Unusual Awjila Prepositions

Like Arabic, Berber prepositions can be modified with pronominal suffixes. When these pronominal suffixes are used, the preposition often undergoes a change of shape. For example the Central Atlas Berber γər ‘to, towards’ can be suffixed with prominal suffixes to form γur-i ‘towards me’, γur-es ‘towards him/her’ etc.

This system is very similar to that of Arabic, which essentially does the same thing, although, obviously with different pronominal suffixes. The preposition li ‘to, towards’ forms ‘towards me’, lahu ‘towards him’, lahā ‘towards her’ etc.

While similar, the Berber prepositional endings are very different from those of Arabic in shape, and also in terms of agreement. Unlike Arabic, Berber does not distinguish between the masculine and feminine in the 3rd person singular.

The Berber system and Arabic system in comparison look as follows:

  Berber Arabic
1sg. -i
2sg.m. -ək -ka
2sg.f. -əm -ki
3sg.m -əs -hu
3sg.f. -əs -hā
1pl. -nəx -nā
2pl.m. -wən -kum
2pl.f. -əkmăt -kunna
3pl.m. -săn -hum
3pl.f. -əsnăt -hunna

Due to common ancestry, these two systems do show some similarities, but they are clearly distinct. Like other Berber languages, Aujila also uses prepositional suffixes. They look somewhat different from the general Berber forms, but are clearly related. For example, look at the preposition ġàr ‘to, towards’: 1sg. ġàr-i 2sg.m ġàr-ək 2sg.f. ġàr-əm 3sg. ġàr-əs 1pl. ġár-nax 2pl.m. ġár-kim 2pl.f. ġár-əkmət 3pl.m. ġár-sin 3pl.f. ġár-əsnət ‘to, towards’

But there are two Aujila Berber prepositions that, do not follow the general Berber pattern: dit ‘in front of’ and dəffər ‘behind’. Both prepositions are of Berber origin and are well-attested in the Berber languages. Yet, these prepositions are attested with endings of Arabic origin (forms that are of Arabic origin are in bold, ambiguous forms are underlined):

1sg. dìt-ī 2sg.m. dìt-ək 2sg.f. dìt-əm 3sg.m. dít-ah, dít-a 3sg.f. dìt-ha 1pl. dít-na 2pl.m. dít-kim, dìt-kum 2pl.f. dìt-kmət, dìt-kən 3pl.m. dít-sin, dìt-hum 3pl.f. dìt-snət, dìt-hən

1sg. də́ffər-i 2sg. dəffər-ə́k 3sg.m. dəffəráh, də́ffər-ah, də́ffəra, dəffər-ə́s 3sg.f. də́ffərha 1pl. də́ffərna, dəffərnàx 2pl.m. də́ffərkum, dəffərkìm 2pl.f. də́ffərkmət 3pl.m. də́ffər-hum 3pl.f. də́ffər-hən ‘behind, after’

As you can see some forms are still attested with Berber endings, but the vast majority of the forms has an Arabic form. The development of these forms is difficult to understand, as we do not understand what the basis of this loan was.

All Berber-origin prepositions have Berber endings in Aujila, except for these two prepositions. And even the one Arabic-origin preposition that is attested min ‘from’ in the composed preposition agùr min  ‘near, on the side of’ has Berber endings: 1sg. agùr mìnn-i 2sg.m. agùr mìnn-ək 3sg. agùr minn-əs.

Without more data, and preferably historical data, it may never become clear why the Aujila speakers chose to start treating two Berber prepositions as Arabic, while every other preposition (even Arabic ones!) are treated as Berber.

-M. van Putten