Date: Wed, 24 Dec 1997 22:25:54 -0500
From: Laurence Horn laurence.horn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: Season's Greetings
At 9:49 PM -0500 12/24/97, Alan Baragona wrote:
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanza. Are there dialectal
variations in these?
Not exactly dialectal differences, but I think the Brits say Happy
Christmas, and there are different transcription traditions for
Apparently there is for Kwanza, anyway, though it may not be dialectal.
In Virginia, it's spelled Kwanzaa , and a recent newspaper article
actually pointed out that the Swahili word for "first" is "kwanza," but
that a final -a had been added to the festival's name. It didn't
explain who added the -a or why, and I note that the RHD (Unabridged)
spells it "Kwanza" in good Swahili. So is there regional variation in
the American spelling of this relatively new holiday or just general
inconsistency? And why the un-African -aa spelling in the first place?
Not sure, but it might be worth remembering that this traditional holiday
was initated by Ron Karenga of UCLA during the late 1960's (I was there at
the time); I believe he later adopted a different first name (Maulana?).
Actually, his choice of the -aa spelling would be appropriate, now that I
think of it, since the holiday is presumably named not for the verb
_kwanza_ 'to begin', but for its nominal derivative _kwanzaa_ 'first fruits
of the harvest'. But if I recall my Swahili, the universal penultimate
stress of the language extends to double vowels, so that it "should" then
be pronounced kwanZAa and it never is. The -aa final is not un-African in
any case; certainly it's not particularly rare in Swahili, although it may
occur more frequently in Arabic loans.