Richardson’s Sokna phrases 1: Of jobs and geography

A while ago I came across a hitherto unpublished early source for Sokni: Richardson’s notes, which I plan to write up for publication at some point. James Richardson was an English traveller who made two trips to the Libyan desert in the mid-nineteenth century, gathering notes on half a dozen languages in the process which have ended up at the UK’s National Archives.  The phrase I’m going to look at today comes from a few pages which Richardson persuaded a man from Sokna named ʕAlī bən əl-Ḥājj ʕAbd al-Ṭawīl (sic!) to write for him in 1850, rhymingly titled كتاب المحاورة الإنسانية في اللغة العربية والسوكنية Kitāb al-Muħāwarah al-‘Insāniyyah fī al-Luɣah al-ʕArabiyyah wa-s-Sawkniyyah “Book of Human Dialogue in the Arabic and Sokni Language”, although this particular phrase is in a different hand, probably that of Richardson’s assistant Yusuf Moknee.  The phrase clearly describes Richardson himself:

English: An Englishman is going from Mourzuk to Ghat to spend some time with the Touaricks.
Sokni: مار سال انقليز ماشى سال تفزنى يغات اد ماتر اودان التواق
Arabic: رجل انقليز يحب يمش من مرزق الى غات باش يتفرج عند ناس التوارق

The Sokni is to be read as: mar sal əngliz maši sal tafəzni i ɣat ad [i]matər udan əttwa[rə]g. “A man from England is going from Murzuq/Fezzan to Ghat to watch Tuareg people.”

  • mar: man (recorded by Sarnelli), pl. imarriwən.  The word is rare in this meaning – the only Berber language to use a cognate that I know of is El-Fogaha – but the widespread forms for “beard” (tamart) and “hard work / power” (tamara) look potentially related.  If it is proto-Berber, one might be tempted to derive Latin Mauri and English “Moor” from this term, rather than from reconstructed Phoenician “westerner”, or Greek amauros “dark, faint”, as is usually suggested.
  • sal: from (attested in Sarnelli’s texts 1 and 5 – see previous post).  Forms with s for “from” are pan-Berber, but the -al is rather more surprising.  I’m inclined to compare it with ən, a fossilised morpheme roughly meaning “chez” that shows up in the Siwi complex prepositions sən “from chez”, gən “chez”, in “to chez” (cp. Tamajeq ehǎn “tent, house, family”, Zenaga ān “a dozen tents; family of”.)
  • əngliz: England.  Presumably from Italian inglese via Turkish and Arabic.
  • maši: going; this is a straightforward borrowing of colloquial Arabic māši, rather surprising in a Berber context
  • tafəzni: translated here as Murzuq, but Paradisi translates the same form in El-Fogaha as “Fezzan”. At that time Murzuq was the capital of Fezzan, so the usage makes sense.  Fezzan was known to the Romans as Phasania; the –i in this word suggests that the original was something like *fǎzǎni, but it might also be a fossilised survival of the locative ending -i found in Awjila and Ghadames.
  • i: to (attested in Sarnelli’s texts), but in most Berber languages it only marks the indirect object, whereas in Sokni and Siwi, as illustrated here, it marks the destination too.  The double function is probably calqued from Arabic, in which l– does the same two things.
  • ɣat: Ghat, a Tuareg town in southwestern Libya.
  • ad: pan-Berber irrealis (“aorist”) marker, prefixed to the verb (lost in Siwi)
  • i-matər: i-, which I’ve restored, is the 3rd person singular masculine subject agreement marker, “he”.  matər is “watch” rather than “visit”, as the Arabic translation as well as Sarnelli (“guardare”) confirm.
  • udan: people (attested in Sarnelli under “gente”, with no corresponding singular.)  Fairly widely attested in Berber. Siwi retains the corresponding singular, aggʷid, but uses a different plural.
  • əttwarəg: Tuareg.  It could also be əttwarəq, since the Arabic transcription doesn’t distinguish g from q. I’ve restored the missing r; the handwriting of this phrase is strikingly messy, unlike the rest of the manuscript.

In terms of vocabulary, the interest of this sentence for those already familiar with Sarnelli is limited to the geographical terms – while not especially obscure, tafəzni, ɣat, and əttwarəg are not otherwise recorded in Sokni.  Grammatically, the use of maši – an unanalysed Arabic participle – is striking; El-Fogaha uses at least one conjugated Arabic verb, as we will see, but I haven’t spotted any parallels in Sokna yet.

Lameen Souag


About Lameen Souag
Descriptive/historical linguist

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