كتاب المحاورة الإنسانية في اللغة العربية والسوكنية – Book of Human Dialogue in the Arabic and Sokni Language

في 1850 كثب علي بن الحاج عبد الطويل السوكني مخطوطة قصيرة بعنوان “كتاب المحاورة الإنسانية في اللغة العربية والسوكنية ” للرحال الإنجليزي جيمز ريتشاردسون. أرسله إلى إنجلترا ولا تزال في الإرشيف الوطني البريطاني.  وها هي.

James Richardson was an English traveller who made two trips to the Libyan desert in the mid-nineteenth century, gathering notes on half a dozen languages in the process which have ended up at the UK’s National Archives.  In 1850 he persuaded a man from Sokna named ʕAlī bən əl-Ḥājj ʕAbd al-Ṭawīl to write a short vocabulary of Sokni for him, rhymingly titled كتاب المحاورة الإنسانية في اللغة العربية والسوكنية Kitāb al-Muħāwarah al-‘Insāniyyah fī al-Luɣah al-ʕArabiyyah wa-s-Sawkniyyah “Book of Human Dialogue in the Arabic and Sokni Language”.  I’ve already posted on this source a few times (1, 2, 3); here follow the actual pages.  For a full analysis, look out for my forthcoming article:

IMG_4323IMG_4324IMG_4325IMG_4326IMG_4327IMG_4328IMG_4329

Intra-Berber borrowing in Yefren

At a recent conference, I met the Libyan activist Maziɣ Buzexxar, who was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Yefren Berber.  As we have already seen for “hand“, words that end up as CuC monosyllables in Yefren (and elsewhere in Zenati) regularly correspond to uCeC in Nefusi (and Ghadamsi).  One such word is “straw”: lum in Yefren (as in Siwa) vs. ulem in Jadu (and alim in Kabyle).  Thus, in Yefren, “a pile of straw” is aguday n lum.Milky_Way_Night_Sky_Black_Rock_Desert_Nevada

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, the Milky Way is referred to as “the Road of Straw” or “Road of the Straw-bearers“, with the scattered stars conceived of as straws fallen from the load being carried, rather than, as in Greek tradition, as milk.  Yefren is no exception.  But in Yefren, according to Maziɣ, the Milky Way is called: abrid n ulem (which he understood, with no difficulty, as meaning “road of straw”).

If the facts are correct – obviously confirmation with more Yefrenis would be better – then the explanation is obvious: Yefren borrowed its term for the Milky Way as a whole from the Nefusi communities to its west, while keeping their original word for “straw”.  Intra-Berber borrowing – borrowing of words from one Berber language into another – must have been an important phenomenon historically, but it is often made invisible by the sound correspondences being trivial.  In this case, the Nefusi vowel shift makes it unusually conspicuous.  More such cases should be sought.

“Meat” and “drink” in Libyan Berber

The previously mentioned Facebook group has been continuing its activity – particular credit should go to Sami Halasa and Faycel Marir, for asking many dialectologically interesting questions.  Two recent ones seem interesting enough to share, and illustrate slightly different isogloss patterns – as usual, the Jebel Nefusa minus Yefren+Al-Qalaa and Wazzin stands out, but this time it shows significant internal divisions too, in a different place each time.

Meat“: aksum in dark green, aysum in green, usəm in yellowish-green, isan in white.

meat-berber-map

Aksum/aysum is pretty well universal in Berber along the Mediterranean – showing the usual Nefusi vowel shift in usəm – while isan is more associated with Tuareg.  It’s possible that isan is related to aksum/aysum/usəm: in Ghadames, it appears that isan is actually the irregularly formed plural of aksəm.  If so, however, I don’t understand the relationship well: was -um a singulative? or perhaps just -w, with -un-w > -um?

Also interesting is “he drinks“: isəss in green, itəssu/isəssu in yellowish green, yəssaw in white:

drink-berber-map

Of these, isəss, as the most irregular form, is presumably original (cf. Kossmann 2008); the other two have been partially regularised to fit better with more common conjugations.  The Nalut form looks exactly like Siwi, but that may be coincidence.  Sokna shows a combination of both innovations: itəssaw.

Towards a Libyan/Tunisian Berber dialect atlas

The polls on the previously mentioned Libyan Berber site are a wonderful data source, notwithstanding occasional difficulties caused by inexact transcription.  Here are a few more, selected from the minority of posts that include Wazzin:

Sun“: tufut in white, tfuyt/tfwit in green, təfuṯ in dark green:

berber-sun

Son“: təṛwa in white, məmmi in green:

berber-son

Year“: suggəs/sukkəs in white, asəggas/asəggʷas in green, asəkkʷas in dark green, and (Arabic) əlʕam in yellow.

berber-year

Note that, each time, the eastern and western extremes of the Berber-speaking area of Nefusa – Wazzin, Yefren, and Al-Qalaa – group outside of the core Nefusi area and with more Zenati-like dialects of the region.  One gets the same impression from other posts which sadly exclude Wazzin, eg:

Donkey” (حاشاكم:) ziṭ/aziṭ in white, aɣyul in green, aɣɣul in dark green:

berber-donkey

Dog“: yudi in white, aydi / ayəddi in green, ayḏi in dark green, aɣərzul in blue:

berber-dog

That’s not to say, of course, that the central Nefusi dialect area is always homogeneous; there seems to be a certain number of isoglosses separating the Jadu area from the Nalut area.  Consider, for instance:

Figs“: iməṭkən in white, iməṭšan/iməṭšən in green, ifərgas in blue.  (I’ve ignored a few attestations of the Arabic loan kəṛmus, since they are inconsistent.  The form iməṭšən is attested only in the Nalut area, but some speakers from the same areas are writing iməṭšan.)

berber-fig

For all of these varieties, available grammatical descriptions are at best inadequate; practically nothing has been published on the dialects of Yefren, Wazzin, or even the Nalut region.

“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

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.

Another version of the Awjili “fire” story

Readers may recall that Aujila Text II presented the local saint Sidi Ahmed Zarruq as being of such sanctity that whatever had prayed behind him, even a piece of meat, would be forever immune from the Fire (of Hell).  Recently I accidentally found a much-abbreviated parallel to this charming but absurd legend rather a long way away – consider the following extract from a Sufi work written in Agadez (in Niger), Qudwat al-Mu`taqid fī Siyar al-‘Ajwād, attributed to Shaykh Aḥmad al-Ṣādiq ibn al-Shaykh Uwāyis al-Lamtūnī.  The original text and a translation are given in Norris’ (1990) Ṣūfī Mystics of the Niger Desert: Sīdī Maḥmūd and the Hermits of Aïr; I have taken the liberty of making the translation more literal.

وكان واحد من أصحابه يصلي ويصلي ونسي حمامة في رأس برنوسه وجعلها في النار ولم تاخذها وذكروا له ذلك فقال لعلك صليت ورائي قال نعم (p. 60)

“One of his companions was praying and praying, and he forgot a pigeon in the hood of his cloak (burnus) and he put it in the fire, but it did not burn it.  They mentioned what had happened to him (the Shaykh).  He said: ‘Perchance you had prayed behind me?’ ‘Yes,’ he answered.” (p. 62)

The shared motif may be much more widespread, for all I know, but its presence in this case is unlikely to be a coincidental similarity, though the shaykh to whom it is attributed here is Sidi Mahmud Al-Baghdadi.  According to Barth (1851:143), many people of the Agadez region claim Awjili ancestry, and the two areas were traditionally linked by trade.