Pin ni pan!

Today while doing a little review work for our forthcoming Manding pocket dictionary, I came across a new expression that I hadn't encountered before:

ߔߌ߲ ߣߌ߫ ߔߊ߲

pín' ní pán'

 It was listed in the lexicon that I was reviewing as its own entry with the following French gloss and example (I've added full tonal notation and a standardized N'ko interpretation):

'en vain'

ߊ߬ ߞߊ߬ ߔߌ߲ ߣߌ߫ ߔߊ߲ ߞߍ߫ ߞߊ߬ ߥߊߘߌ ߛߐ߬ߘߐ߲߬

À kà pín' ní pán' kɛ́ kà wári sɔ̀rɔ.

'Il a déployé ses efforts en vain pour gagner l'argent'

As the example makes clear, pín' ní pán' is a noun phrase that is idiomatically used with the verb ́ 'to do' to express fruitless efforts.

Being unfamiliar with the expression, I did a little investigation into a few of the Manding corpora that now exist online and found that the expression (and its variants such as pí ní pá) is well confirmed even if relatively rare in these collections. Below are screenshots of all of the examples revealed from the various corpora along with rough glosses. I've included the total words contained in the various corpora as of today 2017/05/30 as a reference.


1. N'ko Corpus BMJ (4,636,227 words)

'He/she labored in vain for three nights'

'He/she labored in vain for three nights'

2. N'ko Corpus VV (3,122,178 words)

'America did all it could so that Mulai Umar would be expelled or...

'America did all it could so that Mulai Umar would be expelled or...

3. Bambara Corpus - Disambiguated (700,034 words)

'He/she labored to convince the girl, but couldn't.'

'He/she labored to convince the girl, but couldn't.'

4. Bambara Corpus - Crude (3,846,094 words)

'Cameroon did all it could, but could not score a goal.

'Cameroon did all it could, but could not score a goal.

5. Maninka Corpus - Latin (396,389 words)

No hits!

No hits!


Besides the general paucity of the expression from the corpora (note that it is entirely absent from (5), the Maninka corpus), the most interesting usage to note is that from (3) where the expression is used transitively to describe efforts to convince or cajole a young girl. It's also worth thinking about the relative marginality of the phoneme /p/ in Manding varieties and how it most frequently appears in expressive adverbs -- a relatively minor grammatical category compared to important ones such as verbs, nouns, etc. With the expression pínní pán' it seems that we have a similar case where words featuring the expressive element of /p/ are used idiomatically to refer to denotationally unspecified actions associated with effort. The closest parallel that comes to mind in English is an expression like "blah-blah-blah" though it isn't grammaticalized in the same way or to the same extent.