Saturday, January 08, 2011

Berber words in Roman times, and Ghomara Berber material

A couple of goodies for readers interested in North Africa / contact / the classical Mediterranean (if you fall into the first category, incidentally, you should also be following the major recent events in Algeria and Tunisia.):

Jamal El Hannouche, having finished his MA at Leiden, has recently put up Ghomara Berber: A Brief Grammatical Survey and Arabic Influence in Ghomara Berber. These are important reading for Berber philologists: despite its location in northern Morocco near the Rif, Ghomara Berber is not at all closely related to Tarifit, and shows some unusual features such as a feminine plural in -an. (The name of nearby Tétouan thus represents Ghomara Tiṭṭiwan, not Tiṭṭawin as other Berber-speakers might assume.) However, they are of even greater interest for contact phenomena: Ghomara Berber is one of very few languages (along with Agia Varvara Romani) to borrow fully conjugated verbs, from Arabic in this case. The only previous work on Ghomara Berber was a brief article in 1929 (and the Ethnologue has for some time been spreading the misconception that it is extinct); this is the first grammatical sketch of the language.

Carles Múrcia has recently completed his PhD at Barcelona, and put it up online: La llengua amaziga a l’antiguitat a partir de les fonts gregues i llatines. I'm afraid it's in Catalan, but if you can read French or Spanish you shouldn't have much difficulty (although it would be nice if he had translated more of the Greek quotations.) So far I've read the parts about Egypt and Cyrenaica. For Egypt, he points out there is no linguistic evidence that the Lebu / Libyans or Meshwesh, or any of the other Western Desert tribes recorded before the Mazices of the Byzantine era, spoke Berber, nor even that Siwa spoke Berber before the Byzantine era. This fits with my own observations that Siwi is simply too much like Western Libyan Berber to be the survival of an ancient Berber language of the Western Desert - although the activists who urge Imazighen to date their calendar from the "Amazigh" conquest of Egypt by the Libyans may not be happy with this cautious conclusion! For Cyrenaica, on the other hand, he shows that a number of words recorded in classical sources have convincing Berber etymologies, suggesting that Awjila may represent the continuation of a very early Berber-speaking population.

Interestingly, the words with Berber etymologies generally lack the characteristic Berber nominal prefix a-/ta-, which must still have been a separable word at that stage. For example, one Berber root that brought back memories of the Sahara is gelela, recorded by Cassius Felix as "coloquintidis interioris carnis" - the flesh of the inside of the colocynth, a bitter melon that grows wild in the Sahara and is commonly fed to goats. This corresponds to modern Tuareg tagăllăt, and to Kwarandzyey tsigərrəts, both meaning "colocynth" - but in those forms, the feminine prefix ta- (or ti-) has been added.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"For Egypt, he points out there is no linguistic evidence that the Lebu / Libyans or Meshwesh, or any of the other Western Desert tribes recorded before the Mazices of the Byzantine era, spoke Berber, nor even that Siwa spoke Berber before the Byzantine era."

My question regarding this is: what do you propose that they spoke, if not Berber?

Lameen Souag said...

I propose that we don't know what they spoke. It could have been Berber; it could have been some relative of Egyptian, or some extinct branch of Afroasiatic; it could have been something entirely different. Until some evidence turns up, we can't simply assume that it must have been Berber. If Siwi has been spoken there in ancient Egyptian times, you would expect to find in it loans from ancient Egyptian that aren't in the rest of Berber (which Vycichl would have noticed if they had existed), and you would not expect to find in it loans from Phoenician (which there are, eg jadir "wall".)

Anonymous said...

The Ghomara tribe is said to have colonized the Gomera island. Where did these Ghomara originally come from?

Anonymous said...

Great post, Lameen.

I think you are being a little modest or unimaginative though, in answer to the question as to what was spoken in Siwa before the spread of Berber. Since you've shown that the Arabic element in Siwi derives neither from Bedouin nor from Egyptian Arabic, I would venture to suggest that it is at least possible that Berber in Siwa expanded at the expense of a now extinct Arabic dialect which supplied this encroaching Berber variety with many words/structures, with present-day Siwi Berber the end result.

Your friendly neighborhood Romance scholar (FNRS).

Lameen Souag said...

Anon: There have been Ghomara in this part of Morocco since the early Middle Ages at least. Beyond that I don't know.

Etienne: Yes, that is a reasonable inference from my paper. But it's not likely that this Arabic dialect was present before the Byzantine era, of course!

Anonymous said...

Lameen: since you brought up the presence of Phoenician loans in Siwi: are there any Phoenician loans in Berber that are, if not universal, at least sufficiently widespread to justify the assumption that they were borrowed by Proto-Berber itself?

There are a number of Latin words (ANGELUS with the meaning "child", for instance) which are so widespread in Berber that at least some scholars assume them to have been borrowed by Proto-Berber itself, rather than by its daughter languages.

Etienne (AKA "Your friendly neighborhood Romance scholar").

Lameen Souag said...

"Angelus" is quite a questionable one - sure it's found in Tuareg, but Tuareg is by no means among the first branches to separate off. The solar month names are tempting, but these could just as well have spread to Zenaga at a later date - the medieval Zenaga weren't exactly noted for being agriculturalists. (Plus the correspondences are a bit off.) I can't think offhand of any Punic or Latin loans found in both Awjila and Zenaga, which would be the strongest evidence.

pep said...

haha don´t be afraid to have it written in catalan ;-)
after all, as you probably know, there exist two grammars of tamazight in Catalan. One of them can be consulted on-line:
http://www.aulaintercultural.org/IMG/pdf/lleng_imm_cat5.pdf

pep said...

I´ve taken a look at Múrcia´s thesis and it is, well, huge. If you Lameen or anyone else needs a translation of some part of the text I´ll try to help. I´m a native Catalan speaker and know some classical Greek (but am no expert at all)

Moubarik Belkasim said...

Barcelona has been really emerging as a major hot spot of Berber studies in Europe (like Leiden and Paris)!

Awesome, right?! :)


-The Catalan-Berber guide of conversation:

http://books.google.nl/books?id=cG4F8x62X4EC&pg=PA5&dq=amalal+usiwel&hl=nl&ei=tuFKTYzHCsaXOvuThfUP&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=amalal%20usiwel&f=false



-The grammar of Rif-Berber:

http://books.google.nl/books?id=kP69X_8GEykC&printsec=frontcover&dq=la+llengua+rifenya&hl=nl&ei=FuJKTZrdCsOUOuPN6eoP&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Azrou said...

"he points out there is no linguistic evidence that the Lebu / Libyans or Meshwesh, or any of the other Western Desert tribes recorded before the Mazices of the Byzantine era, spoke Berber, nor even that Siwa spoke Berber before the Byzantine era."

"This fits with my own observations that Siwi is simply too much like Western Libyan Berber to be the survival of an ancient Berber language of the Western Desert - although the activists who urge Imazighen to date their calendar from the "Amazigh" conquest of Egypt by the Libyans may not be happy with this cautious conclusion!"

1- I think it is just a impression he wants to give by claiming there is no evidence, since he didn't tell me how he concluded that.

2- Siwan language was not isolated from the berber languge, and therefore, there is no need to be so different from the other languages.

Lameen Souag said...

"I think it is just a impression he wants to give by claiming there is no evidence, since he didn't tell me how he concluded that."

What do you want him to do - give a full list of every quotation that doesn't contain evidence that they spoke Berber? He explains why the few connections that have actually been suggested (in particular the Antef stela) don't hold up. If you think he's wrong about there being no evidence, then by all means, tell us what the evidence is.

"2- Siwan language was not isolated from the berber languge, and therefore, there is no need to be so different from the other languages."

That hypothesis fails to account for why the Awjilan language is so much more different from the rest of Berber than Siwi is, and for why Siwi should be more similar to Sokna and Nafusa far away than to Awjila nearby.

Azrou said...

@Lameen,

"What do you want him to do - give a full list of every quotation that doesn't contain evidence that they spoke Berber?..."


- I don't claim this is an easy work, but I have read (as a note) that the Sir Alan Gardiner claimed that the Meshwesh spoke the Berber language (I found this note in an article: "The Meshwesh also spoke a Berber dialect (Gardiner 1968:121).").

- Are the names not typical Berber?

Personally, as a native Berber speaker, i won't be surprised by claiming that their names sound very "Berberic".

- 1- As possible evidence, Those Mazics where he speaks on, are supposed to be the same word "Meshwesh".
This is a claim of Gabriel Camps:
"...Il s’agit en fait du nom que les Berbères se donnent eux-mêmes Imazighen (au singulier Amazigh.). Ce nom a été transcrit par les étrangers sous des formes variées : Meshwesh par les Égyptiens, Mazyes et Maxyes par les Grecs, Mazices et Madices par les Latins..."

-2- Also the name "Libu" (where the name "Libyan" of the Greeks came from) is believed to be linguistically the same word as Luwata (the name of a Berber tribe in medieval times) (i cannot find the exact quote, but it seems that this theory is attributed to Oric Bates, the eastern Libyans, and supported by others).

Note that it goes here on the "linguistic evidence" and not the evidence of their "Berber origin" in general.

*****

For your second note:
as far as i know the Siwans were related to the people of Awjila and other Berbers in the times of Herodotus. They were all Libyans like the people of Morocco.
There had contacts between them and the other Berber/Libyan tribes.
It is interesting to compare the Siwan and Awjilan language since they are diffirent (as you told me), but the Berber origin of Siwa doesn't have to clarify why they are distinct.
****
But you have to agree with me, that it is too simple to claime "there is no evidence...".