et est toujours « Däbrä Dammo », avec la nasale géminée. Dans une région qui se trouve au cœur géographique de la zone des tigrinophones, cette forme est celle authentique du nom de lieu. Cependant, la question se pose de savoir pourquoi une tradition ecclésiastique amharique concurrente, également largement acceptée, mais pas toujours à bon escient, dans les contextes scientifiques, soutient la forme sans la nasale géminée. Une perception différente des contrastes de longueur des consonnes pourrait avoir joué un rôle à cet égard.

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Texte intégral

Remerciements
I would like to thank for her kind help and advice in matter of toponymic methodology my old friend and colleague, Dr Elisabetta Carpitelli, Professor of Romance
Dialectology and Geolinguistics at Université Grenoble Alpes; and for their stimulating feedbacks, Dr Hagos Abrha, Assistant Professor at Mekelle University, and Dr Mersha Alehegne, Associate Professor at Addis Ababa University. The author, as usual, is the only responsible for any error, mistake, and statement expressed in this note. For the sake of simplicity and disambiguation, transcriptions are generally according to the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (see Uhlig & Bausi, 2003–2014), but transcriptions in bibliographic references are according to the Beta maṣāḥǝft rules (see online at <https://betamasaheft.eu/Guidelines/?id=transliteration-principles>). All forms provided in quotation marks and preceded by bibliographical reference are quotations that reflect the form exactly as given by the authors.

 
1.

  • 1 See Tsegay Berhe G. Libanos & Red. (2005). For an update, see the record on the Beta maṣāḥǝft platf (...)
  • 2 See Bausi & Uhlig (2014, pp. 729b and 800c). The form (“Dabra Dammo”) is also the only one mentione (...)

1The entry of the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica dedicated to the well-known monastery of Tǝgray, in northern Ethiopia (Fig. 1), the foundation of which is traditionally attributed to the fifth-sixth century St Abunä Arägawi (that is, the Ǝnda Abunä Arägawi) is “Däbrä Damo”, with a short (non-geminated) m,1 even though also the long (geminated) spelling “Däbrä Dammo” is recorded. Yet, the index of the fifth volume of the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica has reversed this hierarchy and given priority to the form “Däbra Dammo”, and, though listing also “Däbrä Damo” with cross reference to “Däbrä Dammo”, considers “Däbra Dammo” the primary form.2

Figure 1. – The monastery of Däbrä Damo, in northern Ethiopia, near Däbrä Libanos, Eritrea, to the north, and ʿAddigrat and ʿAdwa in northern Tǝgray, Ethiopia.

Figure 1. – The monastery of Däbrä Damo, in northern Ethiopia, near Däbrä Libanos, Eritrea, to the north, and ʿAddigrat and ʿAdwa in northern Tǝgray, Ethiopia.

From Tsegay Berhe G. Libanos & Red. (2005, p. 18a).

  • 3 The primacy of “Däbrä Dammo” or “Däbrä Damo” is undecidable on a spelling basis, since the syllabic (...)
  • 4 See Bausi (2014) for a concise overview on the studies of Ethiopian and Eritrean historical geograp (...)

2Wavering of spelling of this place name in scholarly contributions, either “Däbrä Dammo” or “Däbrä Damo”, is emblematic of the uncertainties of rendering of names (place names as well as personal names) that afflicts Ethiopian and Eritrean studies.3 Transcription of Ethiopian and Eritrean names appears subject to a sort of barbarian, telluric, and uncontrolled variation that, on the one hand, escapes whatever rule and, on the other hand, makes whatever forms equally acceptable and legitimate in this chaos, beyond any understandable linguistic sense, reason, method, and consistency.4

  • 5 See in this respect the large index in Nosnitsin (2013), pp. 418–430, and on Däbrä Dammo, and the p (...)

3In this connection, the index of the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica gave priority to the form “Däbrä Dammo” with the intention of correcting a wrong praxis, based on the principle that Däbrä Dammo is the form—beyond any possible doubt—that is used, and was used also in the past as far as we can ascertain, by the local Tǝgrǝñña speakers. The Ethio-SPaRe project led by Denis Nosnitsin recorded this form during the project team’s visit to the monastery in the November–December 2010 campaign. Among the various aspects of fieldwork carried out by this project, precise recording of place names, given in an as precise as possible written and phonetic form, was one of the main tasks, and a very meritorious one indeed.5 If there were any further need of confirmation, the form “Däbrä Dammo”—and only this—is that provided and documented by Hagos Abrha, of Mekelle University, who is a mother-tongue Tǝgrǝñña speaker and a professional linguist and philologist, quite conversant with the region and the place, that he has frequently visited.

  • 6 See Conti Rossini (1901, p. 200, l. 18, doc. no. 18), to be interpreted as “Damǝmoor Dammǝmo”; s (...)
  • 7 See Guidi (1894, p. 74, l. 7): “wäbäʾǝntäzǝ täbǝhǝlä Däbrä Daḥmǝmo”, “and because of this it was ca (...)

4One could add that the spelling “Damǝmo” (with two letters) in the Golden Gospel of Däbrä Libanos, at Ham, could hint at a geminated m.6 Although this form was so far not put in connection with the spelling of the place name, there is not yet any convincing etymology on which to ground a geminated or simple spelling. The form “Damǝmo” could therefore be due to a scribal error, or it could even depend on the Gǝʿǝz (Ethiopic) passage of the Gadla Abunä Arägawi that explains—in all likelyhood, ex post—the place name with the order given by the saint, “demolish it” (“daḥmǝmo”), referred to the ladder used to climb up the mountain (anba) where the monastery is located.7

 
2.

  • 8 See Guidi (1894, pp. 55, 89, 90, 91, 93), who always adopts the form “Dammo”, either isolated or in (...)
  • 9 See Conti Rossini (1940, p. 45, n. 1): “Quanto al nome principale del convento, la reduplicazione d (...)

5The question, moreover, is not new. The geminated spelling “Däbrä Dammo” was adopted by scholars who strongly relied directly on well informed Ethiopians and on first-hand evidence, starting from Ignazio Guidi, in his contribution on Gädlä Abunä Arägawi (“Life of Our Father Arägawi”), where he always adopts, certainly not by chance, a geminated form.8 Carlo Conti Rossini also wrote in his article “Pergamene di Debra Dammó” that he took care of letting ascertain as precisely as possible the pronunciation of the name: on his behalf, Antonio Mordini checked the spelling, presumably interviewing more people from the place, on the spot, and the form resulted to be “Dammo”, geminated, and with closed “o” at the end.9

  • 10 See Krencker & von Lüpke (1913, pp. 168–194, and also passim).
  • 11 As a confirmation of the well-known principle that de nominibus non curant archaeologi (et multi pl (...)
  • 12 See Krencker & von Lüpke (1913, p. 234b), “Debra Damo ‘Däbra Dāmmō”, according to a system consist (...)
  • 13 See Littmann (1913, pp. 18, 19, and 23): “Bekannt sind Debra Dāmmō, in Tigrē an der Grenze von ʿAgā (...)

6The treatment of the place name in the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition deserves a special and very careful consideration. If the substantial description of the architecture and decoration of the church in the second volume authored by David Krencker and Theodor von Lüpke (1913, pp. 168–194, and also passim) always adopts the form “Debra Damo”,10 no doubt this was a sort of normalized or simplified form.11 This form had already entered the current use and did not represent any precise phonetic rendering of the place name. The chief of the Deutsche Aksum-Expedition, the great Semitist Enno Littmann, had very clear what was the actual phonetic form: the form with geminated m Däbra Dāmmō” is accurately recorded in the index to the second volume, in brackets and italicized, near the normalized form “Debra Damo”, with a precise notation of gemination and even vocalic length.12 The geminated form also occurs in the fourth volume, of genuinely linguistic character, as a possible integration of the acephalous “[D]MWm” (presumably, with pseudo-Sabaic mimation) in the inscription DAE no. 8 (= RIÉ no. 186), l. 21.13

  • 14 Conti Rossini started to record the name in the form “Damo, Dâmo” in his first onomastic contributi (...)

7Yet, either the non-phonetic or the normalized tradition—also represented by Conti Rossini himself and canonized by his influential Storia d’Etiopiahad already generally imposed the non-geminated form.14 “Däbrä Damo” is also the only form that two further very influential works like Taddesse Tamrat’s Church and State in Ethiopia (1972, p. 319a, index) and George B. W. Huntingford’s The Historical Geography of Ethiopia (1989, p. 283c, index) adopt, the latter still being the only available monograph on Ethiopian (and Eritrean) historical geography. Through them, this form entered the secondary literature as approved by several authors, for whom it is superfluous to provide further details here.

  • 15 For an emblematic case, see “Dabra Dāmo” in Dombrowski (1983, vol. 2, pp. 316–317, in the repertory (...)

8To this tradition also belongs the German branch of Ethiopian studies headed by Ernst Hammerschmidt (for example 1967, p. 174, index, “Däbrä Damo”), who does not appear to have been a careful reader of Enno Littmann’s Deutsche Aksum-Expedition.15 Years of teaching experience confirmed me that German speakers who do not have a specific professional linguistic training have difficulty in perceiving and pronouncing consonantal length: this is a quite understandable phenomenon, since consonantal length has no phonemic status in German. The illuminating case study by Altmann, Berger, and Braun (2012) highlights that, comparing native German, native Italian, and advanced German learners of Italian, non-native vowel length contrast is perceived (by Italians) just as well as the native consonantal length contrast, while, on the contrary, non-native consonantal length contrast is perceived (by Germans) poorly compared to the native vocalic length contrast.

 
3.

9In a kind answer to my query, in order to come up with an explanation concerning this divergent tradition, Getatchew Haile undertook a few interviews and reported that, according to his test, “All Amharic speakers pronounced it as Damo, like my teachers […], while the Tigrigna speakers as Dammo. I guess it can be a contribution if we take the occasion to explain this fact, that it is a regional variation” (email exchange of 20 and 22 June 2015). This is an important contribution in fact, that injects a new factor useful to understand the development of the tradition, that is, that the non-geminated form accepted by scholars, among others, of the caliber of Taddesse Tamrat and Getatchew Haile, finds support in the Amharic-speaking Church tradition and on its rooting in Amharic-speaking areas. That this tradition was in turn deemed of higher and more prestigious rank than the Tǝgrǝñña one—in the Ethiopian context, but also outside of it—would explain the large generalization of the “Däbrä Damo” form, which in fact, in some cases at least, also occurs in Tǝgrǝñña speakers’ mouths.16 At present, however, in the absence of any systematic investigation on the ground, it is impossible to draw any isogloss demarcating the areas of distribution of the geminated and non-geminated forms, which would not necessarily overlap with the distribution of Amharic- and Tǝgrǝñña speakers, these latter being to large extent also Amharic-speakers.

  • 17 The form “Damô Debra” recorded by Beccari (1917, p. 105b) from writings, letters, and documents iss (...)
  • 18 For example “ʿAdwa” with initial ayn, according to the Tǝgrǝñña pronunciation, not “Adwa” according (...)
  • 19 See for example a clear statement of this principle of toponymic research in Rivoira (2013, p. 64): (...)
  • 20 See the clear methodological statement in the authoritative The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming(...)

10If we also concede in hypothesis that the form “Däbrä Damo” was early canonized in the prestigious Amharic-speaking ecclesiastical tradition,17 why should this form—that reflects a non-local tradition—be adopted in scholarly (linguistic, historical, philological) contexts? at variance with what is done for all other Tǝgray place names that are given according to their local form?18 and against basic rules of toponymic research? It might be obvious, but it is still worth reminding that there is no other possible criterion to determine the primary linguistic form of a place name—the “authentic” one, as geolinguists say19—than the evidence of the form used by the local inhabitants in their own language. Since place names are “cultural artefacts which arise from the interaction between language and environment”, there is no other way, all the more in a scholarly context, than to record and transcribe them as faithfully as possible in the form as they arise from this delicate interaction.20 In this case, the only form that matches these mandatory and essential requirements is “Däbrä Dammo”.

11A separate and distinct problem is that of ascertaining why the Amharic-speaking tradition would have opted and supported a varying form “Däbrä Damo”. This opens up a new field of research on the Tǝgrǝñña-Amharic interference in historical place names, for which more cases and evidence should be collected. That “symmetries in the perception of non-native consonantal length contrasts” might have played a role also in this case, as in the cited case study in Altmann, Berger, and Braun (2012, p. 387), is a hypothesis that it would be worthwhile to explore more in detail.

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Notes

1 See Tsegay Berhe G. Libanos & Red. (2005). For an update, see the record on the Beta maṣāḥǝft platform: Denis Nosnitsin, Alessandro Bausi, Pietro Maria Liuzzo, Solomon Gebreyes, and Eugenia Sokolinski, “Dabra Dāmmo ʾAbuna ʾAragāwi”, in A. Bausi (ed.), Die Schriftkultur des christlichen Äthiopiens und Eritreas: Eine multimediale Forschungsumgebung / Beta maṣāḥǝft (<https://betamasaheft.eu/manuscripts/INS0105DD/list>, last modified on 7 August 2018 [accessed on 28 February 2020]). See also the survey by Dānǝʾel Kǝbrat (2005–2006, pp. 517–520).

2 See Bausi & Uhlig (2014, pp. 729b and 800c). The form (“Dabra Dammo”) is also the only one mentioned in Uhlig et al. (2017, p. 361, index), and Uhlig et al. (2018, p. 388, index); and in a work that is going to be influential in the studies of medieval Ethiopia and Eritrea, see Kelly (2020). In other cases the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica corrected current wrong transcriptions of place names, see for example Bausi (2005), where the “Ḥam” widely attested in secondary literature was corrected to “Ham”.

3 The primacy of “Däbrä Dammo” or “Däbrä Damo” is undecidable on a spelling basis, since the syllabic script used for Gǝʿǝz, Amharic and Tǝgrǝñña (known as fidäl) does not mark gemination and no graphic elements distinguishes “Däbrä Dammo” from “Däbrä Damo”, and they both are written <da-mo>.

4 See Bausi (2014) for a concise overview on the studies of Ethiopian and Eritrean historical geography. A detailed treatment of a digital approach to the study of Ethiopian and Eritrean place names is provided by Liuzzo (2019, pp. 105–142). A thorough study of Ethiopian and Eritrean toponymy is still to come and is a major desideratum. An interesting case that shows the complex phenomena of stratification and re-interpretation that can be detected was offered by Lanfranco Ricci, who finely underlined the interference between Saho and Ethiopian Semitic place names; see Ricci (1999, p. 238):Si tratta ad ogni modo di una variazione di rilievo, poiché è un esempio di come le popolazioni non di lingua tigrina, e tali sono i Saho, vadano tuttora, e sono andate, sostituendo alla toponomastica dei tigrini quella della loro lingua, almeno nelle parti passibili di adattamento.(“It is in any case a significant variation, since it is an example of how the non-Tǝgrǝñña-speaking populations, and such are the Saho, still go, and have gone, replacing the toponymy of the Tǝgrayans with that of their language, at least in the parts that can be adapted.”)

5 See in this respect the large index in Nosnitsin (2013), pp. 418–430, and on Däbrä Dammo, and the place name recorded in this form, see pp. 83–86 and 419. This spelling is explicitly criticized in his review by Getatchew Haile (2015, p. 230): “Regarding transliteration, the famous monastery of Arägawi/zä-Mikaʾel is Däbrä Damo, not Däbrä Dammo.” Before the Ethio-SPaRe investigation, this (“Däbrä Dammo”) is the form that I took care of recording during my visit in 1992.

6 See Conti Rossini (1901, p. 200, l. 18, doc. no. 18), to be interpreted as “Damǝmoor Dammǝmo”; see also Bausi (2007, p. 85a).

7 See Guidi (1894, p. 74, l. 7): “wäbäʾǝntäzǝ täbǝhǝlä Däbrä Daḥmǝmo”, “and because of this it was called Däbrä Daḥmǝmo”; the explanation was already noted by Guidi (1894, p. 74, n. 3), who observed that the verb “daḥmama” (“destroy”) is absent from Dillmann (1865), but attested in other lexica; see Leslau (1987, p. 127a–b): either “dahmämä”, “daḫmämä”, or “daḥmämä”, “demolish, destroy”; the etymological form is likely “daḥmämä”, attested in Tǝgrǝñña with the same meaning, see Kane (2000, vol. 2, p. 2014): “destroy, wreck, demolish”.

8 See Guidi (1894, pp. 55, 89, 90, 91, 93), who always adopts the form “Dammo”, either isolated or in connection with other words, “Dabra Dâmmo” on p. 55 and “Debra Dammo” on pp. 91 and 93.

9 See Conti Rossini (1940, p. 45, n. 1): “Quanto al nome principale del convento, la reduplicazione della m e la pronuncia stretta della o finale (come nell’italiano «orso») mi vengono assicurate dal dott. Mordini, che avevo pregato di precisarle sul posto.” (“As for the main name of the convent, the reduplication of the m and the closed pronunciation of the o final (as in the Italian “orso”) are assured to me by Dr Mordini, whom I had asked to specify them on the spot”). Antonio Mordini used the non-geminated form in co-authorship with Derek Matthews (see Matthews & Mordini, 1959), but opted for the geminated one in his contribution as a single author, always using the form “Dabra Dāmmò” (see for example Mordini, 1944–1945, pp. 145–148, “Dabra Dammó”, and similarly, Mordini, 1960).

10 See Krencker & von Lüpke (1913, pp. 168–194, and also passim).

11 As a confirmation of the well-known principle that de nominibus non curant archaeologi (et multi plures!), with notable exceptions: see for example the “Archaeological Atlas of Coptic Literature” developed by the ERC-project PAThs at Sapienza Università di Roma, directed by Paola Buzi (<https://atlas.paths-erc.eu/>). For a confirmation of the rule, see Phillipson (2017).

12 See Krencker & von Lüpke (1913, p. 234b), “Debra Damo ‘Däbra Dāmmō”, according to a system consistently used in this index, that provides the more precise phonetic form in brackets: see for example on p. 234a “Beni Amer ‘Benī ʿĀmer’”, on p. 234b “Debaroa ‘Debāru̯ā’”, etc.

13 See Littmann (1913, pp. 18, 19, and 23): “Bekannt sind Debra Dāmmō, in Tigrē an der Grenze von ʿAgāmē, und Dāmmō Galīlā, südlich von Adua” (“Well known are Debra Dāmmō, in Tigrē at the border of ʿAgāmē, and Dāmmō Galīlā, south of Adua”), also pp. 61, 82, and p. 94b, in the index. The integration in DAE no. 8 (see Littmann, 1913, pp. 18, 19, and 21 = RIÉ no. 186, see Bernand et al., 1991, p. 252), l. 21, is considered acceptable by Drewes (2019, p. 214), but this is not relevant here, where Littmann’s conjecture is only considered as evidence for the place name gemination.

14 Conti Rossini started to record the name in the form “Damo, Dâmo” in his first onomastic contribution—and all in all one of his first contributions, see Conti Rossini (1893, p. 407). The same Conti Rossini, however, adopted the geminated form in his later writings after the investigation on the spot carried out by Antonio Mordini, see for example Conti Rossini (1942, pp. 11 and 179, n. 6, “Debra Dammò”), but even in earlier contributions, see for example Conti Rossini (1909, pp. 274 and 312, “Dabra Dāmmo”). In the Storia d’Etiopia the form is “Damò”, see Conti Rossini (1928, p. 159, “monte Damò” and “Dabra Damò”, also on pp. 160, 164, 233, 235, etc.). The same form is given in contributions of the 1930s, see Bombaci et al. (1937, p. 94, “DEBRA DAMO’”) and Consociazione Turistica Italiana (1938, pp. 274 and 629, “Debrà Damò”).

15 For an emblematic case, see “Dabra Dāmo” in Dombrowski (1983, vol. 2, pp. 316–317, in the repertory of “Geographische Namen”, and on p. 352a, in the general index).

16 See for example the Tǝgrǝñña sermon on Abunä Arägawi available on YouTube (<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2JX3RzrySU>) at 20:34–44 [accessed on 29 February 2020], to which Mersha Alehegne drew my attention (“abzi lomi ab hagärä Ityoṗya ab mǝdrä Tǝgray zǝrǝkkäb ʿabiy gädamom Däbrä Damo bäsiḥom”, “here, on this day He [Abunä Arägawi] arrived in the land of Ethiopia, to His great monastery that is found in the region of Tǝgray, Däbrä Damo”, in my transcription and translation). In this case, however, the preacher is an adherent of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and it is impossible to ascertain the degree of his acquaintance with the monastery and the surrounding area.

17 The form “Damô Debra” recorded by Beccari (1917, p. 105b) from writings, letters, and documents issued from the sixteenth century on by western missionaries who were well conversant with the contemporary Amharic-speaking clergy provides evidence that the non-geminated form was used at the time.

18 For example “ʿAdwa” with initial ayn, according to the Tǝgrǝñña pronunciation, not “Adwa” according to the Amharic one.

19 See for example a clear statement of this principle of toponymic research in Rivoira (2013, p. 64): “forma ‘autentica’, vale a dire quella in uso localmente” (“‘authentic’ form, that is, the one that is used locally”).

20 See the clear methodological statement in the authoritative The Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming, by Taylor (2016, p. 70): “Place-names can thus be seen as cultural artefacts which arise from the interaction between language and environment. This means that to understand a place-name, when it was coined, by whom and with what motivation(s) in mind, it is important to collect as much information as possible from both sides of this interaction. While the environment is studied by site-visits, conversations with local people, and through detailed maps and plans, the language is approached above all through the collection of early forms and their context, although of course conversations with local people can play an important role here too”. The principle is a basic one of toponymic research and was clearly set forth by a pioneer in the field such as Giovanni Flechia (see Flechia, 1871, p. 9). For clear methodological statements, see a recent case study in Rivoira (2013).

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Titre Figure 1. – The monastery of Däbrä Damo, in northern Ethiopia, near Däbrä Libanos, Eritrea, to the north, and ʿAddigrat and ʿAdwa in northern Tǝgray, Ethiopia.
Crédits From Tsegay Berhe G. Libanos & Red. (2005, p. 18a).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/geolinguistique/docannexe/image/1918/img-1.png
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Alessandro Bausi, « “Däbrä Dammo”, Not “Däbrä Damo” »Géolinguistique [En ligne], 20 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2020, consulté le 24 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/geolinguistique/1918 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/geolinguistique.1918

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