“Hand” in NW Libyan/S Tunisian Berber

“Hand”, probably to be reconstructed as *a-fuʔs, is one of the best-conserved words across Berber – I don’t think I’ve come across any variety that has replaced it, much less borrowed it.  Its phonetic form, however, varies significantly, and nowhere more than along the Libyan-Tunisian borderlands.  Recently, a Facebook group for Libyan Amazigh asked its readers how they say “hand”; the results give a pretty good picture of variation across northwestern Libya, which can easily be filled out from published sources for the Tunisian side of the border (notably Gabsi 2003).  I’ve mapped the results below, using the following system:

  • white: ufəs
  • green: afus / əfus (it’s impossible to distinguish the two without better-transcribed data)
  • blue: fus

The most widespread forms across Berber are Zenati fus (eg Rif, Chaoui, Chenoua, Siwi…) and non-Zenati afus (eg Shilha, Kabyle, Awjila…), although in this region the latter comes with a twist not seen elsewhere: at least in Djerba and Zuwara, the a-/ə- disappears if a suffix is added, eg Djerba afus “hand” > fus-iw “my hand” (Brugnatelli 1998:120). The form ufəs is far more restricted: the only region it has been reported in, apart from Nefusa, is Ghadames, a couple of hundred kilometres to the southwest.  And, as the map below shows, even within this region it seems to be limited to a well-defined core area.  The differences between Yefren+Al-Qalaa and the rest of Nefusa are easily explained by the presence of a relatively populous Arabophone region in between, around Zintan (and even a cursory look at the same Facebook group suggests that Berber speakers in this region aren’t getting along too well with people from Zintan.)  For Wazzin, comparison with Douiret suggests that it might represent a continuation of the dialect that used to be spoken in the extreme south of Tunisia.  Yet on this point, even close neighbours like Cheninni and Douiret differ, suggesting a more complex history than one might have expected…

"Hand" in Berber varieties near the Libyan-Tunisian border

“Hand” in Berber varieties near the Libyan-Tunisian border


About Lameen Souag
Descriptive/historical linguist

5 Responses to “Hand” in NW Libyan/S Tunisian Berber

  1. Maarten Kossmann says:

    I think, from Mitchell’s data and from what I recall to have seen on Tunisia, that all a/e cases here are probably schwa. Maybe the difference between the a/e and the zero dialects is rather one between allowing schwa in open syllable or not. In Zuara at least, the schwa is stressed; with a pronoun (type fúsis), the stress is on fus, and there is no schwa. Carlos Gussenhoven informs me that in initial position open-syllable schwa is always stressed; put otherwise, one may say that in initial position non-stressed schwa is deleted.
    If this is all true, Yefren would be like Zuara except for syllabification.

  2. Lameen Souag says:

    For Zuwara and (judging from Vycichl, p. 146) probably Tamezret, it does seem to be schwa. For Djerba, though, the data are contradictory. Vycichl (p. 139) reports əffus, fus-is, with a schwa and, as expected in Djerba following a schwa, with compensatory gemination. Brugnatelli, on the other hand, reports a- without compensatory gemination – are we dealing with dialect variation? In either event, it seems that Djerba does not allow schwa in open syllables, yet has still maintained the alternation, complicating what would otherwise be a very neat binary typology.

  3. Lameen Souag says:

    Actually, I spoke too soon about Tamezret: Vycichl doesn’t actually give the specific word “hand”, and Ben Mammou transcribes ae fus “hand” vs. e suf “wadi”, e zaw “hair”, e cael “land”. Moreover, Tamezret does not have the relevant alternation, to judge by Ben Mammou’s i ‘su ggez ‘ae fuses “he lowered his hand”.

  4. Lameen Souag says:

    Douiret, on the other hand, probably does have the alternation: fusis (p. 425) vs. afus (p. 335, Gabsi). Unfortunately, Gabsi does not consistently transcribe schwas in any particular manner.

  5. Pingback: Intra-Berber borrowing in Yefren | Oriental Berber

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