Further evidence for the linguistic heritage of Sokna

I recently came upon an essay (linked here) by a certain al-Mukhtār ‘Uthmān al-‘Afīf entitled العادات الاجتماعية و الدينية و الموسمية في مدينة سوكنة الليبية (“Social, Religious, and Seasonal Customs of the Libyan City of Sokna”), who is also the author of a book about 19th/20th-century Sokna. In his discussion of the different holidays celebrated in Sokna, al-‘Afīf cites some particular songs and phrases used on those holidays. Even better, some of those phrases are entirely in, or include words from, languages other than Arabic. ‘Berber!’, you’re thinking. Yes, indeed, but there also seem to be some other languages represented.

al-‘Afīf doesn’t say much about the use of Berber in Sokna. In his book on the history of Sokna, his section on the “local dialect” (cf. 2002: 172-175) is completely derivative of Lyon, with no new information. This essay is much more informative, if only unintentionally, since the author’s aim here is only to discuss holidays, not linguistics. al-‘Afīf also does not even mention any other possible languages of Sokna (i.e. Hausa, Kanuri, Songhay; see Kossmann’s post on the languages formerly spoken in the Fezzan).  What we can glean from this is that, for some traditions, a few non-Arabic words and phrases survive, frozen, in the Arabic dialect of Sokna. But the author clearly knows exactly what they mean, which is a great help. He also comments that the last two phrases, which are sung during the holiday of Ashoura, originally come from the ‘people of Sudan’.

The following are the passages of interest from that essay, with a necessarily hypothetical transcription, Arabic translation (as given by the author), English translation, and glosses with discussion. Comments are welcome.

I. قيو بيه .. راكو شايدنه .. قيو هيه .. قيو تغرنه
qayu baya .. rākū šāyid-ennu .. qayu haya qayu taġra-nnu

al-‘Afīf gives the following translation:
انني احمل جهاز سيدي، على مشهد من الناس، الى منزل سيدتي، و انا عبدهم مدى الحياة
“I am carrying my master’s goods(?) in public, to the home of my mistress, and I am their slave for life.”

  • qayu baya – related to Hausa(?) kayar uba “goods of master”? qayu alone means ‘servant’ (cf. qâyu in Sarnelli, Fog. qāyu, Awj. aqǝyùn ‘black slave’), perhaps from a non-Berber language.
  • rākū – perhaps related to Hausa(?) rako “escort hither on journey”?
  • šāyid-ennu is perhaps ‘my master’:  Arabic  sayyid > šāyid with unconditioned palatalization?, with Sokna 1sg. possessive suffix -ennu. But if it is a loanword, why is there no Arabic definite article?

II. سلمها دادا يزه .. من البرطيل انخ وزه
sǝllǝm-hā dādā yǝzza(?) .. min ǝlbǝrṭīl-ennax wǝzza

al-‘Afīf comments:
و يقصد بهذا البيت ان قفتها (برطيلها) احضرت لها وزة
“And this verse means that her basket (bǝrṭīl-ha) delivered to her a goose…”

  • sǝllǝm-hā is Arabic ‘he/it delivered (to) her’. If the following noun is the verbal subject, then it is understood as grammatically masculine; if it is the verbal object (which I assume), then the suffix – refers to it.
  • dādā yǝzza is presumably the name of a nanny (probably of sub-Saharan African origin). dādā is Libyan Arabic word for ‘nanny’, which may have actually been derived from Berber anyway. I assume that the following word is to be transcribed as yǝzza in order to rhyme with wǝzza ‘goose’.
  • ǝlbǝrṭīl-ennax ‘our basket’, Arabic loanword with attached def. article, with the Sokna 1pl. possessive suffix -ennax. Borrowing the word together with the definite article al- is normal for Berber. al-‘Afīf seems to misunderstand the possession as 3sg.f.

The translation would thus be: “Dāda Yǝzza, it brought her; from our basket a goose.”

Maarten Kossmann, in an email, writes that the character Dāda Yǝzza may be well-known:

“There is a song in Figuig that kind of reminds me of the Ramadan song. I don’t know its Sitz im Leben, but it is quite well-known (I quote it from memory):

a mama yzza / wš-axdd aziza / a ss-nawy i baba / baba u da ylli / illa i tmuṛawin / timuṛawin bǝ’dǝnt (I forgot the last few lines)

o Miss Izza / give us aziza (a type of high-quality dates) / we’ll give it to daddy / daddy isn’t there / he is away (lit. in the countries) / the countries are far away.”

III. بابا كيري … قم قاجي … بابا كيري … فيه لحمة … بابا كيري …فيه خبزة
bābā kīrī … qǝm qājī … bābā kīrī … fīh laḥma … bābā kīrī … fīh xubza
“Baba Kiri, ? ?, Baba Kiri, here’s (some) meat, Baba Kiri, here’s (some) bread.”

  • Baba Kīrī is a character during Ashoura, one covers oneself with white mud and goes house to house followed by young children who ask for some bread and meat for him (according to al-‘Afīf).
  • qǝm qājī – the first is perhaps qqim impv. ‘stay’ (Marijn)?

IV. قجرنبي … تاتا لارمبي
qǝjrǝmbī … tātā lārǝmbī

  • qǝjrǝmbī is explained by al-‘Afīf as being the equivalent of ام جرمبي ‘the mother of jǝrǝmbī(?)’, whoever that is.
  • tātā lārǝmbī is likewise unknown to me.

And lastly, from a footnote at the end of the essay: كركدو kǝrkǝdu? means خشن “to toughen, roughen”. Possibly Kanuri? Compare: kə́r-gada “they plaited/braided”; kər-gada “they thickened” (thanks to Lameen).

-A. Benkato

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Awjili negation and Facebook

Although Ethnologue lists Awjili as “moribund“, it turns out there is a surprising amount of Awjili being spoken on Facebook – and not just the occasional lesson, as at “Amazigh Awjila, Tmazight N Tenere“.  The group “Ašal-ənnax” contains too much conversation to analyse in one post even if I could understand all of it, but the point that especially struck me relates to negation.  Consider:

– قان كا حدي اشفا
gan ka ħaddi ašfa
EXIST not anyone today

We know that Awjili usually negates the verb just by putting –ka after it.  But the apparent double negative here is unexpected; normally, in Berber, you would expect an item like “anyone” to replace the postverbal negative.  Does this mean “There is no one here today”?  If so, then Awjila has lost the usual alternation along with the pre-verbal negator, rather like dialectal English “There ain’t nobody here today”.  Or is –ka here marking a question – “Is there no one here today?”  If so, that would fit rather well with a widespread Arabic dialectal usage of –ši, recently discussed by Wilmsen.  Either result would help us understand the development of negation better.

Looking further down resolves the question.  In fact, we find a comparable sentence accompanied by a translation, in a brief anecdote:

غارسين كا حتىىى ايواتن
ɣar=sin ka ħəttaaaaa iwatən
“at=3PL not any one.F”
They don’t have eeeven one (star).

In almost any other Berber language with a postverbal negator, this would feature only a preverbal negator.  We can conclude that Awjila has indeed extended postverbal negation to sentences with variables and negative polarity items, which in most Berber languages do not take it.