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:

Anonymous 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.

Anonymous 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 الأمين سواق 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.

Anonymous 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?

Anonymous 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

Unknown said...

شكرا لكم

نعم لا ننسى أصل مشترك بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي بسبب قوة الأدلة

و كذالك في حقيقة الأمر تعتبر اللغة اللاتنية من أقرب اللغات الى اللغة الأمازيغية و قد سبق أن أكد هذا الأمر علماء و متخصصين لغويين

و تتجلى بكل وضوح قضية الأصل المشترك بين لغة اللاتين و لغة الأمازيغ هو أنه غالبية لهجات أمازيغ جزر الكناري نجدها شديدة التطابق مع لغة اللاتين و ليس فقط قضية تطابق معجمي قوي جدا بين لغة الاتين و معظم لهجات أمازيغ جزر الكناري بل الأمر ايضا تطابق في الكثير من القواعد النحوية بين غالبية لهجات امازيغ جزر الكناري و لغة اللاتين

فمثلا مشهور في لغة اللاتين أن الفعل ينتهي بحرف الراء و كذالك الفعل في معظم لهجات امازيغ جزر الكناري ينتهي براء

ناهيك انه استعمل نفس اللواحق الأخرى و البواديء الأحرى الخاصة بالاسنماء و الافعال بين لغة اللاتين و معظم لهجات امازيغ جزر الكناري

امثلة معتمدين على قوامس لهجات امازيغ جزر الكناري ( تعمق علماء في جمع كلمات امازيغ جزر الكناري و ترجمة نقوش القديمة الكنارية الأمازيغية )

*escarminar = تضرع أمازيغي كناري/carminar = تضرع لاتيني

*varir = استعمل البحر ركوب...امازيغي كناري / varar = استعمل البحر لغة ايطالية ( لهجة لاتنية )

encochar = يطبخ يطهي يحمص امازيغي كناري / cochar = يطهي يحمض يطبخ لاتيني

و غيرها من أمثلة كثيرة

و شكرا لكم

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I don't really agree that the banu hilal invasion affected the situation that much in Tunisia compared to the other Maghreb countries. Ironically the banu hilal were more influencial in the territories of Algeria and Morocco than in the place there were sent to conquer (Tunisia), burning a lot of countryside on their frustration).

We generally separate Maghrebi arabic into 2 groups (pre-hilalian and hilalian ones), Tunisia being the only country of the Maghreb where pre-hilalian varieties are the standard (they never managed to take on the main coastal cities within a region that was more urbanised than the others). Interestingly there are even small cities in northern Tunisia such as Beja with all odds against it survived through the invasions.

Learn Quran said...

Quran is the most precious and respectable book in the world. You can find all aspects of life here. You can take guidelines from this book. If you are new and want to learn Quran than check out here at Quran Tutor.