“Oriental Berber” is a collaborative blog aimed primarily at the study and exploration of the Berber languages of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.
Though the term ‘oriental’ may seem a bit archaic, especially in an academic setting, we use it intentionally and in a particular sense. Firstly, we indicate that our scope is the Berber languages of the eastern part of North Africa (mostly Libya, but also parts of Tunisia and Egypt). This is a strictly geographic grouping; we do not claim, nor is there necessarily, a straightforward genetic relationship between the different Berber languages of this region. Secondly, it is also the case that these languages have on the whole received only marginal attention from researchers, and in some cases are scarcely documented. We thus want to highlight their differences from other, more well-studied varieties of Berber (such as those of western North Africa). Furthermore, researchers in the field of Berber languages commonly use the headings ‘eastern Berber’ (for varieties of Libya and Egypt) and ‘northern Berber’ (for Moroccan and Algerian Berber, which share a number of typological features). Thirdly and poignantly, we also want to point out that, for much of the last century, the only scholarship on these languages was that of colonial Italian, British, or French researchers or travelers. To a certain extent those academic traditions shaped the final form of their studies, and hence the documentation that is today available. Fortunately, some of the languages here have become the subject of recent – and very good – scholarship; part of our goal is to continue this trend.
This blog will focus on several aspects on the study of the ‘oriental’ Berber languages. A large part of the content of the blog, initially, will consist of the (re)translation and (re)transcription of texts first published in the early 20th century. Those will be provided with more extensive grammatical analysis, English translation, and sometimes, retranscription based on a more phonemic approach than the common transcription methods used by those earlier scholars. Other posts will include notes on linguistic history, discussions regarding interesting grammatical features, phonemic analysis, and so forth, and notes about these languages’ interactions with the surrounding (dominant) Arabic dialects.
By making these scarce materials on eastern Berber languages available to a wider audience, and by publishing our own research and ideas publicly, we hope that these languages will capture the attention of a wider audience than previously and thus encourage new research in this hitherto extremely understudied field.
Research on these Berber varieties is particularly timely, for the important reason that, especially in Libya, they are now coming to be used increasingly in the media. Prior to the revolution in 2011, there was essentially no Berber media – written or otherwise – in Libya, as the use of Berber was suppressed by the regime.