Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Songhay words in El Jadida, Morocco

Bulbul sent me a link I just had to post about: the article describes, among other things, a secret language used by the Gnaoua, descendants of West Africans brought to Morocco as slaves in precolonial times, in El Jadida, Morocco (on the Atlantic coast.) The author makes no attempt to seek an etymology for the words recorded, but a lot of them are immediately obvious to me - as Songhay. Thus:

* sindi "sommeil": Songhay cindi "rest"
* kuy barkuy "on s'en va": Songhay koy "person", koy "go"
* katihari "...apporter de l'eau": Songhay kati hari "bring water!"
* noro "money": Songhay nooru
* dangi bamatcin "tais-toi": Songhay dangey "be silent", ciine "speak"

Significantly, these words do not display any characteristics that would link them with Kwarandzie. To the contrary - noro and hari are unambiguously Southern, not Northern, Songhay in form, and most of the other words haven't survived in Kwarandzie.

A few words are clearly non-Songhay, and as such harder for me to identify, but these include some Bambara words:
* sgho "viande" - Bambara sogo
* dominika "nourriture" - Bambara dumuni ke

Elsewhere, I've read of Hausa words showing up in Moroccan Gnaoua music (I don't have the reference handy here in Tabelbala). The various sources of the vocabulary attest to the wide geographical range from which slaves were brought, and it's interesting that the words were preserved at all. I look forward to finding out where the other words come from... any ideas?


jdm said...

I've heard mixed reports about the Gnaoua language, some of which claim it is actually the language of a sub-saharan population which moved north thousands and thousands of years ago as the Sahara dried up... this population was added to by later slaves in the 8th-16th centuries at the height of the trans-saharan trade, but had it been just a random grouping of slaves (presumably from many different areas of sub-saharan africa) there is very little chance they would actually have a language. It would end up being a pidgin variety of Arabic, more likely. I don't remember much beyond that, but since you mentioned their music, I do remember, one group which included the famed author Kateb Yacine's son, called Gnawa Diffusion... and of course there is the annual festival in Essaouira/Mogdor, which is a worldwide draw.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I should have clarified - this "secret language" isn't a language, just a set of words used within the framework of Arabic so that other Arabic speakers don't understand. But these words themselves, of course; have a history - and it's clear that the Songhay, Bambara, and Hausa words identified got there fairly recently, not thousands of years ago. The Songhay in particular seems to fit very well with the idea of a substantial contribution from slaves taken in the Moroccan conquest of Timbuktu; but more research is certainly needed.

Glen Gordon said...

Wow! This is an intelligent blog. Full of interesting stuff to ponder all over the place! I've linked to you. I should have discovered you long ago. Great job!

Unforunately I'm not well educated in Nilo-Saharan languages to make a worthy comment on Songhay, but I noticed your "colour vision" article and I have to add my two cents... :)

Anonymous said...

I have an off topic question for you: could you recommend a good book for an Arabic speaker who would want to learn Hebrew? I am just thinking that it should be easier than learning to read Hebrew from an indo-european language.
Great blog, BTW!

Anonymous said...

Searching for Moroccan Secrete language I found your blog on google the topics concerning the Gnawa language is extremely interesting
do you have references of papers published on this topic
or is it still understudied?
catherine miller