Saturday, August 17, 2013

Anti-borrowing

I was recently involved in an online discussion of the origins of the greeting "Azul", which over the past few decades has become very popular in Berberist circles, and may even be in the process of replacing "Axir" as the normal Kabyle greeting. Apparently it was probably taken from a Zenaga word for "peace", azol, recorded by Faidherbe, rather than being created out of thin air (as some had assumed), or based on Tuareg (as I had assumed.) Be that as it may, I found one of the last comments on the thread particularly telling:
azul ou aqzul kif kif,l essentiel on a un propre salut en tamazight
(Azul or Aqzul, whatever; the important point is to have a greeting specific to Tamazight)
This motivation is obvious in Berber activists' language planning efforts, sometimes to an almost painful degree; English speakers may be satisfied to have a mathematical vocabulary made up almost entirely of Latin and Greek loanwords, but a mathematical lexicon (Amawal n tusnakt) was one of the very first targets of the Kabyle language movement, published back in 1984. It is equally obvious in the activity of the various Arabic language academies, who, while frequently unable to agree on a single translation of a technical term, can generally at least agree that it must look nothing like the English or French equivalent. And it can be felt even at a much less organised popular level; in Tabelbala, when one speaker gave me an Arabic loan as Korandjé, another would frequently pipe up with "No, that's Arabic, not Korandjé" – even in the case of loans as securely established as the higher numerals. And, while it may not be so active in modern Germany or Finland, its after-effects can still be seen there...

Now axir, while of Arabic origin (خير "good"), is not actually used on its own as a greeting in Arabic, and has a purely Berber prefix a- attached for good measure. The only reason that it can plausibly be targeted by activists for replacement is the fact that most Kabyle speakers know enough Arabic to spot the etymology. No one is clamoring to replace Punic loans (like agusim "walnut") with purely Berber terms – any more than Arabic academies are trying to replace Turkish loans like جمارك or Persian loans like جزر with purely Arabic terms.

In that sense, puristic replacement is just as much a product of language contact as borrowing itself is. If you find a language in which loanwords are being selectively targeted for replacement by neologisms, the one thing you can be almost sure of is that a significant number of speakers know the language those loanwords come from. Widespread bilingualism tends to make lexicon boundaries a bit fuzzy anyway – is such and such a rare word really part of language A, or just of language B? – and when people try to reaffirm the boundaries, they don't always agree on where to draw the lines.

17 comments:

John Cowan said...

See this LH thread, which shows native and non-native speakers of "the whore of languages" debating the question "What is an English word and what is not?"

Firmus said...

"In that sense, puristic replacement is just as much a product of language contact as borrowing itself is. If you find a language in which loanwords are being selectively targeted for replacement by neologisms, the one thing you can be almost sure of is that a significant number of speakers know the language those loanwords come from"

Very true, I saw that in Quebec French variety where anglicisms are banned as much as possible while in France such anglicisms are seen in more positive light because English is not really mastered (even among youngsters). Even Acadians and Cajuns want to curb the use of English words in order to be understood by other Francophones.

Linguistic purism might also be a sign of a trend toward standardization. For Tamazight, I don't know if its introduction to schools would produce some kind of koiné in the long run.

benkato said...

actually, in some dialects, xeyr on its own can be a greeting; libyan arabic has, e.g. xeyr ya lāmīn, literally 'good, o lameen'. in the plural it can also be a greeting xeyrāt 'greetings!'.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks for your comments!

I had no idea you could say that in Libyan. I wonder if there are Algerian dialects that do the same?

Anonymous said...

Dear Lameen,

Azul is actualy no linguistic purism. In fact it is more deep rooted in Tamazight(kabyle, touareg, chleuh etc...) there is a word also used in Kabyle which is a version of azul used in the north of north africa. Let me give you an example a synonime of azul in tachelhit which is also no purisme. Afra: peace (take a look at the root of afra FR
I will comment more on azul and its root.

Kind regards Idir

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

If you have any evidence for "azul" being present in Kabyle earlier, I'd be happy to see it. The Tuareg verb ahul may well be related, but I haven't heard of any cognates in Chleuh.

Nadia Ghanem said...

Hello Lameen and apologies for spamming, I've just seen this post, yet another great post!

I'm just out of my first Kabyle lesson (I'm in small Kabylie) and was told that Azul is a word compound, composed of two words. It is made of:

Az : imperative v. meaning 'approach, come close'

+

Ul : heart

Meaning, come to (my) heart, that I'd probably translate: give me a hug.

Have you ever heard of this explanation before? I do not know Kabyle nor Tamazight so I cannot judge verbal forms nor syntax. I quite liked my teacher's breaking down of the greeting though.

Firmus said...

Firmus

@Nadia Ghanem

The afore-proposed definition of Azul is not true. The verb aẓ has an emphatic z not a "regular" z while Azul has this "regular" z.

This word is a neologism in Kabylie, however talwit can be a good substitute to the Arabic "Salam" in Kabyle which cohabites with "Azul".




Nadia Ghanem said...

Thank you @Firmus ! Ah, such a shame, I really liked the idea :)

Let me ask you, how are sentence structures constructed in Tamazight or Kabyle? Are unmarked forms built on noun + verb or verb + noun? I was wondering if this example of a verb+noun compound is correct grammatically/structurally.

Percival said...

" If you find a language in which loanwords are being selectively targeted for replacement by neologisms, the one thing you can be almost sure of is that a significant number of speakers know the language those loanwords come from"

This is fascinating. Something I've seen with the Kurdish language(s). In the 50s and 60s when a number of Kurdish language scholars were attempting to standardise and 'purify' the language in Iraq, they would replace Arabic words with new Kurdish constructions, sometimes derived from Persian cognates - what's funny is that Arabic was viewed as the enemy here and Persian as a "language with common roots" so if anything there was an increase in Persian derived words. The irony is that on the other side of the border in Iranian Kurdistan, the Persian derived words were being purged.

Post-1991 this progressed as Iraqi Kurdistan had a measure of autonomy. Post-2003, however, this has continued apace. Formal writing contains a ridiculous amount of these newly derived coinages. Everyday speech, however, has progressed more slowly and, when informal, still contains many of the old Arabic loanwords, some of which entered Kurdish post-Iraqi mandate but most of which had been a part of Kurdish for a longer time, as was the case with Turkish and Persian.

One example, which I view as completely unnecessary, is how in the past ten years or so, law, has changed from qānūn قانون, which is found in Persian and Turkish, to Yasa - supposedly derived from Mongolian, but which also appears in Modern Turkish. There has been no good reason to do this, other than excessive purification.

I remember talking to an elderly Kurdish individual who said that she struggled to understand all these neologisms she encountered on radio and in writing.

Anonymous said...

Azul was a mistake made by Mouloud mammeri. He thought "ahul" from tamahaq could become azul, but the "h" in "ahul"isnt the same "h" as in tamahaq, which indeed comes from tamazight

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That's what I used to think, but actually, Zenaga had azol with a z. (Not necessarily related to the Tamahaq word, though.)

David Marjanović said...

qānūn قانون, which is found in Persian and Turkish

From Greek.

Percival said...

@David Marjanović

I am aware - I think I rushed the whole paragraph. What I meant was that qānūn was ALSO found in Turkish and Persian, both of which borrowed it from Arabic but didn't see the need to remove the word, as have the Kurds. Of course, the Arabs borrowed it from Greek.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lameen,

As I said earlier it should be seen in this context, as is done similar in other languages using SLM/SHLM

Ugaritic : la paix, payée, être intacte et entier
Akkadien : la paix, salutation, prospérité, payer entièrement, remettre complètement, cadeau
Araméen : la paix, être intacte, complet, salaire, faire réparation


Taznagt (Senegal/Mauritanie)
azul: paix, bien

Ayt/Beni Menacer (Algerie)
ahul : être tranquille

Nefousa (Libye)
ezzol; (aor.) izzol; (n.v.) tazzeli: payer
azel: prix

Tamachek
zul/hul: saluer
z'el: payer,réparer en payent

Mzab, Kabyle
azal/azel: prix, valeur


Maroc
Tamazight (Souss, Moyen & Haut-Atlas)
tazzla: biens, gain, ce qu'on gagne par le travail
tizzla: acquêts (Le capital/biens de la femme)
azel: اجر [medieval tamazight morocco]

Tachelhit:
afra: paix (Haut-Atlas)
fru: payer, s'acquitter de

David Marjanović said...

What I meant was that qānūn was ALSO found in Turkish and Persian, both of which borrowed it from Arabic but didn't see the need to remove the word, as have the Kurds. Of course, the Arabs borrowed it from Greek.

Yes, I only mean that it's not original to Arabic either, and that it's derived from a word the readers here are likely familiar with – connections to the familiar are always interesting.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Percival: Remarkable how the parallels pile up...

Anonymous: That's an interesting comparison.