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.

“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

Nefusa Text: ‘The story of the wild animals’

I will be translating and posting some translations of Nefusa Berber texts. Nefusa Berber is spoken in the west of Libya, in the Nefusa mountains. Nefusa Berber is significantly less ‘foreign’ to a person familiar with Berber than Awjila, El-Foqaha, Sokna and Siwa Berber. It has movement of clitics, the future and imperative are marked with a single stel, the aorist.

But, similar to most other Libyan Berber languages (Zuara Berber is the exception), Nefusa does not distinguish state.

The texts that I will be posting, will be taken from the second edition of Francesco Beguinot’s Nefusi Berber grammar, published in 1942. His highly phonetic transcriptions have been adapted to a more phonemic transcription.

tikkə́lt žəml-ə́n ləwḥóš n=əddúnyət ə́kkul, mlu-n m=bəʕə́ṭ-hum bə́ʕəṭ:

One time, The wild animals of the whole world gathered, they said to eachother:

  • tikkə́lt  ‘one time’
  • žəml-ə́n pf.3pl.m. ‘to gather’
  • ləwḥóš ‘wild animals’
  • n= ‘of’
  • əddúnyət ‘world’
  • ə́kkul ‘whole’
  • mlu-n pf.3pl.m. ‘to say’
  • m= Dative particle ‘to’, the Dative particle is i in almost all Berber languages. Unusually, it is in and sometimes n in Nefusa Berber. The n variant is homophonous to the genitive particle. The n variant has assimilated to the next labial b in this sentence.
  • bəʕə́ṭ-hum bə́ʕəṭ ‘each other’, 3pl.m.; An Arabic construction: baʕaḍ-hum baʕaḍ. Note that devoices to , a common proces in Nefusa Berber.

mammó a=y-ugurú-n si-naɣ a=í-šbəḥ arrə́hṭ n=əbnádəm mámmək nit?

Who of us will go and see how to species of man is?

  • mammó ‘who’
  • a= future marker
  • y-ugurú-n aor.ptc. ‘to go’, the participle form is only used after question words, and is no longer used as a subject relative form, as we will see in the next sentence.
  • si-naɣ ‘from’ + 1pl.
  • a= future marker
  • í-šbəḥ aor.3sg.m. ‘to see’
  • arrə́hṭ ‘species’
  • n= ‘of’
  • əbnádəm ‘man, human’, literally ‘son of Adam’.
  • mámmək ‘how’
  • nit ‘he, it’

Bnádəm uh ə́lli y-ə́ɣləb əddúnyət ə́kkul s=əlḥílət.

This man who conquered the whole world with cunning.

  • Bnádəm ‘man’
  • uh ‘this’
  • ə́lli ‘relative pronoun’
  • y-ə́ɣləb pf.3sg.m. ‘to conquer, defeat’, while this is a subject relative clause, the verb simply takes a finite form.
  • əddúnyət ‘world’
  • ə́kkul ‘whole’
  • s= ‘with’
  • əlḥílət ‘cunning’

y-iml=ásən ṣə́yd əllíl: nəč ad=ugúr-əɣ a=dawnt=šə́bḥ-əɣ.

Mister porcupine said to them: I will go and see for you.

  • y-iml= pf.3sg.m. ‘to say’
  • =ásən 3pl.m. Indirect Object
  • ṣə́yd əllíl ‘Mister Porcupine’
  • nəč ‘I’
  • ad= future particle, the allomorph ad is only found in the 1sg. form of the verb, if no object suffixes follow it.
  • ugúr-əɣ aor.pf.1sg. ‘to go’
  • a= future particle
  • dawnt= fronted 2pl.f. Indirect Object marker. The future particle moves object clitics from behind the verb to the front of the verb. It is surprising that the 2pl.f. is used. This implies that Mister Porcupine is exclusively talking to women, while earlier the form =ásən implied an all male, or mixed group.
  • šə́bḥ-əɣ aor.1sg. ‘to see’

y-ugúr, y-ufú əlḥiwán rəttʕá-nət, y-ufú daləmmas=ənn-ə́snət ləfḥál i-ttbə́lbəl, y-əml=ás: šək bnádəm?

He went and he found grazing sheep, he found in the middle of them a bleating ram, he said to him: Are you a man?

  • y-ugúr pf.3sg.m. ‘to go’
  • y-ufú pf.3sg.m. ‘to find’
  • əlḥiwán ‘sheep’
  • rəttʕá-nət impf.3pl.f. ‘to graze’, a typical example of an adjoined relative clause, i.e. a relative clause with no overt marking: A finite verb is placed directly after the noun it modifies.
  • y-ufú pf.3sg.m. ‘to find’
  • daləmmas ‘in the middle’
  • =ənn-ə́snət ‘of’ + 3pl.f. suffix
  • ləfḥál ‘ram’
  • i-ttbə́lbəl impf.3sg.m. ‘to bleat’, another adjoined relative clause
  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • šək ‘you (m.)’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’

y-əml=ás: la, bnádəm bába.

And he said to him: No, the man is my master.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • la ‘no’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’
  • bába ‘master’, this word behaves like a kinship posessive, and receives kinship suffixes. To mark the 1sg., not suffix is used. Thus this should be read ‘my master’

y-əxṭə́m, i-ǧǧ=ə́t, y-ufú funás i-ttṣə́yyəḥ, y-əml=ás: šək bnádəm?

He continued, and left him, and he found a mooing bull, and he said to him: Are you a man?

  • y-əxṭə́m pf.3sg.m. ‘to continue, go on’
  • i-ǧǧ=ə́t pf.3sg.m. + 3sg.m. Direct Object ‘to leave’
  • y-ufú pf.3sg.m. ‘to find’
  • funás ‘bull’
  • i-ttṣə́yyəḥ impf.3sg.m. ‘to moo’, another adjoined relative.
  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • šək ‘you (m.)’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’

y-əml=ás: la, bnádəm bába.

And he said to him: No, the man is my master.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • la ‘no’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’
  • bába ‘master’

y-əxṭə́m,  i-ǧǧ=ə́t, y-ufú agmár i-ṣə́hhəl, y-əml=aš_šə́k bnádəm?

He continued, and left him, and he found a whinnying horse, and he said to him: Are you a man?

  • y-əxṭə́m pf.3sg.m. ‘to continue, go on’
  • i-ǧǧ=ə́t pf.3sg.m. + 3sg.m. Direct Object ‘to leave’
  • y-ufú pf.3sg.m. ‘to find’
  • agmár ‘horse’
  • i-ṣə́hhəl impf.3sg.m. ‘to whinny’, an adjoined relative clause
  • y-əml=aš_ pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’, the final s has assimilated to the following š.
  • šək ‘you (m.)’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’

y-əml=ás: bnádəm bába, i-ttə́nni aɣf-í.

He said to him: the man is my master, he rides on me.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’
  • bába ‘master’
  • i-ttə́nni impf.3sg.m. ‘to ride’
  • aɣf-í ‘on’ + 1sg. suffix

y-əxṭə́m, i-ǧǧ=ə́t, y-ufú alɣə́m, y-əml=aš_šə́k bnádəm?

He continued, and left him, and he found a camel, and he said to him: Are you a man?

  • y-əxṭə́m pf.3sg.m. ‘to continue, go on’
  • i-ǧǧ=ə́t pf.3sg.m. + 3sg.m. Direct Object ‘to leave’
  • y-ufú pf.3sg.m. ‘to find’
  • alɣə́m ‘camel’
  • y-əml=aš_ pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’, the final s has assimilated to the following š.
  • šək ‘you (m.)’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’

y-əml=ás: bnádəm bába, y-əttə́nni aɣf-í d=i-xə́ggʷa aɣf-í di=lətqál=ənn-əs, də=y-ətṣáfar aɣf-í ə́šbəḥ akrum=ə́nn-u mámmək y-ə́ḍbər si-s.

And he said to him: The man is my master, he rides on me and he loads on me his cargo, and he travels on me; look how my back is wounded by him!

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’
  • bába ‘master’
  • i-ttə́nni impf.3sg.m. ‘to ride’
  • aɣf-í ‘on’ + 1sg. suffix
  • d= ‘and, with’. In most Berber languages, this particle is exclusively used for noun phrase coordination. Here it is used for verb clause coordination. Most Berber languages do not mark verb clause coordination. Aujila and Sokna use the Arabic particle u, w for clause coordination. Foqaha and Zuara behave similar to Nefusa.
  • i-xə́ggʷa impf.3sg.m. ‘to load’
  • aɣf-í ‘on’ + 1sg. suffix
  • di= ‘in’, in Nefusa, the imperfective usually marks the direct object with the preposition di=.
  • lətqál ‘cargo’
  • =ənn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix
  • də=  ‘and, with’
  • y-ətṣáfar impf.3sg.m. ‘to travel’
  • aɣf-í ‘on’ + 1sg. suffix
  • ə́šbəaor. (absence of suffix points to imp.2sg.) ‘to see’
  • akrum ‘back’
  • =ə́nn-u ‘of’ + 1sg. suffix
  • mámmək ‘how?’
  • y-ə́ḍbər ‘to be wounded’
  • si-s ‘from’ + 3sg. suffix

y-əml=ás: yaʕažáyb, mámmək nit bnádəm uh ə́lli y-ə́ḥkəm dí-naɣ dəd=dí-wən?

He said to him: How strange, how is it (possible) that this man rules over us and over you?

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • yaʕažáyb ‘How strange’ from Ar. yā ʕajāʔib ‘O wondrous things
  • mámmək ‘how?’
  • nit ‘he, it’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’
  • uh ‘this’
  • ə́lli relative pronoun
  • y-ə́ḥkəm pf.3sg.m. ‘to rule’, this word surprisingly has penultimate accent. Most verbs with three root consonants have final accent in the perfective.
  • dí-naɣ ‘in’ + 1pl. suffix, apparently y-ə́ḥkəm takes a prepositional object marker with di ‘in’.
  • dəd= ‘with, and’, a longer form of d= seen earlier.
  • dí-wən ‘in’ + 2pl.m. suffix

y-əml=ás alɣə́m ih: bárra a=t=šə́bəḥə-d, aktwí di=birg(ə)n=ə́nn-əs.

That camel said to him: Go and see him, (he is) over there in his tent.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • alɣə́m ‘camel’
  • ih ‘that’
  • bárra literally ‘outside’, but has become a suppletive imperative ‘go outside/away!’
  • a= future marker
  • t= fronted 3sg.m. Direct Object
  • t-šə́bəḥə-d aor.2sg. ‘to look’
  • aktwí presentative deictic ‘voi là’
  • di= ‘in’
  • birg(ə)n ‘tent’
  • =ə́nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix

Y-ugur=ás, y-əml=ás: šək bnádəm?

He went to him, and said to him: Are you a man?

  • Y-ugur pf.3sg.m. ‘to go’
  • =ás 3sg. Indirect Object
  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • šək ‘you (m.)’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’

Y-əml-ás: ənáʕm.

He said to him: Yes.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • ənáʕm ‘yes’

i-fk=ás ləḥlíb d=əžžbə́n d=aɣí, y-əsəwú d=y-əččú, y-əml=ás baʕd ə́lli y-əččú: sə=maní=s yuh ə́kkul?

He gave him milk and cheese and butter milk, he drank and ate, and he said to him after he had eaten: Where do all these (things come) from?

  • i-fk= pf.3sg.m. ‘to give’
  • =ás 3sg. Indirect Object
  • ləḥlíb ‘milk’
  • d= ‘with, and’
  • əžžbə́n ‘cheese’
  • d= ‘with, and’
  • aɣí ‘buttermilk’
  • y-əsəwú pf.3sg.m. ‘to drink’
  • d= ‘with, and’
  • y-əččú pf.3sg.m. ‘to eat’
  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • baʕd ə́lli ‘after’
  • y-əččú pf.3sg.m. ‘to eat’
  • sə=maní=s a curious doubling of the preposition s= ‘from’ with the question word maní ‘where?’. In most Berber languages the question word is in absolute initial position, therefore prepositions that modify it come after it. Later in the text we will find this same construction without the initial s=.
  • yuh ‘these’
  • ə́kkul ‘all’

Y-əml=ás: s=tɣaṭ.

He said to him: From the goat.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • s= ‘from’
  • tɣaṭ ‘goat’

I-kkə́r atərrás ih, y-awí=d aburšəní, y-əɣrə́s=t s-ad=as=y-ə́g məklí=nn-əs;

This man got up, and he brought a kid, and slaughtered it to make his meal;

  • I-kkə́r pf.3sg.m. ‘to get up, stand up’
  • atərrás ‘man’
  • ih ‘that’
  • y-awí=d pf.3sg.m. ‘to bring’ with the directional particle =d. While this particle is not fully productive anymore in Nefusa, it is still used to give specific differences in meaning to several verbs, for example awi ‘to carry’ awi=d ‘to bring’.
  • aburšəní ‘kid’, as in the child of a goat
  • y-əɣrə́s pf.3sg.m. ‘to slaughter’
  • =t 3sg.m. Direct Object
  • s-ad= a special extended form of the future marker ad=, there is no discernable difference in meaning.
  • as= fronted 3sg. Indirect Object
  • y-ə́g aor.3sg.m. ‘to make, do’
  • məklí ‘meal’
  • =nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix

Si=iɣə́rrəs di-s i-šbə́h=t mámmək i-ttə́gg;

When he was slautering it, (the porcupine) saw it, how he was doing;

  • Si= ‘when, while’
  • iɣə́rrəs impf.3sg.m. ‘to slaughter’
  • di-s ‘in’ + 3sg. suffix. Once again an imperfect that uses the preposition di to mark its object.
  • i-šbə́h pf.3sg.m. ‘to see’
  • =t 3sg.m. Direct Object
  • mámmək ‘how?’
  • i-ttə́gg impf.3sg.m. ‘to do’

Baʕd ə́lli i-tɣádda s=isán ih y-əml=ás : maní=s isán uh ?

After he had eaten (some) of that meat, he said to him: Where does this meat come from?

  • baʕd ə́lli ‘after’
  • i-tɣádda pf.3sg.m. ‘to have a meal’
  • s= ‘from’, used as a partitive
  • isán ‘meat’ a plurale tantum
  • ih ‘that’
  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • maní ‘where?’
  • =s ‘from’, backed because the question word is required to be first.
  • isán ‘meat’
  • uh ‘this’

Y-əml=ás : yin tarwá n=tɣaṭ.

And he said to him: It is the child of the goat.

  • y-əml=ás pf.3sg.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • yin ‘that’ pl.m., plural because it agrees with isán
  • tarwá ‘child’
  • n= ‘of’
  • tɣaṭ ‘goat’

Y-imlú ṣid əllíl di=lxaṭər=ənn-ə́s: mámmək tɣaṭ t-əfk=ás əlxír uh ə́kkul, d=i-wə́lla af=tarwá=nn-əs y-əɣrə́s=t?

Mister Porcupine said in his thoughts: How is it (possible) that the goat gave him all these goods and he turns to her child and slaughters it?

  • Y-imlú pf.3sg.m. ‘to say’
  • ṣid əllíl ‘Mister Porcupine’
  • di= ‘in’
  • lxaṭər ‘thought’
  • =ənn-ə́s ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix
  • mámmək ‘how?’
  • tɣaṭ ‘goat’
  • t-əfk pf.3sg.f. ‘to give’
  • =ás 3sg. Indirect Object
  • əlxír ‘goods’
  • uh ‘this’
  • ə́kkul ‘all’
  • d= ‘with, and’
  • i-wə́lla pf.3sg.m. ‘to turn to (litt. to turn on)’
  • af= ‘on’
  • tarwá ‘child’
  • =nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix
  • y-əɣrə́s pf.3sg.m. ‘to slaughter’
  • =t 3sg.m. Direct Object

wəl=dí=š lamán, ad=aggəd-ə́ɣ af=iɣf=ə́nn-u, mámmək s-ad=rəwl-ə́ɣ?

There is no safety in here, I will (have to be) scared of my own head, how will I flee?

  • wəl= A special form of the negative marker u only found in front of this preposition.
  • ‘in’
  • postverbal negative element
  • lamán ‘safety’
  • ad= Future marker
  • aggəd-ə́ɣ aor.1sg. ‘to fear’
  • af= ‘on’
  • iɣf ‘head’
  • =ə́nn-u ‘of’ +1sg. suffix
  • mámmək ‘how?’
  • s-ad= extended future marker
  • rəwl-ə́ɣ aor.1sg. ‘to flee’

ləfžə́r bə́kri i-rwə́l, y-usə́=d in=arrfaqt=ə́nn-əs.

He fled at early daybreak, and he went back to his companions.

  • ləfžə́r ‘daybreak’
  • bə́kri ‘early’
  • i-rwə́l pf.3sg.m. ‘to flee’
  • y-usə́=d pf.3sg.m. ‘to come’
  • in= dative preposition
  • arrfaqt ‘companions’
  • =ə́nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix

Mlu-n=ás: xəbbər=ánaɣ, t-šəb(ə)ḥə́-d bnádəm?

They said to him: Inform us! Have you seen the man?

  • Mlu-n=ás pf.3pl.m. + 3sg. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • xəbbər aor. (imperative 2sg.) ‘to inform’
  • =ánaɣ 1pl. Indirect Object
  • t-šəb(ə)ḥə́-d pf.2sg. ‘to see’
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’

Y-əml=ásən: u=šə́kwənt=təxəbbər-ə́ɣ=ši an di=t-əḥəfra-m oqdú di=drar uh yəzə́grət yərxá.

He said to them: I will not in form you until you have dug a very deep hole for me in this mountain.

  • Y-əml=ásən pf.3sg.m. + 3pl.m. Indirect Object ‘to say’
  • u= Negative marker
  • šə́kwənt= fronted 2pl.f. Direct Object marker
  • təxəbbər-ə́ɣ impf.1sg. ‘to inform’, negation + impf. appears to express Future tense here.
  • =ši post-verbal negative marker
  • an ‘until’
  • di= fronted 1sg. Indirect Object, an causes fronting of verbal clitics.
  • t-əḥəfra-m pf.2pl.m. ‘to dig’
  • oqdú ‘hole’
  • di= ‘in’
  • drar ‘mountain’
  • uh ‘this’
  • yəzə́grət ‘deep’
  • yərxá ‘very’

ṭəbbṣ-ə́n ḥə́ffṛ-ən əkkul=ə́n-sən, gu-n=ás oqdú əll_i-ɣə́ss;

All of them started to dig, they made for him the hole that he wanted.

  • ṭəbbṣ-ə́n pf.3pl.m. ‘to start to’
  • ḥə́ffṛ-ən  impf.3pl.m. ‘to dig’
  • əkkul ‘all’
  • =ə́n-sən ‘of’ + 3pl.m. suffix
  • gu-n pf.3pl.m. ‘to do, to make’
  • =ás 3sg. Indirect Object
  • oqdú ‘hole’
  • əll_ Relative pronoun with elided final i because it precedes an i.
  • i-ɣə́ss pf.3sg.m. ‘to want’

Y-əkmú di-s, baʕd ə́lli y-əkmú i-ml=ásən: bnádəm əlḥákəm n=ayə́lli di=ddúnyət ə́kkul, u=tt=i-ɣə́lləb ḥáža s=əlḥilt=ə́nn-əs, wə́lli ʕain-ah a=y-ə́rwəl a=i-nəžžá əlʕamr=ə́nn-əs.

He went in it, after he had entered he said to them: Man is the master of everything in the whole world. Nothing will best him with its wit, he who wants to flee, he must save himself.

  • Y-əkmú pf.3sg.m. ‘to enter’
  • di-s ‘in’ + 3sg. suffix
  • baʕd ə́lli ‘after’
  • y-əkmú pf.3sg.m. ‘to enter’
  • i-ml pf.3sg.m. ‘to say’
  • =ásən 3pl.m. Indirect Object
  • bnádəm ‘man, human’
  • əlḥákəm ‘master, ruler’
  • n= ‘of’
  • ayə́lli ‘everything, everybody’
  • di= ‘in’
  • ddúnyət ‘world’
  • ə́kkul ‘whole’
  • u= Negative marker
  • tt= Fronted 3sg.m. Direct Object. The negation causes fronting, the fronted 3sg.m. Direct Object is indistinguishable from the 3sg.f. Direct Object.
  • i-ɣə́lləb impf.3sg.m. ‘to beat, best’, negated imperfectives can take a future meaning.
  • ḥáža ‘thing’
  • s= ‘with’
  • əlḥilt ‘wit’
  • =ə́nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix
  • wə́lli Relative pronoun with incorporated m.sg. pronoun ‘he who’
  • ʕain-ah ‘to desire’, Literally ‘his intention’ an Arabic construction with an Arabic 3sg.m. suffix, combines with the aorist of the verb to function as an auxiliary.
  • a= Future marker
  • y-ə́rwəl aor.3sg.m.
  • a= Future marker
  • i-nəžžá aor.3sg.m. ‘to save’
  • əlʕamr ‘life’
  • =ə́nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix

rəwwl-ə́n kull ḥadd d(i)=amkán, əlbə́ʕəṭ nəzl-ə́n idurár d=əlbə́ʕəṭ ḥafṛ-ə́n yəqqadíyən di=tamúrt, ftərqú-n kull ḥadd af=iɣf=ə́nn-əs.

Each one of them was fleeing to a place, some inhabited the mountains, others dug holes in the ground, each one separated itself on his own.

  • rəwwl-ə́n impf.3pl.m. ‘to flee’
  • kull ḥadd ‘each one’
  • d(i)= ‘in’, with ellided i due to the next word that starts with a vowel
  • amkán ‘place’
  • əlbə́ʕəṭ  ‘other’
  • nəzl-ə́n pf.3pl.m. ‘to inhabit’
  • idurár ‘mountain’
  • d= ‘and, with’
  • əlbə́ʕəṭ ‘other’
  • ḥafṛ-ə́n pf.3pl.m. ‘to dig’
  • yəqqadíyən ‘holes’
  • di= ‘in’
  • tamúrt ‘ground’
  • ftərqú-n pf.3pl.m. ‘to separate’
  • kull ḥadd ‘each one’
  • af= ‘on’
  • iɣf ‘head’
  • =ə́nn-əs ‘of’ + 3sg. suffix

-M. van Putten

Welcome to the Oriental Berber blog

This blog is aimed at studying and exploring the many details of  “oriental” Berber languages.

We use the word “oriental” in a particular sense here. 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 these countries. 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). 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.

The position of all of these varieties is somewhat precarious, spoken as they are by geographically scattered minorities, and the smaller ones are seriously threatened: in particular, Awjili is endangered, and El-Fogaha and Sokni may already be extinct.  While recent political changes in Libya have opened up new opportunities for the use of Berber in the public sphere, particularly in the northwest, the long-term effects remain to be seen.

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 of texts, provided with more extensive grammatical analysis, and sometimes, retranscription based on a more phonemic approach than the common transcription methods used by the Italian scholars who have dominated the field.

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.

Through this, we attempt to get, and give, as complete an overview of the knowledge there is to be gained from studying these fascinating languages with the documentation that currently exists. Through this blog, we also hope to bring them to the attention of a wider scholarship, and to encourage further research in the 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 this year, there was essentially no media – written or audio – in Berber in Libya; it was suppressed by the regime. We also take an interest in this, and from time to time will post and comment on Berber media. There is no doubt that some interesting sociolinguistic and inter-dialectal phenomenon are going on.

We will finish off with a short overview of some of the languages to be discussed on this blog:

  • Aujila Berber (Aujili) is spoken in the oasis of Aujila, Libya. From a historical point of view, it is a fascinating language, as it is one of the few that retains Proto-Berber (as v). Other languages that have retained this consonant are the Tuareg languages (as h) and Ghadamès (as β). Syntactically and morphologically Aujila is an interesting language, as it has lost much of the typically Berber features such as ‘state’, clitic fronting and has quite a different verbal system from other Berber languages.
  • The only Berber language that is spoken in Egypt is Siwa Berber (Siwi), in the oasis of Siwa in the western desert. Like Aujila, it has undergone intensive restructuring of the grammatical system, and fascinatingly, seems to share several of these grammatical features with Aujila.
  • Ghadamès, an oasis in western  Libya on the border with Tunisia, is the home of Ghadamès Berber (Ghadamsi), the other Libyan language that retains the Proto-Berber Ghadamès is a fascinating language for historical linguists as it also shows some traces of the long lost Proto-Berber consonant . Patterns in the oriental Berber languages are the lack of ‘state’ marking, and a radically different verbal system than the more familiar Berber languages of western North-Africa. The verbal system of Ghadamès may just be the most exotic reconfiguration of all the languages of this region.
  • North of Ghadamès, still in western Libya, we find the Nefusa Berber (Nefusi) languages spoken around the Nefusa mountains, in the cities of Nalut, Jadu, Kabaw, and Yefren (to name a few). These languages have received quite substantial academic attention, from the perspective of oriental Berber. Nevertheless, further research, especially into its linguistic history, will be well worth it.
  • High up north on the coast of Libya, we find Zuara, where the Zuara Berber language is spoken. This language has received quite considerable attention due to the recent publication of Mitchell’s work, edited by Harry Stroomer and Stanley Oomen (Mitchell et al. 2009). The Zuara language is not generally considered to be part of the Eastern Berber languages, and is sooner associated with the Northern Berber languages, similar to Tunisian Berber. Nevertheless, this language could use more attention, and maybe in the future of this blog we will focus on it.
  • Sokna Berber (Sokni) was (or is still) spoken in the oasis of Sokna in west-central Libya. Our only record of Sokni comes from 1924, when only a few dozen people were reported to still speak the language. Though distinct from Fogaha Berber, there is some historical relationship between the two.
  • El-Fogaha Berber, traditionally considered to be the same language as Sokna Berber, seems to be lexically quite divergent. A more in-depth study of this language, will definitely give a clearer indication of the underlying relations between these two languages.