Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sondage pour les algériens bilingues arabe/français

Même si j'écris généralement en anglais, je suis sûr que ce blog a quelques lecteurs algériens qui sont bilingues arabe/français. Si vous appartenez à cette catégorie, et si vous avez quelques minutes pour aider une doctorante algérienne à l'Université de Florida en ses recherches linguistiques, vous pouvez faire ce sondage. Je joins la lettre que j'ai reçue.


Nous menons une étude sur les algériens bilingues arabe/français. Si vous souhaitez participer, connectez-vous sur le lien ci-dessous. Soyez sure que vos réponses seront anonymes.

Si le lien ne s'ouvre pas, copier et coller le dans votre navigateur.

Pour ceux d'entre vous qui souhaiteraient terminer le sondage en deux fois, n'envoyez pas vos réponses, simplement quittez le sondage en fermant votre navigateur. Une fois connectés à nouveau vous pouvez continuer là où vous vous êtes arrêtés (les phrases peuvent apparaître dans un ordre différent).

Le sondage a plusieurs listes de phrases. Après avoir complété et envoyé le sondage, vous pouvez (si vous le souhaitez) entrer dans le lien une nouvelle fois et compléter une autre liste. Nous tenons à vous rappeler que vous ne devez pas compléter la même liste. Si on vous donne la même liste, veuillez quitter le sondage.

Vous pouvez transmettre ce message à d'autres algériens bilingues, mais s'il vous plaît ne l'affichez pas sur Facebook.

S'il vous plaît essayez de compléter l'enquête le plutôt possible avant sa fermeture.

Merci d'avoir partagé votre temps et vos idées.


University of Florida

Monday, August 18, 2014

A South Arabian loan into Libyan Berber?

From Morocco to Oman, there is a long tradition of imagining that the Berbers of North Africa and the Mehris of South Arabia speak the same language. This is by no means confined to pan-Arab nationalists - Siwis have told me more than once that some friend of a friend had met non-Arabic-speaking Yemenis and understood their language, and I'm told many Mehris have the same belief. I've previously discussed some possible reasons for this belief, as well as the more obviously propagandistic claim that Arabic descends from Berber; both are false.

Nevertheless, it is true that significant numbers of Yemenis participated in the Arab migrations to North Africa during the Islamic era, and it's not inherently implausible that some should have brought their languages with them. In fact, I just came across what looks very much like a South Arabian loan into the northwestern Libyan Berber variety of Zuwara (At Willul).

In Zuwara, the usual word for "father" is baba, as in many other Berber varieties, but in a few collocations such as əg tíddart n ḥíbi-s "in her father's house", a different term ḥibi is substituted (Mitchell 2009:303, 341). This word is unlikely to be proto-Berber, since proto-Berber did not have a phoneme /ḥ/ and since it is quite unusual within Berber. And as far as I know, it is not used anywhere in Arabic (although Libyan dialects are not that well documented). One could try to link it to ḥabīb-ī "my beloved", but that would be phonetically irregular and semantically unlikely, since this term is normally used in the context of romantic love or of a child by their parents.

However, the normal word for "father" in Mehri is ḥīb "father" - ḥayb-ī "my father", ḥīb-as "his father" (Watson 2012:149). In fact, Mehri adds this prefix to a number of kinship terms: ḥāmē "mother", ḥabrē "son", ḥabrīt "daughter" (ibid), as well as a number of other common nouns. Its function is to mark definiteness (ibid:64). But no such definite article has ever existed in Arabic or in Berber, so the only possible explanations for the similarity of Zuwara ḥibi are pure coincidence or borrowing from Mehri into Berber (perhaps via an Arabic dialect?). It will be interesting to see if other cases turn up.

And as long as I'm talking about Libyan Berber, I really ought to mention Marijn van Putten's new book A Grammar of Awjila Berber (see his announcement at Oriental Berber).. This careful analysis of all the unfortunately limited data available on the very unusual Berber variety of Awjila, in the far east of Libya, is an important resource for Berber historical linguistics. I hope that things settle down in Libya soon enough to make a fuller description possible, but for the moment, this work appears unlikely to be superseded.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Some minority languages of the Mosul Plain

For most of the past decade, while first the rest of Iraq and then Syria (150,000 dead, 2.5 million refugees) have burned, Northern Iraq has seemed like a relative oasis of calm. That has changed rather suddenly: with ISIS' religious persecution, and now American airstrikes, Northern Iraq and its minorities are suddenly prominent in the headlines. The headlines throw into sharp relief the region's status as perhaps the most religiously diverse place in the Middle East - but what they may not show is that this region is also a small-scale "residual zone" preserving rather more linguistic diversity than is typical for such a small area in the modern Fertile Crescent (not just Arabic and Kurdish!)

The most endangered language of the region is certainly Northeastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA), or Sûreth (ܣܘܪܝܬ). Once, Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Middle East, spoken in various dialects from Gaza to Basra, and written as far afield as China and India. By the early 20th century, it was restricted to a few hundred far-flung mountain villages; the largest dialect group, NENA, was centered on the Christian (Assyrian and Chaldean) villages of the Mosul Plain, such as Tel Kef (Telkepe) and Qaraqosh, and across the border in Iran and Turkey; a detailed map is available at Cambridge's NENA Database. Today, those who have stayed behind in ever harder conditions are substantially outnumbered by their diaspora in cities such as Detroit or Sydney, whose children increasingly just speak English - and, as of the past couple of days, media accounts suggest that fleeing refugees have left the Mosul Plain villages practically empty. Their exodus is rather reminiscent of what happened about a century ago: during the Armenian/Assyrian Genocide, the NENA-speaking Assyrians of Hakkari fled from Turkey never to return, taking refuge in Iraq and finally in Syria. It remains to be seen whether this exile will be as lasting as the previous one. If you're wondering how the language sounds, the NENA Database site has a number of recordings, some transcribed, such as The Story of the Cobbler; others can be heard at Semitisches Tonarchiv.

While Kurds prefer to consider Kurdish as one language, the two main Kurdish varieties of northern Iraq - Sorani and Kurmanji - are strikingly different from one another, and are usually considered as separate languages by academics. The smaller Gurani language, (see DOBES), spoken in northwestern Iraq and also commonly labelled Kurdish, doesn't even belong to the same branch of Iranian as Sorani and Kurmanji. Many of its speakers belong to loosely Shia-affiliated minority religions, such as the Ahl-i Haqq and the Shabak, considered by ISIS as beyond the pale.

The other minority group unfortunate enough to have been pitched into the headlines, Yezidis, do not have a language of their own; they speak Kurmanji Kurdish. However, the Yezidis are associated with a unique writing system. In the early 20th century, manuscripts summarising Yezidi beliefs written in a unique alphabet (such as the Meshefa Resh "Black Scripture") came into the possession of Western researchers, and the alphabet in question duly found its way into compendia such as Diringer (1968). Later research, though, suggests that both these manuscripts and the alphabet they were written in were created for Western consumption, likely by a non-Yezidi bookseller, rather than representing a Yezidi tradition (Kreyenbrook and Rashow 2005, EI).

The region's Turkmen, many of whom have also apparently been persecuted by ISIS for their Shiism, speak a Turkic variety close to Turkish and Azeri. From what little information I've seen, it seems unlikely to qualify as a separate language, but does not seem to have attracted much research.

The Arabic dialects of northern Iraq - the so-called qeltu dialects, for their unique pronunciation of the word "I said" - are also quite interesting in their own right; the spoken Arabic dialect of Abbasid Baghdad seems likely to have belonged to this group. However, that is another story for another day...