Monday, July 01, 2013

So how different are Algerian and Egyptian Berber?

In the previous post, we looked at how hard Egyptian Arabic was for an Algerian to understand (answer: not that hard) and how it diverges from the rules of Algerian Arabic (answer: a lot). What if we try the same exercise for Berber – specifically, Kabyle vs. Siwi? Obviously, I don’t speak Kabyle fluently or even well; if you do, feel free to correct me or give me your own impressions. However, with a bit of help from a dictionary, I think it’s worth a try. There aren’t any Siwi stories recorded online at the moment, about Juha or otherwise, but here’s a short fable with a sad ending retranscribed and retranslated from Laoust’s grammar:
Azidi dilla g adrar, itessu aman. Tizmert ttella adday. Azidi yeṃṃ-as: “Itta xeḅḅecṭ-i aman nnew?” Tizmert teṃṃ-as: “Aman dillan g ɛali, iteggezen i gda!” Yeṃṃ-as: “Ɛam-nuwwel nic uṭnaxa, cemm edduqqaṭ ṭaren nnem!” Teṃṃ-as: “Nic n aseggasa!” Yeṃṃ-as: “Namma eṃṃa nnem namma axxa nnem!” Baɛdin yečč-ét.

There was a jackal on a mountain, drinking water. A ewe was below. The jackal said to her: “Why have you muddied my water?” The ewe said: “The water is above, and goes down to here!” He said: “The year before last when I was ill, you stamped your feet (disturbing him with the noise)!” She said: “I’m from (I was born in) this year!” He said “Or (it was) your mother, or your aunt!” Then he ate her.

Only seven words (out of 44) have no cognates in Kabyle as far as I know – in three cases, this is because one language or the other has borrowed an Arabic term:

  • azidi “jackal”: in Kabyle this would be uccen.
  • yeṃṃ-as “he told her”: in Kabyle this would be yenn-as.
  • itta “why”: in Kabyle this would be ayɣer. The Siwi form is from i “to, for” and -tta < tanta “what”, a local variant of widespread Berber matta, which Kabyle has replaced with the Arabic loan acu.
  • ɛali “above”, from Arabic: in Kabyle this would be asawen, but the Siwi form is easy to guess from Arabic.
  • iteggezen “they go down”: in Kabyle this would be trusun.
  • ɛam-nuwwel “year before last”, from Arabic: in Kabyle this would be sell-ilindi, but the Siwi form is easy enough to guess if you know Algerian Arabic.
  • namma “or”: the first syllable is cognate to Kabyle neɣ, but the word has changed enough to make guessing difficult.
  • axxa “aunt (mother’s sister)”: in Kabyle this would be xalti, from Arabic.
So in terms of vocabulary, the situation is pretty similar to what we saw between Algerian and Egyptian Arabic. However, as with the previous example, there are many more subtle differences – and those differences are of a more significant kind. If we look at grammatical differences alone and ignore phonetic or semantic ones, we notice that:
  • g adrar “in the mountain”: in Kabyle this would be g wedrar; Siwi has no “état d’annexion”.
  • dilla, ttella: “he is at, she is at”: Kabyle yella, tella, with no d- prefix. adday “below”: Kabyle does have a noun adda “below”, but it can only be used in combination with certain prepositions, not on its own as here.
  • xebbecṭ-i: Siwi marks the 2nd person singular (“you”) with just -(a)ṭ; Kabyle uses t-...-ḍ.
  • nnew “my”, nnem “your (f.)”: in Kabyle this would be inu, inem.
  • iteggezen: Siwi marks the 3rd person plural (“they”) with y-...-en; Kabyle, like all other Berber languages, uses -en alone.
  • i gda: in Kabyle, i is usually used just for the dative, but in Siwi it’s used for destinations in general; the g- in gda was originally the preposition “in”, but in Siwi it became part of the word for “here”.
  • uṭnaxa “I am/was ill”: the -a suffix is a Siwi verbal form marking the perfect, frequently used in subordinate clauses to mean “while”. Kabyle doesn’t have such an ending, and would just use uḍnaɣ.

This contrasts with what we saw between Algerian and Egyptian Arabic, where very few of the textual differences were strictly grammatical. Of course, a longer text would have revealed more grammatical differences between Algerian and Egyptian, for example in the formation of comparatives – and would reveal many more between Kabyle and Siwi. This makes sense; for many centuries, Siwi has been much more isolated from Kabyle than Algerian Arabic has been from Egyptian Arabic, and the expansion of Berber happened earlier than that of Arabic, so they’ve had longer to develop separately.


PhoeniX said...

I always overestimate the differences between the different Berber dialects.

Once you get so focussed on the tiny differences, you feel like there are so many (and there are), but you kind of forget how many differences can be glossed over.

Robin said...

I find the whole Berber culture fascinating. In the media we only ever hear about the Arab culture in North Africa and most people don't even realise there are other, older cultures there. I'm planning to travel in Morocco later this year and I'm going to teach myself some basic Berber. Thanks for the informative post.

Kamel Boutcho said...

azerdi is allso used in kabyle , it mean chackal !