Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tamazight (Berber) proverbs of Tipasa

The second part of the book I discussed in my previous post is more immediately relevant to linguists: it is a collection of more than 150 Tamazight proverbs from the Tipasa area (specifically the village of Bou-Smail). These are transcribed in Arabic characters and provided with an Arabic translation, along with an interpretation of the proverb's meaning and usage and translations of the meanings of (some) individual words.

The proverbs selected are often slightly mystifying, as so many proverbs are; but a lot of their themes will have a familiar air to any Algerian, even where the form is unique to the region. Accurately reflecting the mood of the first half of his book, he opens with the splendidly chauvinistic:

  يَازِيطْ نَتْسمُورثْ إينُو وَلاَ أسْكورْثْ أَمِدَنْ (Yaziṭ ntsmurṯ inu ula asekkurṯ n medden)
  Better a chicken from my land than a partridge from someone else's.

Another proverb which he brought a strong social spin to was:

  أغْيُولْ وَمَاسْ يَتْغِمَغْ بْلا لَحْلاَسْ (Aγyul umas yetγimeγ bla leḥlas)
  A jointly owned donkey remains saddle-less.


  أخَامْ وَمَاسْ يَتَوِدْ لَهْوَاسْ (Axxam umas yettawed lehwas)
  A jointly owned house brings problems.

both reflecting the beylik mentality that remains all too common in Algerians' treatment of public property, and helps explain why socialism could never have worked there.

Given the author's interest in emphasising the Amazigh element of Algerian culture even outside Tamazight-speaking areas, though, he missed a trick by not pointing out how a number of the proverbs are shared across Algeria. A couple of proverbs were familiar to me from Dellys, for example:

  أَعْدِيسْ سْحَالْ دْيَرْوَا، يَقَّارْ إيِخَف غَنَّى (Aɛdis sḥal d yeṛwa, yeqqar i yixef γenni)
  Dellys: كي تشبع الكرْش، تقول للرّاس غنّي (Ki təšbə` əlkərš, tqul ləṛṛaṣ γənni)
  When the stomach gets full, it tells the head to sing.


  أُويْتُسْمغَرْ يَخَفْ، سَالْ أَيْشَابْ يَخَفْ (sic; U yettsumγer yixef, sal a ycab yixef)
  Dellys: ما يكبر راس حتّى يشيب راس (ma yəkbər ṛaṣ ħətta yšib ṛaṣ)
  No head grows up until another's head grows white.

Others are apparently used in Chaouia too:

  وَانِي أتْيَقْنَنْ سِفَسْنِيسْ، أَتْيَرْزَمْ سِغْمَاسِيسْ (wani a-t yeqqnen s ifassn-is, a-t yerzem s iγmasn-is)
  Chaoui: wi -t- ikersen s ufus , at yefdek s teψmas (ويت يكرسن سوفوس، أت يفدك ستغماس)
  Darja: اللي عقدها باليدين ، يحلها بالسنين (əlli `əqqədha bəlyəddin, yħəllha bəssnin)
  He who ties it with his hands will untie it with his teeth.

  يُوسَادْ جَرْ وَكْسُومْ أَذْيِشَرْ   (yusa-d jer weksum ḏ yicer)
  Chaoui: ittedef jer n yicher d w-aksum (يتّادف جر ن ييشر دوكسوم)
  Darja (as heard from Dahmane El Harrachi): داخل بين الضّفر واللّحم (daxəl bin əḍḍfəṛ wəllħəm)
  Coming between the fingernail and the flesh.

In a final appendix which is something of a grab-bag, he puts a table of pronouns (he leaves out "we"), a couple of poems in Latin and Arabic script (only the Latin has been hopelessly messed up by a font problem), a list of names with Tamazight etymologies, a story about the jackal and the hedgehog (to which I've seen parallels as far away as Ghomara in northern Morocco) in translation, and - rather bizarrely - a certificate from the Arabic Language and Literature Academy of Algiers that they've agreed to publish this book.

The one problem with the book is its transcription system (worsened by a number of typos even in the Arabic parts.) Plain Arabic is better suited than plain Latin for the transcription of Tamazight; but, unfortunately, he did not take the minor steps, such as inventing a letter for ẓ or writing all instance of a, i, u as long, that could have allowed a perfectly phonemic Arabic transcription (along the general lines of Mohamed Chafik's.) As a result, it ends up with almost as many ambiguities as the Latin system used by Laoust a century earlier. A curious feature of the transcription is the frequent absence of gemination (tashdid) where it would be expected; since he does transcribe some instances, and presumably would have no difficulty hearing it, this might reflect an actual feature of the dialect. More expected is the frequent weakening of feminine t- to h-, and often its complete disappearance.

1 comment:

shawi said...

> though, he missed a trick by not pointing out how a number of the >proverbs are shared across Algeria.

Good point! Tamazight proverbs and Derja proverbs are similar in terms of meaning and structure. In short, rabbna wahed :)

Thanks for sharing!