Thursday, August 19, 2010

Linguistic purism in 19th century Libyan Berber

Looking through Richardson's (1850) vocabulary of Sokna Berber today, I came across a wonderful little piece of sociolinguistic history. The vocabulary in question was written by a Sokni, Ali ben El-Haj Abd et-Tawil, with English translations added by Richardson. He wrote, among other things, the numerals. 1-3 are Berber (əjjin اجين, sən سن, šaṛəṭ شارط), while 4 is Arabic (أربعة arb`a). But when he reached 5 there was a moment of indecision:
Do you see what's going on there? He started out by writing خمسة xəmsa, the Arabic loanword meaning "five" - which, if other languages of the region are any guide, was the usual word for "five" in everyday Sokni. But then he had a thought - xəmsa is just Arabic, it's not proper Sokni, and I ought to be giving this stranger proper Sokni - and he overwrote the word with فوس fus "hand", used by Berber and Songhay groups through much of the Sahara (eg Siwi fus=hand, Kwarandzyey kəmbi=hand) as a substitute for "five" to prevent Arabic speakers from understanding, as they would if the normal numerals, borrowed from Arabic, were used. What at first sight looks like just a piece of messy handwriting turns out to bear witness to a moment of linguistic purism.


Anonymous said...

That is so fascinating- what a great discovery!

Anonymous said...

I would't call it a purism!
See also the usage in Nefusa Berber also in libya.

Le Djebel Nefousa. A. de Motylinski. 1898-1899.

page 40
oufes (main): cinq

2: sen
3: charet
4: okkoz
5: oufes
6: oufes d oudjoun (une main et un)
7: oufes d sen
8: oufes d charet
9: oufes d okkoz
10: sen n ifessen

Afus - fus => mus
F ~ B ~ M

in mzab/wargla a word for handful is based on the root BS (FS)
Dictionnaire mozabite-français, J. Delheure

BS - basa: main, en lang. enfantin

bessi: petite quantite

The last example can also be found in Morocco in; Textes berbères des Aït Ouaouzguite (Ouarzazate, Maroc)

see page 146 and the lexique:
ha sus ba sus

uraw (morocco: two hands held together which are 10 fingers)
Uraw - raw => mraw

Anonymous said...

Hi lameen,

I want to add one remark:
On page 308 Notes de lexicographie berbère : René Basset
You can see that Berber of island DJERBA (Tunis)
also uses afous: 5
4: charedh d ijjen

Other berber variants in Tunis might show the same system.

Is it a ibbadi style??

Lameen Souag said...

It's not just Ibadi - as I said, it's found in Siwa and Tabelbala as well, not to mention El-Fogaha. In fact, the same system is recorded for some dialects of Brahui in Pakistan - in response to the same problem, since Brahui has borrowed its normal numerals from neighbouring languages. I would label cases like these "anti-borrowing" - replacing a routine loanword with a native word whose original meaning is slightly different precisely so that speakers of the source language will not understand.

Comparison with basa, bessi etc is an interesting idea.