Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I am currently in Bechar, the local capital, and plan to take the four-hour coach trip to Tabelbala tomorrow inshallah. After corresponding with a computing student here whose family is from Tabelbala for some time, I've finally met him in person; he seems a nice guy. Interestingly, when speaking Arabic, he calls Korandje "shelHiyya" - the name usually applied to the Berber dialects of the region and of southern Morocco. This suggests to me that this word may have become a generic term for non-Arabic local languages, in which case all statements about a given oasis around here speaking "Tachelhit" or "Shelha" need to be checked carefully.

Naturally, I've combed the local bookstores (there aren't too many, but there is a university here after all); I only found one book relating to the linguistics of this rough area, a work by Mohamed Bouali (2004) on the attitudes of people in the Berber-speaking oasis of Boussemghoun in western Algeria to a number of issues, including their own and other Algerian languages. Not very surprisingly, these seem closely aligned with moderate conservative opinion in Algeria generally, rather than showing any particularly strong similarity to the spectrum of attitudes common in Kabylie; his interviewees displayed pride in their language, but also identified fairly strongly with Arabic, and were more often than not hostile to the idea of teaching Berber ("Tachelhit") in school. The author reports that, unlike in some nearby oases, the Semghounis have consistently retained Berber and show no signs of shifting to Arabic as a home language. In Bechar itself, all talk I've heard has been in Arabic; the local accent is distinguished a lot of affricated t's (ts) and frequent use of "wah" for "yes", but is overall even closer to my own dialect then I was expecting.


shawi yegguma said...

Hi nomad soul :)
Perhaps that is why they refer to the Tunisian berber as "shelha".

Take care!

Afifay said...


Continuing on shawi yegguma's comment, a layperson saying of someone that 'he speaks tashelhit' means 'he speaks a local (may be familiar) language which I don't understand'. This is also true in the Mzab valley when a layperson talks of other Tamazight-speaking communities other than the mainstream ones (kabyle, ...) or of an unidentified (by him/her) variety of Tamazight (or Songhay incidentally !) In fact, it seems to be the equivalent of a'jami in written Arabic.

Now a question for Lameen : apart from Korandje, are you aware of other (very) endangered languages in Algeria ?

Bonne continuation

Anonymous said...

It'll be interesting to find out why these Tamazight speaking people refrain from expressing their opinion about their language and culture till recently viewed as a threat to national cohesion. Lameen you ought to explore further the reticence of some small berber-speaking communities to air their views. The repressive period of the early sixties to late eighties (one country-Algeria-, one language-Arabic, one religion-Islam-,...), school endoctrination, state-controlled radio and TV to this day and so forth have left deep marks and traumas. You may not be aware of the violent treatment meted out to sympathisers or proponents of Berber recognition. I leave it to you to further probe in the area(Tindouf,Tabelbala, Temacine, Qsur of Gurara..) and in the Mzab and Tassili region to the extreme east of Algeria.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...


I found and thought you might be interested. It needs to be seen in IE or IE Tab in Firefox:


Rich in SF

Anonymous said...

Sorry it was Lisan Al-Arab Online.