A look into the history of Awjila

During the work on my upcoming Aujila vocabulary, I have made use of two main sources, first Paradisi (1960a), a well-written word list with a lot of information, and even some etymological notes. The second source is the word list by Müller (1827).  As is obvious from the dates of these publication, the time difference between the collection of these word lists is enormous. This gives us a fascinating insight in the development of several Aujila words over a period of over 130 years.

The data in Müller, despite being an enormous word list, is very difficult to analyze. At the time of writing,  there was no accurate way to transcribe Berber, nor was Müller a very good fieldworker. This is not something Müller can be held accountable for, as fieldwork was not a developed branch of linguistics at the time. As a matter of fact, linguistics itself was hardly a developed scientific branch at the time. It is fairly obvious that he misunderstood words, made up conjugations of words, and sometimes based his french-like transcription on Aujila written in Arabic script, rather than basing it on what he had actually heard.

Despite the difficulties, there are a few interesting examples to be found of lexical items that have changed in pronunciation or meaning in between the time of Müller’s work and Paradisi’s work.


In Text I, we encountered the word físa ‘quickly’, this is not found in Paradisi’s word list as Paradisi decided to not include any Arabic loanwords. But it is found in his published texts (1960b).

físa comes from dialectal Ar. fissaʕ ‘quickly’ which ultimately derives from the phrase fī (a)s-sāʕa(t) ‘in the hour’. It is instantly striking, that, Aujila is lacking the Ar. ʕ, this is remarkable, since Aujila usually retains this sound, and Paradisi writes it very consistently, with great accuracy. We must conclude that it was lost.

Müller has included this word in his wordlist as: fisaâ فيسعہ <fysʕh>‘swiftly, promptly (fr. promptement)’. In Müller’s time apparently Aujila had not yet lost the ʕ in this word.

Because Müller’s material is so difficult to analyze, we cannot draw this conclusion with absolute certainty. It happened more than once that Müller added ʕ in words where we are sure it did not exist. For example, arrav  ‘writing’ is written by him as arrab عرّب <ʕrrb>, with the root written as though it was derived from the root for ‘Arab’ in it. This root for ‘to write’ can be solidly reconstructed for Proto-Berber and thus predates Arab presence in North-Africa.

Taking this into consideration, it may still be possible that Müller in fact did hear físa just like Paradisi, but ‘corrected’ it by including the ʕ. Adam Benkato pointed out that in ELA [1], this word is often pronounced simply as fīsa, in fast speech, but with the original final ʕ in place when emphasized. Perhaps, this split pronunciation lies at the origin of these two different forms, rather than a historical loss of ʕ.


The verb uġǝr ‘to get lost looks identical to the El-Foqaha Berber word uġǝr ‘to go’, but I was reluctant to assume a historical connection between these two words, as the meanings are quite different. Müller resolves the problem. We find youghera يوغرہ <ywġrh> ‘he went  (fr. aller)’. So, about 130 years before Paradisi did his fieldwork on Aujila, the verb uġǝr ‘to get lost still had the meaning ‘to go’ and we can therefore confidently connect it with the El-Foqaha verb with the same meaning.


Another word that I want to discuss is aniš ‘nickel’, this word has an unusual meaning, as this word usually means ‘copper’, cf. Sokna nās ‘copper’, MA anas ‘copper’, Tashl. anas ‘copper’, Ntifa anas ‘copper’. The only logical conclusion must be that the word shifted in meaning from copper, to nickel. Müller gives us proof that this change of meaning has taken place. Müller gives anich انيش <ʔnyš> ‘copper (fr. cuivre)’. It is the same word, but with its original Berber meaning.


The word for ‘nose’ in Aujila is tkǝnzírt. If we compare this word to other Berber languages we find that they lack the root initial k found in Aujila. cf. Fog. tinzę́rt ‘nose’ Kb. tinzərt ‘nose’; Nef. tinzért ‘nose’; Mali To. tinšărt ‘nose’; Siwa tanzärt ‘nose’; Sok. tunzä*rt ‘nose’; Zng. tīnẕ̌ärt ‘nose’. Müller has tenzert تنزرت <tnzrt> for the same word, as you can see, the consonant k was not present at the time. It is unclear what caused this extra consonant to be added, but we can be sure that it happened in between Müller’s and Paradisi’s fieldwork.

Through the careful study of the lexical items we get a unique look into the history of a language that has received very little academic attention. Due to the great gap in time between the two works, we are actually given a unique opportunity to study the language in a way not usually possible in Berber studies.

-M. van Putten


[1] Eastern Libyan Arabic.


Müller, Frédéric. 1827. “Vocabulaire du langage des habitants d’Audjelah.” In: Pacho (1827) pp. 319-352.

Pacho, Jean-Raymond 1827. Relation d’un voyage dans la Marmarique, la Cyrénaïque, et les Oasis d’Audjelah et de Maradèh, accompagnée de Cartes géographiques et topographiques, et de Planches, représentant les Monuments de ces contrées. Didot. Paris.

Paradisi, Umberto. 1960a. “Il Berbero Di Augila. Materiale Lessicale.” Rivista Degli Studi Orientali 35: 157–177.

Paradisi, Umberto. 1960b. “Testi Berberi Di Augila (Cirenaica)” Annali. Nuova Serie 10: 43–91.

4 Responses to A look into the history of Awjila

  1. Lameen Souag says:

    uġǝr: interesting parallel to Korandje dri “go”, probably from *derey “get lost”.

    copper/nickel: or there was just a mistranslation somewhere along the line; it’s unlikely that nickel was a very familiar material in Awjila.

    • Marijn says:

      copper/nickel: or there was just a mistranslation somewhere along the line; it’s unlikely that nickel was a very familiar material in Awjila.

      I have considered this option as well. But I’m not sure how likely such a misunderstanding would be. Nickel and Copper are two very different metals.

      Could you enlighten me why nickel would be an unfamiliar metal in Aujila?

  2. Lameen Souag says:

    The use of nickel is fairly recent, dating back to only about 1750; it’s not produced anywhere in North Africa. Also, within Europe at least it has a history of being confused with copper. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel)

  3. yassin says:

    Great posts! Thank you

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