Thursday, September 04, 2008

Desert lizards

If you're an Arabic speaker from the right part of southwestern Algeria, you probably call the smooth-skinned sand-burrowing lizard referred to in English as "skink" šəṛšmala شرشمالة. I recently found the original form of this word in Al-Hilali's Berber-Arabic lexicon from 1665: asmrkal or asrmkal أسرمكال, a word composed from asrm "worm" and akal "earth". In many Berber varieties (the so-called Zenati ones), akal becomes šal, and in some Arabic dialects if there's one š ش in a word any s's س have to become ش, so you'd get شرمشال, and by metathesis شرشمال.

Are any readers familiar with skinks? What would you call them?


Unknown said...


My name is Marion Bishop and I'm the webmaster of

Would you be interested in writing an unbiased review of our product?

If you are, we can send you a free sample of the product which we would like you to review, and it is free of any shipping charges.

Feel free to contact me at

Best regards,

Marion Bishop

Anonymous said...

In the Mzab valley, this skink is called acemcar' ou acencar' which is not very far from asrem-cal.
Excellent find.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, I wonder if the same word can be found also in Tunarts work. This is what I found:
tacimcrant: lézard (Basset 1892)
Source| Dictionnaire des racines berbères, Kamal Naït-Zerrad


Tasemsrant: sorte de lézard de couleur sombre qui vit dans les palmeraies et dans les murs

Taserseramt: sorte de lézard de couleur sombre qui vit dans les palmeraies et dans les murs

Source| Agerraw n iwalen teggargrent-tarumit, J. Delheure

Anonymous said...

Of course, "skink" is a cover term for hundreds of species.

Anonymous said...

... and the translation of asr'em-cal ought to be earth bowel because of the skink's lustrous shiny skin (tasr'emt = bowel, intestine in tamazight).

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Good finds, Afifay and anonymous! The editor (van den Boogert) says that in Tashlhiyt asrm is "worm", but certainly "bowel" would make sense (the Siwi cognate also means "bowel".)

: "skink" is a cover term for hundreds of species.
So is šəṛšmala, if people's reactions to my book of all Saharan reptiles are anything to go by.

Anonymous said... Kabyle Azrem only means Snake; Worm is Tawekka/Tawekkiwt, I don't think this is something we have a name for in Kabyle but we certainly have another type of lezard and am having trouble recalling what we call it..

Anonymous said...

...we call it Abeleḥleḥ and I guess some say Amulab too.

mimi2tlemcen said...

am from tlemcen;west of algeria,a city where berber has left a considerable print, we call the lezard : ZERZOUMIYYA OR ZERMOUMIYYA, it depends on the dialect there.

i don't know if the word has a berber or arabic root