Friday, July 06, 2007

Berberised Afro-Latin speakers in Gafsa

One reader of my last post asked how late Latin (or some descendant thereof) continued to be spoken in North Africa. The answer is, pretty late: the latest attestation I came across on short notice seems to be in the major medieval geographer Al-Idrisi (12th century) who, describing Gafsa in southern Tunisia, notes that:
وأهلها متبربرون وأكثرهم يتكلّم باللسان اللطيني الإفريقي.
Its inhabitants are Berberised, and most of them speak the African Latin tongue.
He even gives one word of their dialect:
ولها في وسطها العين المسماة بالطرميد.
In the middle of the town is a spring called the ṭarmīd (perhaps to be related to Latin thermae).
One interesting thing to note about this statement is that he said that the town was Berberised - in other words, that, in the very century when the Banū Hilāl were rapidly spreading through Tunisia and Libya (a subject he has fairly harsh things to say about), Berber culture was prestigious enough to be adopted by members of other cultures, in particular the remaining Roman or Romanised towns, in the area. Gafsa, of course, speaks Arabic now, but several nearby villages still spoke Berber in the 1800s, and two, Sened and Majoura, well into the 1900s.


Nordafrikano said...

Is it possible that the "D" in Tarmid is actually an "L", because in Gafsa we call it Tarmil and not Tarmid. "L" and "D" in arabic are slightly similar...
Here you can see a picture of the mentioned spring:

Etienne said...

There is actually a later source, but which does not say explicitly that North African Romance was alive at the time: Leo Africus, in the early sixteenth century, wrote (in Italian!) a description of Africa in which he wrote that Africans (=North Africans) kept speaking their language even after they had been conquered by the Arabs, and that this language came from the Romans and was a kind of Italian: later, contact with Arabs contributed to making this "African Italian" increasingly unlike the Italian spoken in Italy. Since Leo Africus traveled a great deal in North Africa and was himself from Fez originally, it seems possible that in his day Afro-Latin was, if not still alive, at least but recently extinct.

Antonio Giménez said...

According to al-Idrisi, elsewhere in his work, the inhabitants of Sardinia were originally روم أفارقة متبربرون ومتوحشون, i.e., "savage and mutabarbarūn African Romans", and it is this 'savage' that makes me wonder whether this 'mutabarbarūn' should be understood as 'berberised' (in either a linguistic or cultural sense) or would just simply mean 'barbarians'.
Al-Idrisi says that most of them spoke African Latin, so it was not the language which made them 'berberised' in his eyes. What else could it be?

Lameen Souag said...

Nordafrikano: It could also be that the pronunciation has changed, but a copying error seems plausible.

Etienne: Thanks for the reference - I'll have to look it up. However, Leo Africanus was well-acquainted with earlier Arabic histories of North Africa, and explicitly says his account is based largely on them; if he doesn't claim to have heard it himself, it seems more probable that he learned of it from one of those.

Antonio: He says that "most" of them spoke Latin, so some could have spoken Berber; also, I see no reason that he couldn't have been referring to cultural rather than linguistic Berberisation (compare the culturally very Berber but still Songhay-speaking Northern Songhay groups, such as the Idaksahak.) That said, the Sardinia quote does suggest that متبربرون might have had a different sense in his work; I'll have to see if I can find a searchable copy.

Antonio Giménez said...

Mmmm... Maybe all of them spoke Berber and just a few were monolinguals (i.e., only spoke Berber). I mean, maybe all of them were Berber native speakers and al-Idrisi just wanted to emphasized that most of them could speak that African Latin tongue as well.

What could it mean "culturally Berber" in al-Idrisi's times?

Antonio Giménez said...

In case you are interested, here is the literal quote about Sardinians:

«وأهل جزيرة سرادنية في الأصل روم أفارقة متبربرون ومتوحشون من أجناس الروم وهم أهل نجدة وحزم لا يفارقون السلاح.‏»

See also: Giuseppe Contu, "Sardinia in Arabic Sources", p. 292.

Native Rights said...

Berberization: There is strong evidence that Berber culture was dominant prior to the Banu Hilal invasion

Records of Berbers, Pre-Hilal Arabs, Romans, including a Sicilian slave soldier who became ruler of Tunisia. Facing the first wave of Banu Hilal or some other bedouin tribe

The Libyans also spoke Berber in the 12th century which seems the zenith of Cultural Berberism, thats why DNA tests on Libyans differ from the typical predominantly Berbers of Algeria and Morocco. (The Libyans having more J2 & E-M78)

The problem is that most modern Amazigh, don't understand their own culture anymore, they are either completely Arabized or extremely tribalized, which undermines their cultural influence. Assimilation occurs indirectly, by making it a "convenient" option. However, most Amazigh are manipulated by politicians or people simply interested in changing their status quo, rather than sincerely care about Amazigh-Berber culture