Saturday, January 27, 2007

Aboriginal language of the Ahaggar

Tuareg oral tradition records that, when the Tuareg arrived in the Ahaggar (Hoggar) Mountains of southern Algeria sometime in the first millennium AD, they encountered people called the Isăbătăn - a sparse population of hunters and goat herds, stereotyped in popular anecdotes as stupid. Parts of the Dag-Ghali tribe claim descent from them. What language did they speak? We may never have enough data to know for sure, but Tuareg stories provide possible clues, sometimes putting seemingly nonsensical, or at least non-Tuareg, words into the mouths of Isăbătăn characters. I recently came across an example, quoted from Pandolfi 1998:132 in Kossmann 2005:15 (transcription slightly modified):
Ikkəršərmadən tangarən damadən.
The ants come in and go out.
The morphology of the sentence is Tuareg - -ən is the normal Tuareg masculine plural suffix, while i- is a normal Tuareg nominal plural prefix. But the lexical stems - -kkəršərmad- "ant" (?), tangar- "come in", damad- "go out" - have no obvious Tuareg or broader Berber cognates. Unlikely as it is, it would be interesting if one of my readers happened to recognise an obvious source for these...

Kossmann, Maarten. 2005. Berber Loanwords in Hausa. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe.
Pandolfi, Paul. 1998. Les Touaregs de l'Ahaggar (Sahara algérien). Parenté et résidence chez les Dag-Ghali. Paris: Karthala.


jilal said...

Salam tout le monde:
juste pour mettre en ligne l'adresse du dictionnaire de langue darja algerien,peut étre vous la connaissiez mais qui sait!!
greeting from paris.

Etienne said...

Interesting! The words do not remind me of any language I know, alas. At the same time, they needn't derive from some pre-Berber language(s) of the Ahaggar: they could come from some kind of Berber cryptolect, not unlike Pig Latin or French Verlan...

On a related topic: is there or has there been any research on the URHEIMAT of the Berbers, and the chronology/causes of the expansion of Berber across North Africa?

Lameen Souag said...

I don't know of any good sources to recommend on that subject. There's good epigraphic evidence that a Berber language was spoken at least in Tunisia and western Algeria - and probably over a much wider area - in Classical times, and by the time Arab geographers started writing about the area Berbers already inhabited most of the Sahara. Archeologically, there doesn't seem to be any obvious discontinuity between the Capsian period and the classical one, suggesting a rather considerable antiquity.