Saturday, March 31, 2007

OREL update

A brief work-related note:

The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project has (well, I have) just updated OREL: Online Resources for Endangered Languages. This bilingual library of annotated and categorised links now includes a total of more than 300 resources in English and Arabic, covering language endangerment and revitalisation, technology and techniques, ethical issues, and funding sources.

To access OREL in English, go to; to access it in Arabic, go to

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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A new(ish) book on the Tamazight (Berber) of Tipasa

I've recently finished reading الأمازيغية - آراء وأمثال (تيبازة نموذجا) Tamazight: Views and Proverbs (the Example of Tipasa), by Mohamed Arezki Ferad (Algiers:Dar Huma 2004). It appears to be only about the third or fourth work ever written focusing on this dialect, but is unlikely to come to most English-speakers' attention, so I decided to review it, if only to remind myself what's in it.

The first half of the book is a set of essays on the place of Amazighness in Algeria's national identity, in which he argues that Algeria's Amazigh identity is undeniable, is relevant to the whole country and not just the minority that speak Tamazight, and complements rather than contradicts Algeria's Arab identity. The point is so obvious that it should scarcely need to be made; yet, as he notes, for decades the government used to make life difficult for those who spoke in such terms. He reminisces on his own experience (p. 54):

I remembered being excluded from the university and forbidden to teach in the history faculty in the early 1980s simply because I presented a thesis for my certificate of advanced studies on Amazigh history in Andalus in the period of the petty kings (reyes de taifa), and my viva was not scheduled until after great efforts, only to yield a blow that hit me harder than a thunderbolt: being excluded from the university and not hired by it! For the decision-makers back then thought that the thesis's topic reeked of anti-Arabism and encroachment upon the sanctity of this language which could never accept a rival! How great was my disappointment - I, a Kabyle born in a conservative environment built on Islam as its religion, Arabic for its writing, and Tamazight for its speech! I remembered - from as far back as I can recall - how we would study Arabic in Kabyle - yes, we studied Arabic in Kabyle, by the method of alif u yenqeḍ ara, ba yiwet s wadda, ta snat ufella... (ا alif has no dot, ب ba one underneath, ت ta two on top...) I remembered how we used to venerate the Arabic language and hurry to gather papers with Arabic writing on them when we found them scattered on the ground, for fear that some passer-by might tread on them with his feet... I remember how the name of "Mohamed Larbi" (lit. Muhammad the Arab) was on every tongue, with scarcely a family not using it, and the name of "Fatima" as a blessing for the Prophet (PBUH). For all these personal reasons, I couldn't understand the viciousness of the assault on the Amazigh dimension of the Algerian personality...

It is difficult for the uninformed reader to gauge whether his non-hiring was motivated by political or academic considerations; but in this quote, equally targeted at Arabists seeing Berber identity as a probably treacherous fifth column and Berberists seeing Arab identity as an alien false consciousness, he eloquently expresses the contrast between the absurd ideological concept of Arab and Berber cultures as opposing one another and the reality of traditional (and indeed modern) North African life where they intertwine inextricably. The degree to which things have improved in this regard is emphasised by the certificate he encloses from the Arabic Language and Literature Academy of Algiers stating that they've agreed to publish this book.

To reinforce the point, he devotes more than 20 pages to summarising the views of various leading thinkers of Ben Badis' Islah movement (an effort to reform Islamic practice in Algeria in the early 20th century that played a key role in reinforcing the idea of a shared non-French Algerian identity) on Berber, arguing that virtually all of them took this view (and hence that it must be the patriotic view to take...), along with a couple of Middle Eastern Arab writers whom he repeatedly mentions. He waxes enthusiastic about the constitutional amendment of 2002 that made Tamazight a "national language", and discusses the question of writing systems for Tamazight in its wake, coming out in favor of Arabic while acknowledging that, over the years of government hostility, Latin has taken the lead. While criticising the ideologues who oppose any recognition of Tamazight, he constantly dissociates himself from extremist Berberists who want nothing to do with Arabic or even Islam, warning that if the state doesn't promote Amazigh heritage, unsavoury characters of that ilk will. Here as so often in politics, it seems that extremists can be rather useful to moderates! While his doctrinaire political orthodoxy sometimes left me impatient for a more forthright style, it's probably exactly the right tone for his audience.

The second part, a set of proverbs of the area, will be reviewed in my next post.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

How many ways can you write Tamazight?

I noticed an interesting set of articles in Info-Soir the other day on Tamazight (Berber) language teaching in Algeria. It confirms that Algeria has not adopted any one script as official for Tamazight: rather, all three are in use, depending on wilaya. Latin is used where Kabyle is spoken, Arabic in much of the Chaoui-speaking area, and Tifinagh in the far south. M. Touati of the Ministry of Education reports that 119,000 children in Algeria are currently studying Tamazight, 35,000 of them in a new primary school program; however, they complain of a shortage of teachers.

I'm finding it hard to gather exactly where the language is being taught, partly because the Ministry of Education website is among the slowest on earth. But it seems that, in 2001-2, it was being taught in only 5 wilayas, mainly in Kabyle-speaking areas: Bouira, Boumerdes, Tizi-Ouzou, Bejaia, and Biskra. Orders regarding the expansion of Tamazight education from 2000 were issued to a much longer list of wilayas - Oum el-Bouaghi, Batna, Bejaia, Biskra, Bouira, Tamanrasset, Tizi-Ouzou, Setif, Oran, El Bayadh, Illizi, Boumerdes, Khenchela, Tipasa, Ghardaia; but it is reported that four of these, El Bayadh, Oran, Tipasa, and Illizi, have ceased to teach it, and in Biskra and Tamanrasset it is reported that most of the few who have taken it up are Kabyle families.

I've written somewhat on this topic before, incidentally, as Awal nu Shawi recently reminded me. One of these days I need to update that essay.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back from CamLing

I'm just back from a linguistics conference in Cambridge, CamLing 2007, where I presented a talk on number borrowing in Berber. If you missed it, you can view the slides at my homepage.

The conference was interesting, and I won't go into too much detail on it, but one thing I was surprised and saddened to learn (from Mary Ochoa) was that Yucatec Maya, one of the largest Maya languages, is extremely threatened. It has nearly a million speakers, but, except in the remotest villages, practically all Yucatec children are being spoken to exclusively in Spanish by their parents. Some parents even tell their children not to speak Yucatec or they'll punish them. Like Navajo, another Native American language that was flourishing until lately, it seems to be headed for a massive, rapid decline over the next fifty years.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Return of the Thousand Verses

I decided to inflict upon my readers my attempt to translate the first 15 lines of Alfiyyat Ibn Mālik, a medieval poem summarising Arabic grammar which I described some time ago. The original may have been written more for mnemonic than artistic purposes, but at least it takes fewer liberties with the metre... For best results, I recommend using an alliterative residulator.
Muḥammad, who is the son of Mālik, says:
My Lord God, the best master, I praise,
Praying for the Prophet, the Chosen One,
And his noble relatives every one.
And I seek God's help in a thousand-line
Poem in which grammar's basics are outlined,
Simplifying the hardest, concisely distilled,
And offering gifts, with a promise fulfilled,
Bringing contentment without any misery
Surpassing the thousand-liner of Ibn Mu`ṭī
Which previously took first position,
Deserving my praise and recognition;
And abundant gifts may God decree
In the Afterlife's stages for him and me!
A meaningful utterance is a sentence, like “Stand up, [birds]!”,
And nouns, and verbs, and particles are words
(The singular is word), and speech has general sense -
And “word” may also be used to mean “sentence”.
By genitive, indefinite, vocative, and “the”
And predication the noun is seen clearly;
By the t of fa`al-ta1 and 'ata-t2, and the y of if`al-ī3,
And the n of 'aqbil-anna4, known the verb will be;
Apart from them is the particle, like hal5 and 6 and lam7.
A verb in the imperfect follows lam, like yašam.
Distinguish verbs' perfect by t, and recognise
By n the imperative verb, if imperatives arise.
And if in the imperative n has no place to dwell,
It's a noun, such as for instance ṣah9 and ḥayyahal10.
1. you did
2. she came
3. do! (f.)
4. approach!
5. question marker
6. in
7. not (past)
9. ssh!
10. over here!

Original text:

قال محمد هو ابن مالك * أحمد ربي الله خير مالك
مصليا على الرسول المصطفى * وآله المستكملين الشرفا
وأستعين الله في ألفيه * مقاصد النحو بها محويه
تقرّب الأقصى بلفظ موجز * وتبسط البذل بوعد منجز
وتقتضي رضا بغير سخط * فائقة ألفية ابن معطي
وهو بسبق حائز تفضيلا * مستوجب ثنائي الجميلا
والله يقضي بهبات وافره * لي وله في درجات الآخره
كلامنا لفظ مفيد كاستقم * واسم وفعل ثم حرف الكلم
واحده كلمة والقول عم * وكلمة بها كلام قد يؤم
بالجر والتنوين والندا وأل * ومسند للاسم تمييز حصل
بتا فعلت وأنت ويا افعلي * ونون أقبلنّ فعل ينجلي
سواهما الحرف كهل وفي ولم * فعل مضارع يلي لم كيشم
وماضي الأفعال بالتا مز، وسم * بالنون فعل أمر إن أمر فُهم
والأمر إن لم يك للنون محل * فيه هو اسم نحو صه وحيّهل

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Slovak diglossia and Papuan Austronesian

If you're interested in diglossia, or sociolinguistics, or prescriptivism - and who isn't? :) - check out Bulbul's latest post on Standard Slovak. Also, a rare linguistics post on Far Outliers discusses the development of the Austronesian languages of the Huon Gulf.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Zenaga and Mauritania

Mauritania deserves some attention this week. On the rare occasions when it makes Western headlines, it's generally for slavery or famine, but this week it's distinguishing itself in a rather nobler fashion: holding its first free presidential elections. This is all the more remarkable because it comes some months after a military coup deposing the dictator who ruled Mauritania for 21 years, Maaouya Ould Taya; is it possible that a coup leader actually wants to step down in favour of an elected government? One can but hope that the appearance corresponds to the reality...

Anyway, in commemmoration of this event, I will talk a little about Zenaga this week. Zenaga is the nearly-extinct Berber language of Mauritania. Until about five hundred years ago it was spoken throughout most of the country; its ancestor would have been the language of the Almoravids. However, after the main Berber tribe, the Lamtuna, was defeated by the Arab Beni Ma`qil, most tribes gradually shifted to Hassaniya Arabic, which itself came to contain numerous Zenaga loanwords. The "marabout" tribes, those specialising in Islamic religious learning, retained Zenaga longest, and to this day it continues to be used, at least by the elderly, in a few areas near the southern Atlantic coast. It is remarkably divergent from other Berber varieties, due partly to a number of sound shifts (x > k, l > dj) and partly to a rather different vocabulary, incorporating words rare elsewhere in Berber along with Wolof and Pulaar loanwords. In addition to influencing Hassaniya Arabic, it has also contributed a number of loanwords to the Azer dialect of Soninke, and several words - notably the words for three of the five prayer times, and some religious holidays - to Wolof. Catherine Taine-Cheikh has been doing some documentation of it.

At least one of the few books on this language is available online: Le Zénaga des tribus sénégalaises, by General Faidherbe - although, chillingly, the author dedicates it to the genocidal mass murderer King Leopold II.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Saudi Dialect Map

An item of passing interest that caught my eye, and seems quite hard to find online: a Saudi Dialect Map. Unfortunately, there is little information on what (if any?) data this is based on, but there are other interesting materials on the author's website. Of the dialects pictured, the Najdi dialect is rather remarkable for its conservatism; it retains both the classical passive and tanwin.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Tamazight near Blida (Algeria)

A friend of mine alerted me to an interesting article in Ech Chorouk (3/3/2007): Beni Mesra - the forgotten people of the Blida Atlas. It describes a rural area near Blida where a Berber language was spoken within living memory, and is still spoken by the older generation. Dispersed first by the French counterinsurgency policy of forcing the inhabitants of many rural areas off their land during the War of Independence, and again by the violence of the civil war of the 1990s - to say nothing of the economic incentives to leave the area - their problems are tragically typical of much of rural Algeria. However, it is their nearly-vanished language which is of particular interest here; they represent a last survival of Tamazight in the otherwise entirely Arabic-speaking region south of Algiers. The author, Mohamed Arezki Ferad (who has written a book on the Tamazight of Tipasa), states:
‬ ومما لا شك فيه، أن مأساة بني مصرا لم تنحصر في الجانب الاجتماعي فقط بل امتدت إلى موروثهم الثقافي الأمازيغي الذي ضاع منهم لهجرتهم وتشتتهم في شتى التجمعات السكانية في سهل متيجة بفعل جرائم الاستعمار الفرنسي خاصة خلال ثورة نوفمبر، ثم جاءت أحداث الإرهاب الأعمى لتفرغ‮ ‬عرش‮ ‬بني‮ ‬مصرا‮ ‬نهائيا‮ ‬من‮ ‬سكانه‮ ‬بنزوح‮ ‬سكان‮ ‬قرية‮ »‬يما‮ ‬حليمة‮« ‬المقدر‮ ‬عددهم‮ ‬حوالي‮ ‬200‮ ‬عائلة‮ ‬سنة‮ ‬1996م‮.

وإذا كانت الأمازيغية قد ضمرت إلى درجة أنها لم تعد لغة التواصل لدى جيل الاستقلال، فإنها مازالت حية ترزق على صعيد أسماء الأماكن المتداولة حتى في أوساط الشباب يحمل معظمها معاني الحقل (إقر) العين (ثلا) والثنية (تيزي) والسهل (الوضا) أو (أقني) نذكر منها: ثالة أقنتور/ ثيزي علي/ ثامده أوقني/ ذفير لوضا/ لعزيب/ أحلوق/ ثاحامولت/ آيث غرورة/ يما حليمة/ ثلايلف/ إسبغان/ ثاقاديرث/ آيت أعمرولحاج/ أبريذ إخوان/ ثيزي وزال/ إقر أوزار/ إخف إقر/ إكر تازارت/ إغزر أوشاش/ إغيل أحروش/ ثيقرت وذغاغ/ ثلا أو مكراز/ إغيل أشكير/ ثاوريرث/ ثامرزوقث/ ثيزي أتسيثان. وحسب الحوار الذي جرى بيني وبين أهل بني مصرا، فإن لهجتهم الأمازيغية قريبة جدا من لسان القبائل الكبرى ولا تختلف عنها إلا في بعض الكلمات القليلة أذكر منها: أذر (البلوط) أحزاو (الطفل).

There is no doubt that the Beni Mesra's plight was not limited to the social side alone, but extended to their Amazigh cultural heritage, which was lost to them due to their migration and dispersal in various settlement centres on the Mitidja plain through the crimes of the French colonisation, particularly during the November Revolution; then blind terrorism came to finally empty the Beni Misra's land of its inhabitants, with the emigration of the inhabitants of Yemma Halima, who numbered 200 families in 1996.

And even if Tamazight has declined to the point that it has not remained the language of communication for the Independence generation, it is still alive and well on the level of placenames used even among the youth, most meaning field (iger), spring (tala), pass (tizi), plain (luḍa, ag°ni), of which we name: Tala Ugentur, Tizi Ɛli, Tamda Ugni, Deffir Luḍa, Laɛzib, Aḥluq, Taḥamult, Ayt Гrura, Yemma Ḥlima, Tala Ilef, Isebγan, Tagadirt, Ayt A`mer Elḥaj, Abrid Ixwan, Tizi Uzzal, Iger Uzar, Ixf Iger, Iger Tazart, Iγzer Ucac, Iγil Aḥruc, Tigert Udγaγ, Tala Umekraz, Iγil Ackir, Tawrirt, Tamerzugt, Tizi Atsitan. And according to discussion between me and the people of Beni Mesra, their Tamazight dialect is very close to the language of Grande Kabylie, and differs from it only in a few words, including: ader (acorn), aḥzaw (child).
Earlier he gives an example of the dialect:

وقد علق أحد المواطنين الذي بدت عليه مسحة الحزن والمرارة على وضع المصراويين المأساوي، باللسان الأمازيغي ما معناه: إن الكثير من الجزائريين الذين تبوّأوا مراتب عليا في دواليب الدولة قد أنستهم تخمة المناصب ما للشهداء من فضل وما لأفراد الشعب المنسي من دور في وصولهم إلى مراتب المسؤولية، لذلك أداروا ظهورهم لمن صنع ملحمة النصر (يتشور أوعبوظيس، يتسو ذفيريس).

One of the locals, upon whom the signs of sadness and bitterness over the terrible plight of the Mesraouis were apparent, commented in the Tamazight language that many Algerians who have reached high state positions, satisfied with rank, forget the preference due to the martyrs (of the revolution) and the role of the forgotten members of the people in their reaching positions of responsibility, so they turned their backs on those who made the battlefield of victory (yeččur uɛebbuḍ-is, yettsu deffir-is.)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Destroying Harsusi

I just came across some incredibly unenlightened reporting from Al Watan on one of the more endangered South Arabian languages (not, pace the article, a dialect of Arabic - in fact, it's less closely related to Arabic than Syriac or Hebrew are):

وتحدثنا المعلمة شيخة بنت راشد الهنائي إحدى المشرفات على الفصل التمهيدي ومعلمة مادة التربية الإسلامية بالمدرسة قائلة : الفصول التمهيدية التي سعت إدارة التربية والتعليم بالمنطقة بتنفيذه في مدارسها وللعام الثاني على التوالي يأتي بالعديد من الأهداف والتي تتمحور في الأساس لتشمل فئة من الأطفال الذين يتوقع التحاقهم بالصف الأول الأساسي في العام الدراسي القادم حيث تأتي في مقدمة هذه الأهداف تعويد الطالب على الجو المدرسي من خلال طابور الصباح والانخراط مع الطلبة في المدرسة والفصل الدراسي وتأقلمهم مع المعلمة داخل القاعة الدراسية وغرس التعاون والجو الاجتماعي في نفس الطالب قبل دخوله المدرسة وإكساب الطلبة العديد من المهارات في القراءة والكتابة والعمليات الحسابية وكذلك العمل على القضاء على اللهجة السائدة والطاغية على أهالي هيماء وهي اللهجة الحرسوسية من خلال الحروف والكلمات العربية الصحيحة لأنه في الحقيقة تواجه إدارة المدرسة عند التحاق الطلبة في الصف الأول مشكلة فتجد المعلمة الصعوبة في تفهم هؤلاء الطلبة من خلال هذه اللهجة الحرسوسية
"The teacher of Islamic Upbringing at the school, Sheikha bint Rashid al-Hana'i [s]aid: "The preschools that the Ministry of Education in the area has undertaken to implement in its schools for the second year running will bring about a variety of goals [...] the children will gain many skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we will work on destroying the dialect which is prevalent and rife among the inhabitants of Hayma, the Harsusi dialect, through correct Arabic letters and words, because it truly presents the school administration with a problem when the students enter first grade, because the teacher finds it difficult to understand these students in this Harsusi dialect." (Al Watan, 15 Apr 2005)
I wonder if her echo of the language policies that half-destroyed Welsh or Native American languages is conscious. Somebody get over there and make some recordings of Harsusi before people like this manage to implement these goals!