Saturday, January 14, 2006


El-Fogaha (الفقهة, or to its own inhabitants el-Foqhat) is a small oasis in central Libya, southeast of Sokna between Waddan and Zwila, whose few hundred inhabitants speak (spoke?) a Berber language. It is not quite the easternmost outpost of Berber - Awjila and Siwa are both further east - but a case could be made that it is the most obscure one. Its vocabulary is heavily influenced by Arabic, but retains some archaic Berber words lost in most westerly dialects, such as isin "tooth", azal "day". Unlike the Ghadames dialect or Tamasheq, but like most Berber varieties, it has reduced proto-Berber *B (Tuareg h) to semivowels or null: aiyaḍ "night". A couple of the plurals end in -aw, whereas in more westernly varieties they would end in -a:

  • tamûrt "land" > tmu:râw (Contrast Kabyle tamurt > timura, Tumzabt tamuṛt > timuṛa; compare Ghadamsi tămmurt > tmuro)
  • tanâst "key" > tnisâu (Contrast Tumzabt tnast > tinisa; compare Ghadamsi tonest > təniso)
  • talîlt "terrace" > tli:lâu

The dropping of final semivowels in Northern Berber is well-known, but I had been wondering where the -o in the Ghadamsi plurals came from. I guess now I know. What I don't get yet is why this set of plurals ends in -a/aw/o in any case, rather than the regular feminine plural -in.

For more on this language, see Umberto Paradisi, "El-Fogaha, oasi berberofona del Fezzân", Roma:Bardi 1961.

PS: A belated Eid Mubarak to everyone!

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