Wednesday, March 11, 2009

išni: a Berber ovine, or a Songhay goat?

In Kwarandzyey (Tabelbala), the non-specific word for a sheep or goat is išni. It looks kind of Berber, and the words for different ages or sexes of sheep and goat are definitely from Berber, so I had assumed it must be Berber. But I've never found a term like it in any Berber dictionary. Maybe some reader will tell me that the word is familiar from his/her own hometown, but I just realised that there's an alternative explanation...

The word for "(female) goat" across Songhay may be reconstructed as *hìnčìnì (Nicolai 1981 gives *hìnkìnì, but in all the Songhay languages he cites except Kwarandzyey, original *k and *č both turn into the same sound before front vowels.) Nicolai 1981 gives amkkən "male goat" as the Kwarandzyey reflex of this word, but in fact (as Kossmann first pointed out to me) that turns out to be another one of the Berber etymologies that only Zenaga seems to explain: ämkän "jeune bête (tout animal de pâturage)" (Taine-Cheikh 2008). Instead, I'd like to propose that išni is the Kwarandzyey reflex.

*n is occasionally lost in Kwarandzyey (eg gwa "see" < *guna); I don't know any rule for this so far, but here it might be motivated by dissimilation. Initial *h is lost fairly commonly (at least "water", "man", "two", "three", "hunger"), so that's not necessarily a problem. Short vowels, most commonly (but not always) *i and *u, are frequently deleted, according to a rule whose conditioning I've been investigating lately. *č regularly becomes ts, but when immediately followed by a consonant regularly simplifies to s for all but some of the most conservative speakers. And s and š are not phonologically distinct (except for younger speakers, under heavy Arabic influence); the consistent use of š here would be explained by the i's flanking it. So that would yield *hìnčìnì > *inčni > *itsni > isni = išni.

Of course, if išni is attested in Berber then all this reasoning may have to be rethought - so if you speak Berber and have heard the word before, please tell me now!


afifay said...

Hello Lameen,

In tumz'abt, ičen (also ačniw, pl. ičniwen or ačniwen, f. tačniwt, pl. tičniwin) means : twin (fr. jumeau), and by extension : match, look-alike, double. This word exists also in tacawit as iken [1] (pl. ikniwen, f. tikent or takniwt, pl. tikniwin) with the same meaning [2].

The same root [KN], gives tačna (pl. tačniwin) in tumz'abt and takna (pl. takenwin) in tacawit [2] meaning second wife (fr. coépouse), and by ext. rival.

However, another root, [KNF], might be more pertinent in this context. In tumz'abt, the rare verb čnef means to roast, to toast, to grill, to bake (especially meat or bread) and ačanif is roasted meat ; knef means the same in Ghadames [3] and Dj. Nefusa [4] ; aknif in tacawit [5] and tawnift in tacelh'it [6] mean baked bread.

The disappearance of the terminal F has been discussed in connection with tisegneft/tisegnit (needle) and the Ghadames variant by several authors but I can't recollect the refs.

What do you mean by a non-specific word ? Might this be similar to the pairs mutton/sheep, boeuf/ox, etc. in english (two words for the same thing but one on the festive table and the other in nature) ?

Thanks for & Keep up the good work. I told you now !

[1] k : spirant k (german ch in ich)
[2] Basset A, Textes berbères de l'Aurès (parler des Aït-Frah), 1961, pp 99 & 315
[3] Motylinski A, Le dialecte berbère de R'edamès, 1904, p 38
[4] Motylinski A, Le Djebel Nefousa, 1898, p 148
[5] Basset A, idem, pp 25 & 165
[6] Amard P, Textes berbères des Aït-Ouaouzguite, Ouarzazate, 1997, p 213

Lameen Souag said...

Great comment! Berber "twin" and "co-wife" have been borrowed into Kwarandzyey too, as it happens, under the forms iknawən (without number distinction) and tsakna, pl. tsiknawən. The idea of connecting it to *KNF is good, but the Berber loans in Kwarandzyey always seem to be non-Zenati (reflecting *k as k and never š), except for one or two words borrowed via dialectal Arabic like zzṛanəts "frog", so the sound correspondences don't work out well.

išni is basically like dialectal Arabic شياه or غنم - any small livestock, whether sheep or goat.

Anonymous said...

ajjen (pl. ijjân)
troupeau d'animaux domestiques d'après J.M. Cortade et M. Mammeri, Lexique Français-Touareg de l'Ahaggar, 1967, p 486

Anonymous said...

Dear Lameen,

Azni: lamb [eng] (borrego <= Spanish ) in Diccionario rifeño-español (etimológico), Esteban Ibáñez

This indicates that there are more variants to be found in Berber.
The variants: z' -z - sh - s are familiar in Berber.

Lameen Souag said...

Thanks! Those are both promising, especially azni, but I'm not sure. Tuareg j would normally correspond to Kwarandzyey g, and the change z > š is found in Tamasheq but not as far as I've seen in Kwarandzyey. Still, azni is definitely a possibility that needs to be considered.

Rab Bar said...


و في حقيقة الأمر يصعب التفريق بين أسماء الأمازيغية و الصنغاي بسبب الأصل المشتركة بين لغة الأمازيغ و الصنغاي


*sunfu = تنفس و استراح في لغة الصنغاي

*sunfu = استراح أمازيغي / tasunfet = الاستراحة أمازيغي