To “accuse of stealing” in Berber and Arabic

What do the following two utterances have in common?

kann-ak          tsarrag                      fi-ya?         كنك تسرّق فيا؟ (Arabic, Benghazi)
part.2SGM     steal.CAUS.2SGM.   in.1SG
“Why are you accusing me of stealing?”

šẹk       dīma         tsukāret                         dgī     شك ديما تسُكارت دْگي (Berber, Sokna)
you      always      steal.CAUS.2SGM.      in.1SG
“You always accuse me of stealing!”

The answer is that they both use the causative form of the word “to steal” to mean not *”to cause to steal” but rather to mean “to accuse of stealing”. We can add to this the Zwara Berber causative verb ysǝxnǝb with the same meaning. In this Arabic dialect, as in many others, the causative is expressed by Form II of the verb, while these Berber varieties use the –s– causative (note that in Zwara the verb happens to be a loan from Arabic).

 “Steal”   “Accuse of stealing”  Place
 yisrig يسرق  īsarrag ايسرّق  Benghazi
 yukȫrr يُكور  ysukāret يسُكارَت  Sokna
 yǝxnǝb يخنب  ysǝxnǝb يسخنب  Zwara

Of course, Classical Arabic سرّق sarraqa already means “to accuse someone of theft, call someone a thief”. This being the case, the Benghazi form is hardly surprising and the Berber forms are likely to be calques of the Arabic. But I do not know to what extent Arabic dialects outside of Libya use a reflex of sarraqa in the same way. Is it more widespread than just Libya? Furthermore, do other Berber varieties also use a causative of “to steal” in the same way? Can readers of this blog find or think of examples besides these in other languages of North Africa?

“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.

Awəssu

Umberto Paradisi is known best for the work he did on the several understudied dialects of Awjila and El-Foqaha. However, he has also published one text on Zwara Berber. I have rerecorded this story and discussed it with a native speaker, below you find the translation.

My informant told me that this ritual is still celebrated today.

tə́lt iyyám n uwə́ssu á ytəmm di-s əlmizán g užənná.

“During the three days of Awəssu, Libra will appear fully in the sky.”

  • tə́lt iyyám ‘three days’
  • n ‘of’, Paradisi records an m here as an assimlation of the n plus a following u. When I recorded this story, my informant would consistently pronounce it without the assimilation, despite the original text that I showed him having a translation. This seems to be an indication that for the speaker this rule is not active, or at least not in this context.
  • uwəssu ‘A summer ritual’, in the Etat d’Annexion (EL awəssu)
  • a Marker of the future
  • y-təmm aor.3sg.m. ‘to finish, complete’, in this context ‘appear fully’
  • di-s ‘in’ in the pre-prepositional form + 3sg. prepositional pronoun ending.
  • əlmizán ‘Libra’, a constellation that consists of three starts.
  • g ‘in’
  • užənná ‘sky’, in the État d’Annexion

íḍ aməzwár a yə́ffəɣ ítri, táni a yə́ffəɣ táni n itrán, əttálət a yə́ffəɣ ttálət n itrán. Baʕdén əlmizán.

“On the first night a star will come out, the second (night) the second of the stars will come out, on the third (night) the third of the stars will come out. After that: Libra.”

  • íḍ ‘night’
  • aməzwár ‘first’
  • y-ə́ffəɣ aor.3sg.m. ‘to come out’
  • ítri ‘star’
  • táni ‘second’
  • itrán ‘stars’, should be in the État d’Annexion, but is apparently not distinguished form the État Libre in Zwara.
  • (ə)ttálət ‘third’
  • baʕdén ‘then, after that’

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“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

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.