Siwi: addressee agreement and addressing Aljazeera

After all these Eastern Berber texts, you’re probably thinking it would be nice to hear what the languages actually sound like.  Well, Aljazeera did a report on Siwa last year, available on YouTube – The Egyptian Oasis of Siwa – and, between 0:45 and 1:18, you can hear a brief speech by Shaykh Umar Rajih in Siwi:

níš yəħlayíyya kóm, ánni əlməláff qanát-əjjazíra yusída i šál n isíwan. ítta, ínni geyssə́knas i lʕáləm ənnúba ínni máṣṛa ɣúṛəs šaliwə́n amsérwən, ɣúəs šaliwə́n nṭifə́n, yəftkína i itádəm nnúba, ṣəfħə́t təftíka i nnúba, geyẓrə́ntət əlʕáləm – qáčči itádəm isáwalən fə́llas af-ə́nni yə́xsən, ulá; térwən isíwan, térwən- wérwən šál aqdím d amra dawérwən wérwən əlwəđʕə́nnəs, ixə́ss itádəm nnúba, iṛə́ħħəb s itádəm ənnúba.

Translation: “It pleases me very much that Aljazeera Channel’s “The File” has come to the town of Siwa. Why? So that it can show the whole world that Egypt has towns like this, has clean towns, open to the whole world, a page open to all, for the world to see. Not people talking about it however they like, no. This is Siwa, this is an old town, and right now this is its situation: it loves all people, it welcomes all people.”

To understand the “not people talking about it however they like”, you should be aware that a previous episode of the same program had featured an Egyptian guest academic who made bizarre and unfounded claims that Israelis were visiting a traditional Siwi religious festival in busloads as part of a plan to Judaise the Siwis – an allegation which the Siwis got very annoyed about.

However, I’m not posting this to illustrate local politics, but rather to illustrate the importance of a corpus with a wide range of genres.  Speeches to large audiences are hardly the commonest genre recorded in language documentation.  But as it happens, Siwi has a three-term demonstrative system – near speaker wa etc., near hearer wok etc., and far wih etc. – and the middle term, which as it happens is also the commonest, varies its form according to the gender and number of the addressee, as well as of the referent.  (For details, see the appropriate chapter of my thesis Grammatical Contact in the Sahara.)  If Shaykh Umar had been speaking to one man, he’d have used amsok (like this), tok (this f.), wok (this m.), dawok (this m. as modifier) instead of amserwən, terwən, werwən, dawerwən; if to one woman, amsom, tom, wom, dawom.  A corpus consisting only of short stories told to a single listener – which is all we have for most Eastern Berber varieties – would most likely contain no examples of this form at all, almost irrespective of length. This is unfortunate, since the -k suffixes found on some demonstratives in Awjila and Sokna look very much like they could exemplify the same – typologically very unusual – system of addressee agreement.

About Lameen Souag
Descriptive/historical linguist

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