Sokna Text I: A Man and a Pomegranate Tree

This post is the first in a series of (re)translations of the published texts of the Berber language of the Sokna oasis in west-central Libya, in the same manner as the series of translations of Aujila Berber on this blog. I give here text, translation, and linguistic notes; the comments section, as always, is open for contributions.

The Berber language (once?) spoken in the oasis of Sokna (سوكنة) in west-central Libya is particularly interesting for our purposes. We don’t really know if it is still spoken, or by whom, because the most recent documentation of the Sokna language was in the 1920s. In fact, the single publication with any information about Sokni is a small collection of texts translated into Italian, accompanied by a rather unfulfilling Italian-Sokni glossary (and hardly any grammatical or linguistic commentary) by an Italian, Cap. Dott. Tommaso Sarnelli (1924). The texts that I present here will be re-translations based on Sarnelli’s transcriptions. Despite its merit in being the only substantial record of Sokni, his publication has numerous shortcomings. The glossary, for example, does not include any Arabic loans, and sometimes does not even include Sokni words from his own texts! There is no linguistic analysis or commentary, and no attempt to give even a basic sketch of the grammar. One also wonders how he arrived at his transcriptions, since he states that the stories were first written down for him in Arabic script (Sarnelli, 4). Presumably they were read aloud later, though this is not explicitly mentioned.

According to Sarnelli’s main informant, Shaykh Hassouna Ben Mohammed ad-Dakshi (“considered the best living speaker of the native language…”), in 1915 only about 40 or 50 people could understand the language, while only 4 or 5 could speak it fluently (ibid, 3). This does not bode well for our hopes of finding any native speakers.

Sarnelli seems to have been aware of the work of Rohlfs, a German explorer of the Sahara, who claimed to have drafted a dictionary and grammar of Sokni in the 1870s (unfortunately ‘lost’ during Rohlfs’ other travels in the desert). Rohlfs had characterized Sokni as “the most imperfect and the poorest of all Berber languages”; but Sarnelli strongly disagreed with this and found fault with a few of Rohlfs’ comments.

The Sokni language is relatively closely related to that of el-Fogaha (الفقهاء), a nearby oasis in central Libya, but they probably should not be grouped as one language as the scholarship up until now does. There is clearly some historical connection between the two; for example, inhabitants of both claim historic descent from the same geographic origin—Sāgya el-Ḥamra in southern Morocco. We hope to explore the nature of this relationship by working simultaneously on the published texts of Sokna and Fogaha Berber.

N.B. For some reason, Sarnelli sometimes puts asterisks (*) after long vowels–I have no idea what this is supposed to indicate, but I’ve left them in the transcription anyway. WLA means Western Libyan Arabic.


íǧǧěn ně mmār ilâ eššéžret n arěmmûn, arěmmūn-énnes mo̱qqâr

One man had a pomegranate tree, his pomegranate(-tree) (was) big.

  • íǧǧěn ně mmār ‘one man’. Genitive particle with epenthetic vowel; corresponding lengthening of initial m of mār?
  • mār ‘man’ pl. immariwen. This word for man is only otherwise attested  for Berber in El-Fogaha (see Richardson’s Sokna I, forthcoming).
  • i-lâ ‘have’
  • eššéžret ‘tree’ (< WLA eššǝžǝra ‘tree’), with -t of fem. construct state.
  • n genitive particle ‘of’
  • arěmmūn-énnes n. + 3sg.m.poss.pron.suff. ‘his pomegranate (tree)’. Rather than from Ar. rumān ‘id.’, the final long vowel hints at a possible Phoenician loan(?), in which Sem. ā  > Phoenician ū (via Canaanite ō), cf. Colin, Etymologies Maghrébines, Hespéris 1927: 88.
  • mo̱qqâr ‘big’ adj. deriv. of common berber verb *mɣr ‘to be big’. Compare Auj. amoqqǝrán ‘big, old’. Or, could be a stative verb.

iwî laḥmél n ameḳtâr iyi-ssẹ́lṭān, yessûṣēl-t.

He brought a donkey-load to the Sultan, and caused it to arrive(?).

  • iwî of âwid ‘he brought, carried’ (?)
  • laḥmél ‘load’ < Ar. l-(ǝ)ḥmǝ́l ‘load’, WLA CCvC nominal pattern with l-; takes gen. n ‘load of…’
  • ameḳtâr ‘ass, donkey’
  • iyi-ssẹ́lṭān dir.part. iyi + ssẹ́lṭān ‘sultan’ borrowed from Ar. with es-sulṭān ‘to the sultan’
  • yessûṣēl-t 3sg.m.impf. must be a causative derivation of Ar. yūṣel ‘to arrive’. The only way to explain the ē seems to be the tendency of imperfects of causatives to insert a long vowel before the final root consonant. (cf. Auj. impv. sg. š-îšef; impf. 1sg. š-išâfḫ ‘to sieve’), with a shift /ā/ to /ē/ in Sokni. Compare Auj. uṣǻlen /uṣǝ́lǝn/. The shift in the Sokni form seems to be some unusual imāla-like phenomenon, but I haven’t yet checked for comparison. The -t is the 3sg.m.dir.obj. clitic.

arěmmûn yèssěkkém-t laḥdîm, dě mār ět-tamektārt-énnes bẹ́dden d imî n tásqā.

The servant brought in the pomegranate (tree), and the man and his she-donkey halted under the entrance of the house.

  • yèssěkkém-t 3sg.m.impf. of causative ‘he brought it, made enter’ + -t 3sg.m.dir.obj. suffix. For the verb, cf. Fog. sékem ‘introdurre’ < ákem ‘entrare’.
  • laẖdîm n. < dial. Ar. l-exdīm ‘the worker, servant’. WLA noun shape.
  • ět-tamektārt-énnes ‘she-ass’ + 3sg.poss.pron. ‘and his she-ass’, note assim. of d/dě to fem. circumfix t-…-t *d-tamektārt > *t-tamektārt > ěttamektārt
  • bẹ́dden 3pl.impf. of bẹd ‘they stopped, halted’
  • imî ‘entrance (lit. mouth)’
  • n tásqā ‘of the house’

yuséd azzabṭi ěssẹ́n imarrîwen ẹ́nġả’’n iǧǧẹn ně mmār, suggarẹ́n-tën i-láḥbes.

An officer came with two men (who had) killed one man; they wanted them to (go to) prison.

  • yuséd of âsed ‘he came’. Compare Auj. yušâd; the shift to š is unconditional.
  • azzabṭi ‘officer’? from Ar. eð-ð̣ābiṭ (dial. ẓābiṭ?)
  • ěs-sẹ́n ‘two’, epenthetic vowel ě (to avoid initial CC)
  • imarrîwen ‘men’
  • ẹ́nġả’’n 3pl.m.aor of ‘to kill’. Not sure why Sarnelli inserts ’’.
  • iǧǧẹn ně mmār ‘one man’ (poss. constr. with gen. n)
  • suggarẹ́n-tën of issúgger ‘to want’+ -ten 3pl.m. dir.obj.suff. ‘they wanted them’
  • i-láḥbes from Ar. ḥabs ‘to prison’. note syllable structure of Ar. borrowing: CCvC as in WLA

šâwrěn fěll-âsen essẹ̌lṭân, yěnn-âsên: sagít-ten iyi-láḥběs.

They consulted about them, the sultan said to them: bring them to prison.

  • šâwrěn < Ar. šāwara III ‘to consult’ (cf. Ar. šūra ‘council’)
  • fěll-âsen ‘about them’ -ā
  • yěnn-âsên of mẹ́n ‘to say’ + 3pl.m.indir.obj.suff. ‘to them’
  • sagít-ten 2pl.impv. + 3pl.m. dir.obj.suff. ‘bring them’
  • iyi-láḥběs dir.part. iyi + Ar. noun ‘to the prison’. It is odd that the immediately preceding sentence has i- and here is iyi-.

sagín-těn, ítni dè bāb n tamektârt.

They led them – they and the owner of the she-ass.

  • sagín-těn + 3pl.m.dir.obj.suff. ‘they led them’
  • ítni 3pl.m.pron. ‘they’
  • ‘and’
  • bāb ‘father, owner’

ummuḥábsen sānā*.

They were imprisoned for a year.

  • ummuḥábsen (-mm- usually a middle/reciprocal prefix) of Ar. root ḥabbas ‘to imprison’
  • sānä ‘year’ < Ar. sana ‘year’

s igö*f ně lě‘âm yěnšẹ́d essẹ́lṭān sě bāb n tamektârt ẹ́mmik iṣâr dg-īs we bā tā usân-ās.

At the beginning of the year, the Sultan asked about the owner of the donkey, how (he) happened (to be) in it, and what they gave to him.

  • s ‘with, by, at’
  • igöf ‘head, beginning’ cf. iġọ̣́f
  • lě‘âm ‘one year’ < Ar. ‘ām ‘year’
  • yěnšẹ́d ‘he asks’ < dial. Ar. yenšed ‘to ask’
  • must mean ‘about’ here
  • ẹ́mmik ‘how’
  • iṣâr ‘happened’ < Ar. ṣār ‘to happen’ (?)
  • dg-īs ‘in’ 3sg.m.
  • bā tā ‘what’
  • usân-ās (misprint in Sarnelli for ušân?) of ‘they gave’ + ‘him’ 

ufân-t dē lěḥábs.

They found him in the prison.

  • ufân-t of af ‘to find’ + 3sg.m.dir.obj.suff. ‘him’
  • lěḥábs ‘prison

yěsseḥědō*r-t essẹ́lṭān we yěstâ‘dr-ās wu yěnnâ-s: nettâ-k.

The sultan caused him to appear (before him) and asked him for pardon and said to him: I had forgotten you.

  • yěsseḥědōr-t 3sg.m.impf.caus. (< Ar. ḥaḍara ‘to make appear’). Note lengthening of final vowel to long /ō/ (lengthening seems to be a phenomenon with the Sok. caus.), but why /ō/ and not /ē/?
  • yěstâ‘dr-ās vb. < Ar. yista‘ðar ‘to excuse oneself, to ask for pardon’ + 3sg.m.indir.obj.suff. ‘him’.
  • nettâ-k (royal plural?) + 2sg.m.indir.obj.suff. ‘you’ (cf. Foq. úttu ‘to forget’; Ghd. ǝttu ‘to forget’; Kb. əţţ ‘to forget’; Nef. étta ‘to forget’). This word is misprinted in Sarnelli as rettâk, but the handwritten Arabic looks like n; definitely not r.

we yěkkér dîd-ēs yěssekém-t iyi-lḵā*znet n elmā**l yěnn-âs: âwi ělḥāml-énnek sāl bā tā tsuggârě-t.

And he got up with him and brought him in to the treasure room (and) said to him: take your load of what you want.

  • yěkkér of ékker ‘he rose up’
  • dîd-ēs conj. + 3sg.m.obj.suff. ‘with him’
  • yěssekém-t ‘he brought it in’ (parsed above)
  • iyi-lḵāznet n elmāl dir.part. iyi + noun phrase (i)lḵāznet ‘storeroom’ < Ar. xazna + elmāl ‘wealth, treasure’ < Ar. māl ‘id.’
  • âwi 2sg.m.impv. ‘carry, take’ (?)
  • ělḥāml-énnek n. ‘load’ (note difference from earlier laḥmél ‘id.’) + 2sg.m.poss.suff. ‘your’
  • sāl ‘from’, note Pan-Berber s (see Richardson’s Sokni I, forthcoming).
  • tsuggâr-ět 2sg.impf. ‘you want’

iwí íg̃ǧẹn n assrẹ́m yennâ-s essẹ́lṭān: ẹ́mmik sā?

(He) took one axe. The sultan said to them: how (is it) so? (i.e. why?)

  • íǧǧẹn n assrẹ́m ‘one axe’ (poss. construction with gen. particle n)
  • ẹ́inmik sā ‘how so’

yènn-âs: ummuḥébsaẖ sě sebéb n aremmûn, suggâreḵ atténkōṭ, satrîži!

(He) said to him: (I was) imprisoned because of the pomegranate, I want to cut (it), please!

  • yènnâ-s ‘he said’ + 3sg.m.indir.obj.suff. ‘him’
  • ummuḥébsaẖ ‘(I was) imprisoned’ (-mm- passive) < Ar. ḥabbas ‘to imprison’
  • sě sebéb n ‘by reason of’ (constr. parallel to Ar. bi-sabab + iḍāfa), sebéb ‘reason, cause’ < Ar. sabab
  • suggâreḵ ‘I want’
  • atténkōṭ impf. ‘to cut’ cf. énkōṭ (< Ar. naqada with q > k?). The text in Arabic script doesn’t display a long ō, however.
  • satrîži 2sg. (cf. Nef. itréžža “pregare (persone)”) < dial. Ar. 2sg. itrāžī “wait” (?). Not really sure what this form is supposed to be.

ušān-ās laḥmēl-énnes uráǧ.

(But) he gave him his load (of) gold.

  • ušān-ās of aš ‘they gave’ + 3sg.m.indir.obj.suff. ‘him’
  • laḥmēl-énnes n. ‘load’ + 3sg.m.poss.suff. ‘his’. The second long vowel /ē/ is rather odd, and the Arabic text reads simply الحمل. Perhaps a resyllabification of earlier laḥmél (“mobile schwa”) [p.c. Lameen].
  • uráǧ n. ‘gold’

-A. Benkato


4 Responses to Sokna Text I: A Man and a Pomegranate Tree

  1. Pingback: Richardson’s Sokna phrases 1: Of jobs and geography « Oriental Berber

  2. Pingback: El-Fogaha Text I « Oriental Berber

  3. Vermondo says:

    You say “For some reason, Sarnelli sometimes puts asterisks (*) after long vowels–I have no idea what this is supposed to indicate, but I’ve left them in the transcription anyway”.
    Sarnelli explains the meaning of asterisks on p. 9 of his work. It was a typographic issue. When a vowel already has diacritics upon it (usually ¨, but also å, etc.), he puts two asterisks for a long accented vowel (for which he uses ˆ when the vowel has no other diacritics) and one asterisk for a short accented vowel. He also says that he put two points high after long unaccented vowel and one point high after a short unstressed vowel (but these points seem to me very rare, if he really uses them at all).

    • AB says:

      Absolutely right, thanks. This post was made before I realized that. It’s been taken into account in my preparation of a glossary for Sokni.

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