Ghost Languages?

Ghost words are words that have typically never existed in reality, but that get taken into account in reference works or scholarly research and come to have a life of their own until they are noticed and removed. Erroneous citation, spelling or printing mistakes, or misreadings can all be reasons that bring ghost words into existence. Ghost words have plagued linguistic research at various points—imagine publishing an analysis of a strange Latin word, only for a later scholar to point out that the word was originally misspelled in the text edition you were using. Something similar can happen when some source claims that a language is or was spoken in such-and-such place, and later sources adopt that claim as fact, but in reality there never was (or never plausibly was) such a language in such a place!

For example, I recently came across a Wikipedia page for the Zurg language, a Berber language apparently spoken in Kufra, Libya. (Note: this is probably not an inside joke referring to the Zerg). Clicking around the Wikipedia pages for Berber languages, one notices as well that a Tmessa language is classified as part of Eastern Berber, but clicking on it redirects one to the page for the language of Sokna, Libya (a real, though probably recently extinct, language). Strangely enough, most Berberologists have never heard of either Zurg or Tmessa.

These Wikipedia pages are not entirely to blame, as they derive their information from three sources: a 1999 work by Václav Blažek on the reconstruction of numerals (with a chapter on Berber numerals), a 2001 work by Roger Blench in which a subgrouping of Berber languages is proposed, and a 2006 work by Blench & Dendo repeating the 2001 subgrouping of Berber. *Note that all these subgroupings are out of date.*

The first of these, Blažek (1999:157-159) gives a subgrouping of Berber languages drawn largely from the Russian studies of Aikhenvald and Militarev (1987, 1991; which I have not been able to consult) as follows:

“Eastern Berber: Siwa (oasis Siwa in West Egypt), Zurg (oasis Kufra in East Libya), Fezzan (oases Tmessa and El Fodjaha [sic!] in South Libya), Augila (oasis Djalo in North-East Libya), Sokna (North Libya), Ghadames (oasis Ghadames in West Libya)”

It should be noted that the geography is a bit off, and Augila (Awjila) and Djalo (Jālu) are two separate oases in eastern Libya, only the former of which is Berber-speaking. “El Fodjaha”, also misspelled below, refers to El-Fogaha الفقها.

The articles by Blench (2001:86) and Blench & Dendo (2006:12) give the following subgrouping:

“Eastern Berber: Siwa, Awjila, Sokna, Ghadames, Zurg (=Kufra), and Fezzan which consists of Tmessa and Al-Fojaha [sic!]”

The Wikipedia article for “Eastern Berber” adds:

“The “Lingvarium Project” (2005) cites two additional languages: the extinct language of Jaghbub and the still-spoken Berber language of Tmessa, an oasis located in the north of the Murzuq District. [7] Blažek (1999) considers the language spoken in Tmessa as a dialect of Fezzan. [8]”

Note [7] of the Wikipedia article refers to an article in Russian which also names Zurg and Tmessa as Berber languages. Note [8] is the above-cited work by Blažek. As far as I know, there is no Berber language spoken in Jaghbub (an oasis near the Libyan-Egyptian border), except by Siwans who sometimes went there for work (and spoke Siwi, if they used Berber at all when there).

Again, I’ve never heard of either Zurg or Tmessa varieties of Berber. Of course, in the above sources none of the scholars can give any data for either language, because there isn’t any.

Tmessa (تمسّة) is a small town in west-central Libya, in the far east of the Murzuk-Sabha region. Since there are Touareg as well as Tebu in that region, it is possible that Touareg or Tebu speakers live in Tmessa, but such a claim or report has never appeared in a publication, as far as I know. There is no point in assuming so, and even assuming so would make Tmessa Touareg- or Tebu-speaking, which is quite different from it having its own unique variety of Berber. Though the above-mentioned sources do not cite it, the only reference to language in that town was made by the German traveler Gustav Nachtigal in the 1870s, in which he claims that it was Berber-speaking but gives no references or linguistic data (thanks to Maarten Kossmann for having noticed this a few years ago in a guest post on this blog):

“…haben in den vorher aufgeführten Berber-Kolonien Sôqna, Waddân, Temissa Berberdialecte, die dem von Ghadàmes nahe stehen, noch Bürgerrecht neben der arabischen Sprache: doch sind dies streng abgeschlossene Sprachinseln.

[…besides the Arabic language, Berber dialects, which are close to that of Ghadames, are still current in the Berber colonies of Sôqna, Waddân, and Temissa, but these are closed off language-islands] (Nachtigal 1879:195)”

So if “Tmessa” could be pulled from Nachtigal’s impressionistic report as a real Berber language, why not “Waddan”, which otherwise is never reported as having (or having had) a Berber language? Perhaps Nachtigal had good information that Berber was spoken in “Temissa”. But as probably both documented Berber languages of central Libya (in Sokna and el-Fogaha) have probably become extinct this past century, is it even likely that a Berber language of Tmessa would have survived until now? Doubtful.

Zurg is a locale within the oasis complex of Kufra, itself home to Tebu speakers (and perhaps various languages from Chad spoken by migrants) but not Touareg as far as I know. Interestingly, of all the Wikipedia entries for Kufra, only the English version mentions this locale (“ez-Zurgh”), along with a note pointing to the 1929 edition of the Guida d’Italia del Touring Club: Colonie e Possedimenti—however, no reference to the Zurg language is there. The Guida states that Zurg was inhabited by only a few hundred slaves—if accurate, this also makes it unlikely that a unique Berber language was spoken only in that specific locale within Kufra. Otherwise, I haven’t been able to track down other passages (e.g. in travelers’ accounts such as Rohlfs or Forbes) which may mention a connection between Zurg and Berber.

To see if anything else could be found about these mysterious languages, I turned to an obscure 1937 article by Francesco Beguinot, the most prominent Berberologist of the colonial period. In a chapter entitled “I Linguaggi” in the book Il Sahara Italiano: Fezzàn e Oasi di Gat, Beguinot gives a rough summary of the languages spoken in the Fezzan (I’ve uploaded a PDF for those interested). He concentrates mostly on Touareg and on ancient inscriptions, but has the following to say (pp. 502-503):

Attualmente nella parte orientale e centrale del Fezzán l’arabo domina quasi assolutamente. Parecchi anni fa un berbero di Augila che, come altri suoi confratelli, aveva molto viaggiato e conosceva vari paesi della Cirenaica e della Tripolitania, parlandomi di località ove il linguaggio berbero si era conservato, mi nominò, per il Fezzán, el-Fogaha, Trághen, Tméssa, et-Tuíla, Sébha, ez-Zíghen. Sarà necessario per accertare se almeno parte di tali osservazioni risponda a verità, fare una minuta indagine sui luoghi. Nel breve tempo che ebbi disponibile durante le missione geografico-linguistica dell’aprile-maggio 1934 constatai personalmente che a Sebha e a ez-Zighen non vi sono attualmente gruppi parlanti berbero, ma solo individui sporadici provenienti da altre località; quanto a Traghen, Tmessa e et-Tuila, le informazioni dataemi da indigeni di Sebha furono del tutto negative; mi risultò invece come berberofona el-Fogaha, che sarebbe quindi, stando a tali dati e notizie, la sola località del Fezzan orientale cha abbia conservato il berbero…trovai tuttavia, dopo molte ricerche a ez-Zighen una vecchia donna originaria di quella località, dalla qualie raccolsi un po’ di parole cha (salvo ulteriori accertamenti) mostrerebbero l’appartenenza di quel dialleto al gruppo della Zenatiya, mentre in qualche voce esso coinciderebbe in modo specifico con quello di Socna (per es. amâr uomo; miktâr asino).

[Currently Arabic dominates the eastern and central parts of the Fezzan almost entirely. Several years ago, a there was a Berber from Awjila who, like others from his community, had traveled a lot and was familiar with many locales in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, and told me of some locations where the Berber language had been conserved. He named for me, in the Fezzan, el-Fogaha, Traghen, Tmessa, et-Tuila, Sebha, and ez-Zighen. It will be necessary to ascertain whether some of these observations correspond to reality and to make a detailed survey of the places. In the short time available to me during the geographic-linguistic mission of April-May 1934, I could personally confirm that there are no Berber-speaking groups in Sebha or ez-Zighen but only sporadically individuals from other places. As for Traghen, Tmessa, and et-Tuila the information given to me by natives of Sebha was entirely negative; the only remaining Berberophone (place) would be el-Fogaha, according to this information, the only location in the eastern Fezzan to have conserved Berber … I found, however, after much searching in ez-Zighen, an old woman originally from there, from whom I could gather a few words (unless further investigation) would show the membership of that dialect to the Zenatic group, indeed in some ways it would coincide with that of Sokna (e.g. amār man, miktār donkey). —Translation AB]

Regarding the woman in Zighen who Beguinot mentions, I think it would be a little much to assume an entire language on that basis—perhaps the words were Berber loans into the local Arabic dialect or perhaps the woman had learned them from visiting Berber speakers or was of Sokni descent. There are multiple possibilities. Beguinot also seems to shut down the possibility of Berber in Tmessa in the 1930s at least—nevertheless, if we don’t know anything about a language other than that it exists, how can we group it?

But anyways, I don’t think that most scholars have seen this piece, buried in an obscure and hard-to-find colonial volume as it is. In his other writings, Beguinot doesn’t seem to mention anything about these essentially random places where Berber may or may not have been or was spoken—but we have no data and no firsthand reports. It doesn’t look like Beguinot is the origin of Zurg or Tmessa. The problem may originate in the classifications of Aikhenvald which precede those of Blažek and Blench, but I haven’t been able to check those works. However, if Aikhenvald had any real data, it would have appeared in other studies of Berber languages. And it hasn’t.

To conclude, these handful of scholarly and internet sources seem to be the only places where the languages of Zurg and Tmessa existed. It is frustrating that some scholars simply accept them as being real without bothering to check where they have been mentioned or even if there is any data for them. So until further, firsthand, information can be found (which I think is unlikely), Zurg and Tmessa are simply ghost languages.


  • Aikhenvald, Aleksandra. 1987. Strukturno-tipologiceskaja klassifikacija berberskix jazykov. Sintaksis. Kratkaja istorija klassifikacij berberskix jazykov. Rezul’taty strukturno­tipologičeskoj klassifikacii berberskix jazykov. Moskva: Nauka.
  • Aikhenvald, Aleksandra & Militarev, Aleksandr. 1991. Livijsko-guančskie jazyki. In: Jazyki Azii i Afriki IV.2. Moscow, pp. 148-267.
  • Beguinot, Francesco. 1937. “I Linguaggi” In Sahara Italiano: Fezzan e Oasi di Gat. Roma: Societa Italiana Arti Grafiche Editrice.
  • Blažek, Václav. 1999. Numerals – Etymological Analyses of Numeral Systems and their Implications. Masarykova Univerzita v Brné.
  • Blench, Roger. 2001. “Types of language spread and their archeological correlates: the examples of Berber.” Origini 23, pp. 169–189.
  • Blench, Roger & Mallam Dendo. 2006. The Afro-Asiatic Languages. Unpublished Draft.
  • Nachtigal, Gustav. Sahara and Sudan, I Fezzan and Tibesti. Translated from the original German with and Introduction and Notes, by Allan G.B. Fisher and Humphrey J. Fisher. London, C. Hurst & Company (1974), p. 178. Original title Sahara und Sudan I, Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung (1879), p. 195.

Works on Ghadames

There are a few works on Ghadames in Arabic, published in Libya, that might turn up interesting leads on its history and language should anyone have the time to delve into them.

One is a grammar of the Berber language of Ghadames in Arabic titled السهل و المسير في تعلم اللغة الامازيغية بلهجة غدامس by Abu Bakr Hārūn. It’s available to order from a UK-based distributor here, though they’re currently sold out due to ‘overwhelming’ demand by Berberologists. There are 484 sayings and prayer formulas accompanying the grammatical remarks.


There are also two catalogues of manuscripts and documents held in Ghadames. The more recent is وثائق غدامس: وثائق تجارية، تاريخية، اجتماعية, published in 1995. It may be ordered online here. It seemingly follows on an older volume (with awesomer cover): فهرس مخطوطات غدامس, published in 1986. Both are by بشير قاسم يوشع. I had a brief flip through both volumes in the library and did not come across any mention of Berber, however, though that may be due to both having been published under the former regime. A more detailed reading might turn up clues.

ghadames-mss1 ghadames-mss2

Here is also a plug for Maarten Kossman’s recent grammatical sketch of Ghadames Berber, the first new monograph on that language in several decades. See the table of contents here.

A map of early 20th-century Awjila


Plan of Awjila from Scarin 1937 (insert between pp. 76 and 77).

Plan of Awjila from Scarin 1937 (insert between pp. 76 and 77).


This map of Awjila comes from a work by the colonial-era Italian “human geographer” Emilio Scarin on the oases of eastern Libya, focusing on Awjila, Jalu, Jaghbub, and Marada. The high density of mosques and tombs of marabouts that Awjila is famous for can clearly be seen.

The term “human geographer” is in quotes because Scarin was evidently a practitioner of the cranium– and lip-thickness–measuring type of fascist racial sciences (just check out his pamphlet “Le oasi del Fezzàn : ricerche ed osservazioni di geografia umana”). Not all of his works were of that type; thankfully the volume from which the above map is taken contains almost nothing of the sort and is full of detailed maps of the oases and plans of vernacular architecture.

Scarin, Emilio. 1937. Le oasi cirenaiche del 29 parallelo. Ricerche ed osservazioni di geografia umana. Firenze.

Recent publications

Two articles by Marijn van Putten, both historical linguistic studies of Libyan Berber varieties, are now published.

“Some notes on the historical consonantism of Awjila” (Folia Orientalia 51, 2014, 257–274) can be accessed at this link. The contents of the entire issue can be viewed here. Hooray for open access!

“Reflexes of the glottal stop in Nefusa and Ghadames” (Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 105, 2015, 303–314), is not available online for a while but can be consulted in print format (or for an offprint contact Marijn directly or leave a comment below).

Ammud əglimǝn – A story from Awjila

Ibrahim Sultan, a member of the Awjila Berber community and resident of Awjila, recently posted an interesting story pertaining to local history on his Facebook. The story is about one of the older mosques of the oasis (see here for a short video showing such extremely old mosques there) given in Arabic, but the most important part is a few phrases in Berber, which provide a compelling climax to the tale. The Berber is of course written in Arabic script, and provides an interesting glimpse at how a semi-native speaker would write Awjila Berber. Ibrahim seems to have heard the story from an older, probably fluent, Awjila speaker and then written it down in somewhat summarized form using his own words. The fact that he does not speak Awjili fluently probably explains some of the oddities in verbal morphology, agreement, and syntax. Indeed, there are a number of interesting features of  Ibrahim’s idiolect, though I’ll only mention a few here (but there is a comments section for a reason!).

We’ve obtained Ibrahim’s permission to re-post and translate; the original Arabic is given first, as Ibrahim wrote it, followed by a translation, and rough transcription of the Berber based on the standards of Marijn’s new book. A line by line parse is after the jump.

‫امود اقلیمن …. یحکی ان غزاه جاءو لیغزو اوجله قبل عدة اعوام مضت .لباسهم من الجلد .. وعندما جاء المؤذن لرفع اذان الفجر تعرضو له لکی یوضح لهم الاغنیا فی البلاد والقاده لیبداء الغزاه منهم .. فقال لهم المؤذن .. دعونی ارفع الاذان اولا لکی اسهل علیکم الامر .. فالناس ستاتی لتصلی بلا سلاح وانتم یا غزاه اختبو تحت هذا الجدار .. ولا تتحرکو حتی تقام الصلاه .. فوافق الغزاه .. .. فاذن المؤذن الاذان التالی .. بالامازیغیه .

“ammud əglimǝn … It is said that some raiders came to raid Awjila a number of years ago. They wore leather clothes. When the muezzin came to call the dawn prayer, they presented themselves to him so that he could tell them who the leaders and rich people in the town were so that they could start with them. So the muezzin told them ‘Allow me to call the prayer first, that way it will be easier to show you. The people will come to prayer with no weapons, and you should all hide under this wall. Don’t move until the prayer starts.’ The raiders agreed, and so the muezzin called the prayer with the following words, in Berber:”

الله اکبر ..تقلیمن اوشندا . یغلینی کا غارکم حاجت یغلین یوغنتت سغارکیم . الله اکبر الله اکبر … وان غارص تان افیو ایقیدادس، ایاغید دتکم تان ابدار ابزالیم .. وناغارص کا وان افیو یتادت اید افیر الفلانی ..یصفصفین ‬

‫اید افیر ادفعات فلسین .الله اکبر الله اکبر

allahu akbar təglimən uša-n=da. yə-ġǝlliy-ǝn=a ka ġar-kim ḥažət yə-ġǝlliy-ǝn y-uġ-ən=tǝt sġar-kim. allahu akbar allahu akbar. wan ġaṛ-ǝs tan afiw iqidadǝs, a=yaġi=d dit-kim tan abdar əbẓalim…u na ġaṛ-ǝs ka wan afiw yǝ-tadǝt ayǝd afir alflani .. yǝṣǝfṣǝfin ayǝd afir adfǝʕat fǝll-ǝssin. allahu akbar allahu akbar.

Allahu akbar. Leathered-ones(?) came. They do not want you to have anything, they want to take it from you. Allahu akbar, allahu akbar. He who has a gun should bring it, and with you gunpowder. He who does not have a gun should come to such-and-such a wall. They should set themselves up in rows and push this wall over on them!”

الترجمه … وصف المؤذن ما یبغی الغزاه لناس وقال لناس ان غزاه لابسین جلود قادمین لسلبکم و من عنده بندقیه او بارود یحضرها معه للمسجد .. والاخرین یاتی لکی ندفع علیهم الحائط المختبیین تحته ..ووصف لهم الطریق التی یسلکونها بحث لا یشعر الغزاه بحضورهم وعدد الاهلی داخل المسجد .. فاستجاب الناس .. واسقطوا الحائط علی روس الغزاه.. ومن نجاء اطلقوا علیه النار وقتل الغزاه بالکامل .. وتم انقاد المنطقه من شرهم .. بقت هذه القصه سر من اسرار اوجله لکی لا تتعرض المنطقه تدعیات الانتقام .. … .. فکتیرین یستهین باللغة وفوائد اللغه .. … من قصص الاجداد..‬

The muezzin described what the raiders wanted from the people, and told them that raiders wearing leather were coming to rob them, so whoever had a rifle or ammunition should bring it to the mosque. And others should come to push down the wall the raiders were hiding under. And he described the way they should come so that the raiders would not sense their presence, or that of the number of families inside the mosque. So the people responded, toppled the wall on the heads of the raiders, and opened fire on whoever survived that. In this way they killed all the raiders, and the area was saved from that evil. This story has become one of Awjila’s secrets, so that it (Awjila) wouldn’t fall prey to revenge. Many people trivialize the language and interest in the language… but well, this is one of our ancestors’ stories.”

Ibrahim told me that the mosque (known these days as مسجد تونيت masjid tunit) has been abandoned for about 10 years now, and that its eastern wall is still of mud brick, while the western one (perhaps the one toppled on the invaders?) is now made of cement.

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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

Sokna Text IV: The sultan and the poet

This is the fourth of five texts collected by Sarnelli (1925: 34), concerning a miserly sultan who encounters a poet. It is almost entirely a dialogue, with every phrase introduced by yenn-âs ‘he said to him’. There are only a few new forms in this text, and a number of new Arabic words.

ěllân íǧǧěn n essẹ́lṭān bxîl.

(Once) there was a miserly sultan.

  • ěllân 3pl.m. ‘there were’
  • íǧǧěn n essẹ́lṭān phrasal n. ‘a sultan’ (lit. ‘one of sultan’)
  • bxîl adj. ‘miserly’ from Ar. bxīl

yusâzed íǧǧen në mmār šâ‘ir ṭâma, yenn-âs: sîulax fellá-k amdáḥ.

A poet came to him, and said to him: “I spoke praise about you.”

  • yusâzed pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. indirect object pronoun –ās– + ventive particle –d, with assimilation [āsed] > [āzed]
  • íǧǧen në mmār šâ‘ir phr. n. ‘a poet’ (lit. ‘one of man poet’), with the second noun ‘poet’ from Ar. šā‘ir ‘poet’.
  • ṭâma adj. ‘greedy’ from Ar. ṭāmi‘. Sarnelli does not transcribe the final ‘ayn of this word–noting that it was not pronounced (though it is written in the Arabic text, of course, which has no long vowel). I’ve emended his transcription to reflect short final vowel (maybe schwa), since compensatory lengthening would be hard to demonstrate.
  • sîulax pf.1sg. ‘I spoke, talked’
  • fellá-k prep. ‘about’ + 2sg.m. object pronoun ‘you’
  • amdáḥ n. ‘praise’ from Ar. amdaḥ

yẹ̌nn-âs: bā tā tenn-îd?

(The sultan) said: “What did you say to me?”

  • tenn-îd pf.2sg.m. ‘to say’ + 1sg. indir.obj. pronoun

yẹ̌nn-âs ẹllî yennî-t dg-īs.

(The poet) said what he said about him.

  • yẹ̌nn-âs pf.3sg.m. ‘to say’ + 3sg. indir.obj. pronoun
  • ẹllî relative pronoun from Ar. illī
  • yennî-t pf.3sg.m. ‘to say’ + -t dir. object suffix referring back to the relative pronoun
  • dg-īs particle marking the 3sg. direct object

yěnn-âs essélṭān: ḥatta nîš ẹssîulāx fěll-ák amdáḥ.

The sultan said: “I, too, spoke praise about you.”

  • ḥatta nîš phrase calqued from dialectal Ar. ḥattā nā ‘me too’
  • ẹssîulāx pf.1sg. ‘I spoke, talked’, though I’m not sure why the final vowel is long ā and not short as previously; the initial ẹ- is probably epenthetic

wu yenn-âs ellî yennît dg-īs.

And he said what he said about him.

yennâ mār iyi-ssélṭān udînak: usíġt s aglad-énnüen.

The man said to this sultan: “I came by your street.”

  • yennâ pf.3sg.m. ‘he said’
  • iyi-ssélṭān ‘to the sultan’
  • udînak ‘this’
  • usíġt pf.1sg. (Auj. ušíġd) of root s(d) ‘to come’ (same root as yusâzed above).
  • s prep. ‘by, through’
  • aglad-énnüen n. ‘street (of a city)’ + 2pl.m. possessive suffix

yěnn-âs: tbarût-ēnnek fëll-âs.

(The sultan) said to him: “Your road is on it.”

  • tbarût-ēnnek n.m. ‘road (of countryside)’ + 2sg.m. possessive suffix
  • fëll-âs prep. ‘on’ + 3sg.m. indirect obj. pronoun

yennâ: slīx ezzěġârio̱ṭ et-tasqá-nnüen.

(The poet) said: “I heard the ululation from your house.”

  • slīx pf.1sg. ‘to hear’
  • ez-zěġârio̱ṭ n. ‘ululation’ probably from a form of Ar. zaġraṭ
  • et-tasqá-nnüen n.f. ‘house’ + 2pl.m. possessive suffix; the initial et- could represent an assimilation of the prep. d: *de-tasqá > *et-tasqá, the only problem is that d means ‘with’, usually s or sāl is ‘from’.

yěnnâs: farḥân. děluqō*t eddînak winâzed i-issẹ́lṭān amekl-ínnes.

(The sultan) said: “I was celebrating.” At that moment they brought to the sultan his lunch.

  • farḥân from Ar. farḥān ‘happy’
  • děluqōt n. ‘moment, time’(?), some kind of reanalysis of Ar. waqt preceded by the prep. d/de ‘at, from’
  • eddînak
  • winâzed wi- ‘to bring’, -n- 3pl.m marker, -âz- 3sg. indirect obj. suffix, -ed petrifed ventive particle ‘they brought him’
  • amekl-ínnes n. ‘lunch’ + 3sg.m. possessive suffix

iṣâr itéčč dg-îs wu íngî yěnn-âs i-mâr udînak: éčč.

He began to eat it, and no one said to the man: “eat.”

  • iṣâr must reflect the Arabic iṣār which is pf.3sg; not only is this an anomalous (at least so far) to make an inchoative in Sokni (usually with yiqqím), but it is an interesting case of loan verb + native verb.
  • itéčč impf.3sg.m. (together with the preceding verb forms an inchoative phrase)
  • dg-îs the particle dg- again marks the direct object
  • wu ‘and’ from Arabic wa
  • íngî yěnn-âs ‘did not say to him’ (usual double marking of indirect object)
  • i-mâr udînak ‘to that man’, directional part. i- with n. ‘man’, followed by the
  • éčč impv.2sg.m. ‘eat!’

yěnn-âs mār iyi-ssẹ́lṭān: lahl-ẹ́nnek turû.

The man said to the sultan: “Your wife gave birth.”

  • lahl-ẹ́nnek n.f. ‘wife’ + 2sg.m. possessive suffix (the poet now changes between using the 2pl., perhaps as a sign of respect, to the 2sg.)
  • turû pf.3sg.f. ‘to give birth’

yěnn-âs: eǧǧíx-t taqqál.

He said to him: “I left her pregnant.”

  • eǧǧíx-t pf.1sg. ‘to leave’ (Auj. dǧiḫ) + 3sg.m. direct object suffix
  • taqqál n.f. ‘pregnant’

yěnn-âs: tuwîd sen n immězzûnīn! d essẹ́lṭān qarîb adikkâmel tagílla.

He said: “She brought two little ones!” And the sultan was close to finishing the meal.

  • tuwîd pf.3sg.f. ‘to bring’ (Sokna has -w- where the same Auj. verb has -gg-)
  • sen n immězzûnīn n. phrase ‘two small (ones)’
  • qarîb ‘close’ from Ar. qarīb
  • adikkâmel aor.3sg.m. ‘to finish’ of Ar. verb kammal (?)
  • tagílla n.f. ‘meal’

yěnn-âs essẹ́lṭân ii-mār: lahl-ẹ́nnu lallâ-s tawîd dě-ttuwâma.

The sultan said to the man: “My wife his mother gives birth to twins.”

  • lahl-ẹ́nnu n.f. ‘wife’ + 1sg. possessive suffix
  • lallâ-s n. ‘his mother’
  • tawîd pf.3sg.f. ‘to bring’ (same form as above, with slightly different schwa realizations)
  • dě-ttuwâma part. ‘of’ + n. ‘twins’ from Ar. tǝwām

yěnn-âs mār i-issẹ́lṭān: íǧǧen sāl mězzânīn yummút.

The man said to the sultan: “One of the twins died.”

  • íǧǧen sāl mězzânīn ‘one of the little ones’; this phrase is odd given that ‘one of…’ is routinely expressed in Sokni with the particle n ‘of’ (see the first line of this text, for example), and never sāl ‘from’ – this might be a calque on dialectal Arabic, which would use min ‘from’: *wāḥid min et-tǝwām ‘one of the twins’.
  • yummút pf.3sg.m. ‘to die’

yěnn-âs: lâllā-s lā těnǎžžām atěssẹ́mbi sẹn.

(The sultan) said to him: “His mother could not give milk to the two.”

  • lā těnǎžžām impf.3sg.f. from Arabic lā tenežžem (najjam with the meaning ‘to be able’ is rare in Libya, but is the usual verb in southern and eastern Tunisia)
  • atěssẹ́mbi aor.3sg.f. ‘to give milk, breastfeed’ (causative of ẹ́mbi ‘to suck, nurse, take milk’)
  • sẹn num. ‘two’

yěnn-âs: ḥátta uyéṭ yěmmút!

(The poet) said to him: “The other also died!”

  • ḥátta part. ‘even, too, also’ from Arabic ḥǝttā
  • uyéṭ ‘other’
  • yěmmút (glossed above)

yěnn-âs: iḥzén s úmm-as

(The sultan) said to him: “(Because) he was sad of his brother.”

  • iḥzén pf.3sg.m. (?) ‘to be sad’ from Arabic verb ḥzn
  • úmm-as n.m. ‘brother’ + 3sg. kinship possessive

yěnn-âs: ḥáttā lallá-tsen tẹ́mmūt!

(The poet) said to him: “Their mother also died!”

  • lallá-tsen n.f. ‘mother’ + 3pl. kinship possessive
  • tẹ́mmūt pf.3sg.f. ‘to die’

yěnn-âs: teḥzén sě děná-nnas.

(The sultan) said to him: “(Because) she was sad of her sons.”

  • teḥzén pf.3sg.f. ‘to be sad’
  • děná-nnas ‘sons’ + 3sg. possessive suffix (not kinship)

yěnn-âs: tagill-ánnek ṭāyyéb?

(The poet) said to (the sultan): “Was your lunch good?”

  • tagill-ánnek n.f. ‘lunch’ + 2sg.m. possessive suffix
  • ṭāyyéb adj. ‘good’ from Arabic ṭāyyib

yěnn-âs: w-ẹ́lli úgǐex adẹ́nax iy-úggīd ẹ́čč dîd-i!

(The sulten) said to him: “That is why I did not want to say to anyone ‘eat with me!’ ”

  • w could be interpreted as the demonstrative wā, which is then followed by the relative pronoun ẹlli (Ar. illī), resulting in the contraction *wā-ẹlli > wẹ́lli.
  • úgǐex pf.1sg. ‘to want’
  • adẹ́nax aor.1sg. ‘to say’ (aorist following the verb ‘to want’)
  • iy-úggīd ‘to’ followed by n. ‘someone’
  • ẹ́čč impv.2sg.m. ‘to eat’
  • dîd-i prep. ‘with’ + 1sg. suffix

– A. Benkato