“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.


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:


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