Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How Berber is the Arabic of the Chaamba?

As unfortunately foreshadowed by my last post, violence broke out again in Ghardaia recently between Chaamba and Mozabites. At least 22 were killed, most of them Mozabite. As far as I can tell, not one newspaper has ventured to report what specifically triggered this episode of violence - which probably means that the details are thought to be embarrassing or inflammatory. (I suspect that this vicious yet incompetent piece of anti-Mozabite propaganda provides an explanation in reverse - that a rumour circulated among the Chaamba that the Mozabites were celebrating the assassination of Ali or something like that - but that's only a guess.) Instead, they're presenting a flurry of supposedly deeper explanations, vaguely alluding to drug trading, smuggling, religious extremism, and foreign meddling.

One news item that recently made waves came from a Facebook post by Ahmed Ben Naoum, a professor of sociology at the University of Perpignan, who, as reported by El Watan, insists that the Chaamba (properly šʕanba) are not Arabs but rather Zenati Berbers. The ancestry of the Chaamba is not something I can comment on professionally - if that mattered, which it shouldn't, a look at their Y-chromosomes would be the way to go. Nor can I say much on their historical self-identification, though at present it's extremely clear that the Chaamba consider themselves Arab (more specifically, a branch of Banu Sulaym). However, the article also touches on their language:

«Les Cha’anba font partie de la majorité zénète de ce pays. Ils n’ont aucun mythe fondateur les rattachant aux ‘‘Arabes’’ ! Eux-mêmes ont été arabisés comme l’ont été les autres Zénètes, sauf à dire qu’ils expriment leur culture dans une des langues arabes qu’ils ont largement ‘‘zénétisée’’ dans la morphologie et la syntaxe.»
[The Sha'anba are part of the Zenati majority of this country. They have no foundation myth attaching them to the "Arabs"! They themselves have been Arabised like the other Zenatis, but that is only to say that they express their culture in one of the Arabic languages which they have extensively "Zenatified" in morphology and syntax.]

This is not correct. The dialect of the Chaamba is one of the few dialects of the Algerian Sahara for which a grammatical description has been published (Grand'Henry 1976), and its morphology, at least, is pretty well studied. Judging by this material, there is no discernible Zenata (or other Berber) influence on the morphology or syntax of the dialect at all. In this respect, it agrees with Algerian Arabic more generally. Very few dialects of Algerian Arabic show significant morphological influence from Berber; only a few areas, such as Jijel or Adrar, even have Berber plurals for nouns borrowed from Berber, and no dialect anywhere is reported to has borrowed Berber verbal morphology. Many dialects have a few abstract nouns in ta-...-t - usually with negative meanings - but this formation is hardly productive. Syntactic influence is plausible a priori, but has not been adequately demonstrated anywhere in Algerian Arabic (except Jijel), much less for the dialect of the Chaamba.

A better place to look for Berber influence in Algerian dialects, generally speaking, is phonology and vocabulary. In phonology, the phoneme and the merger of the short vowels can both plausibly - although not certainly - be attributed to Berber influence; however, it is unclear from Grand'Henry's rather poor description of the phonology whether even these apply in the Chaamba dialect. The vocabulary listed by Grand'Henry includes very few Berber loans, and most of the latter are pan-Algerian, eg həžžala "widow", atay "tea" (the latter ultimately from Chinese); the only rarer ones noted are two types of date, taqərbŭšt and tantmŭšt, which would naturally be easily borrowed from Berber-speaking oasis dwellers. On the basis of the available data, it's safe to say that the Zenati influence in the dialect of the Chaamba, like the Zenati influence in most Algerian dialects whether spoken by people of Berber ancestry or not, is very limited. It would be very interesting to study the extent of Berber influence in the Arabic spoken in different regions of Algeria, and how it varies. But such a study should not be expected to provide proof that Algerians in general, or any specific group of Algerians in particular, are of Amazigh ancestry. If for some reason you want to know about ancestry, ask a geneticist, not a linguist (nor, I would suggest, a sociologist).

8 comments:

Moubarik said...

Dr Souag,

You said "On the basis of the available data, it's safe to say that the Zenati influence in the dialect of the Chaamba, like the Zenati influence in most Algerian dialects whether spoken by people of Berber ancestry or not, is very limited."

Are you excluding Berber influence on Algerian Arabic in all areas or just in morphology and syntax?

Because on the phonetic and phonological levels the influence of Berber on spoken Arabic dialects can't get any bigger, from my perspective. Arabic dialects didn't have the schwa originally right?

Thanks a lot

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Phonologically and phonetically the influence does seem to be significant, but even there it could have been a lot greater: for example, Berber did not originally have ع or ح, but no Arabic dialect in North Africa has lost them. I was thinking especially of vocabulary and morphology, though, since those are the domains with the greatest impact on comprehension.

Moubarik said...

Thanks of the reply.

Berber acquired ع and ح and possibly ص from Arabic, but Berber didn't lose any vowel or consonant because of that contact.

On the other hand, Arabic dialects of North Africa did lose at least 3 consonants which are ث and ذ and ظ because of Berber influence. This case is massive across Morocco and some areas of Algeria. Moroccan Arabic is mainly influenced by Senhaja-Berber and Mesmuda-Berber, both lacking the sounds ث and ذ and ظ

In most of northern Algeria and Tunisia, Arabic dialects kept the consonants ث and ذ and ظ because Zenata-Berber contains those sounds too and thus kind of allowed them to stay in Arabic dialects too, I think.

Also because of Berber influence, Arabic dialects of at least Morocco and Algeria lost the distinction between long vowels (ا and و and ي) and short vowels (الفتحة والضمة والكسرة), so the 6 Arabic / Arabian vowels are now reduced into 3 vowels in Maghreb's Arabic dialects or languages.

A Moroccan or Algerian person today would pronounce (using his native Maghrebi-Arabic phonological system) the two Standard-Arabic words: الطابعة and الطبيعة the exact same way as if they were the same word.

The introduction of schwa (e) into Maghrebi Arabic from Berber is obvious and massive. Plus there are other innovations in spoken Arabic imported from Berber such as the toleration of السكون and الشدة at the beginning of words.

In grammar you have Berber influences on spoken Arabic such as the loss of dual grammatical number (as opposed to singular and plural) in both nouns and verb conjugations (unless Hilalian Arabic didn't have dual forms at all, which is possible). But we have traces of Arabic dual number coming from somewhere and are now found in a few vernacular words like العينين and اليدّين ...etc and which now take the function of plural.

PhoeniX said...

"On the other hand, Arabic dialects of North Africa did lose at least 3 consonants which are ث and ذ and ظ because of Berber influence."

There are many Peninsular Arabic dialects that lost the interdentals too. It's difficult to prove that in case of North Africa it was due to Berber influence while in the Peninsular it wasn't. It's simply a common loss.

"In most of northern Algeria and Tunisia, Arabic dialects kept the consonants ث and ذ and ظ because Zenata-Berber contains those sounds too and thus kind of allowed them to stay in Arabic dialects too, I think."

Several Arabic dialects in Libya kept their intedentals while the Berber dialects specifically (including the Zenata-Berber dialect of Zwara) do not have interdentals at all, and there is no reason to think they ever had them.

The introduction of interdentals certainly occurred after the arrival of Arabic, since even Arabic words that never had interdentals received interdentals. 'book' in Tamazight is ləḵṯaḇ and 'to push' is ḏfəʕ both with interdentals in a position where Arabic doesn't have it.

The introduction of interdentals in the dialects that have them is certainly part of the fricativization of the other stops k,g, b > ḵ, ḡ, ḇ. These other stops were never transferred to Arabic, while especially the ḵ and ḡ are more likely to be present in Berber dialects than the interdentals ṯ and ḏ, e.g. in Figuig Berber k and g did shift to ḵ and ḡ and later to š and y; but the dentals never shifted to interdentals.

"but Berber didn't lose any vowel or consonant because of that contact. "

That's difficult to prove. Most Berber dialects lost at least some consonants in their history (The ʔ (hamza), being the most obvious example only retained in Zenaga of Mauritania, the β consonant is another only retained in Ghadamsi and Awjili and as h in Tuareg). It is not necessarily clear whether these consonants were lost due to contact, but they certainly were lost.

If others would be lost without any trace due to contact with Arabic, how do you suppose we would detect that?

"The introduction of schwa (e) into Maghrebi Arabic from Berber is obvious and massive."

The schwa ə in Maghrebi Arabic is very difficult to generalize, as it is in Berber.

In Many Berber dialects schwa is almost completely non-phonemic. For Maghrebi Arabic, this is more difficult, where short u (ḍammah) seems to at least be marginally phonemic.

Berber originally had two short vowels, schwa, and fatḥah. The only dialects that retain this distinction, Zenaga of Mauritania, Tuareg and Ghadamsi, are specifically dialects that had less contact with Arabic. If anything, this seems to point to vowel system with only schwa as short vowel is due to Arabic influence on Berber rather than the other way around.

Moubarik said...

Hi PhoeniX,

The common spoken Arabic / Arabian variety in North Africa is the Hilalian Arabic both in Algeria/Tunisia and in Morocco (since the Almohad empire forced a part of Hilalian Arabs to move to Morocco from Tunisia). Are you saying that Hilalian might have lacked ث and ذ and ظ before they came to Berber country?

If Hilalian just lost those sounds due to internal evolutions while they were in Berber areas, how do you explain that Hilalian dialects in Algeria and Tunisia have ث and ذ and ظ while Hilalian dialects of Morocco don't?

Is it just a coincidence that Morocco's Hilalian dialects lack/lost ث and ذ and ظ while they were surrounded and enveloped by Mesmuda and Senhaja Berber dialects who happened not to have the sounds ث and ذ and ظ? While Algeria's and Tunisia's Hilalian dialects acquired or didn't lose ث and ذ and ظ while they were surrounded by Zenata Berber dialects who happened to have the sounds ث and ذ and ظ?

The change in Hilalian dialects seems to follow Berber dictates.

Your claim that interdentals in Berber occurred after the Arrival of Arabic (and thus possibly being from Arabic origin) appears to be wrong. Pre-Islamic and Pre-Christian Berber person's names and placenames in Numidia (ancient Algeria) and ancient Tunisia confirm the existence of interdentals. We have the kings Iughurtha (Jughurtha) and Adherbal of Numidia, and many ancient Berber placenames like Thagaste, Thamugadi, Thagora, Thibaris, Theveste, Thinisa, Thugga ...etc. And we have Thamusida in Mauretania (ancient Morocco). All these are transcribed in Latin sources deliberately with "th" and "dh" instead of simple "T" or "D". Classical Latin surely used "th" to transcribe the Greek letter "theta".

Moubarik said...

Hi PhoeniX again,

(PART 2)

You said: "'book' in Tamazight is ləḵṯaḇ and 'to push' is ḏfəʕ both with interdentals in a position where Arabic doesn't have it."

Your examples are Arabic words assimilated into Berber. There is no visible "Arabic influence" that produced "ləḵṯaḇ" or "ḏfəʕ" in Berber. Their cognate and contemporary froms in Hilalian Maghrebi Arabic are still "ləktab" (changed from "al-kétaab") and "dfəɛ" (from "édfaɛ"). So it is Berber that imported those Arabic / Hilalian words and changed them and used them in a way different from how Hilalian-speaker do.

I could give the example of "taẓallit" (prayer) and "timezgida" from Arabic "al-ṣalaah" and "al-masjéd". The change of Arabic ص into Berber "ẓ" and of Arabic ج into Berber "g" doesn't imply an Arabic influence. It implies a Berber influence.

You said: "If others [Berber vowels/consonants] would be lost without any trace due to contact with Arabic, how do you suppose we would detect that?
"

Well this is a question I would ask you. No need for an extraordinary explanation when a simple one is equally valid. So no need to pose an Arabic influence when there is no evidence or pointers to it.

You said: "Berber originally had two short vowels, schwa, and fatḥah. The only dialects that retain this distinction, Zenaga of Mauritania, Tuareg and Ghadamsi, are specifically dialects that had less contact with Arabic. If anything, this seems to point to vowel system with only schwa as short vowel is due to Arabic influence on Berber rather than the other way around."

Why would Arabic cause Berber to lose ă (fatḥa) when "fatḥa" does exist in written Arabic and possibly in Hilalian-Arabic too? If a language had something like (ă) it would encourage it in other languages not cause it to disappear. And Arabic (which doesn't have the schwa) would then cause Berber to lose the schwa not keep it!

Tashelhit-Berber had schwa in pre-modern times, and now it lost it despite that neighboring Hilalian dialects and Berber dialects didn't lose the schwa (and like you said, Hilalian {{short "u", ḍammah, seems to at least be marginally phonemic}}, and is present in bedouin sub-dialects less affected by Berber). This case nullifies Arabic influence even further.

Thanks.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I have no position on the short vowels for the moment - I think the details of the development and the scanty philological evidence require more study first.

Keeping ث ذ ظ needs no explanation, and even if it did, cannot be explained as a result of contact, since most Zenati dialects of the Sahara have none of those sounds whereas the Arabic dialects spoken next to them have all three, and since we have no information on the vanished Berber varieties of northern Tunisia or northeastern Algeria. Losing them might well be a result of contact, but contact with whom? Egyptian and Syrian Arabic lost them too, in Syria occasionally even in the pre-Islamic period, and Maltese lost them despite showing very little Berber influence. That makes it very hard to prove that Berber specifically was responsible for their disappearance in North Africa, though that's one possibility. The Latin evidence is not relevant, by the way - Latin th and ancient Greek theta were both pronounced as t+h, not as ث, and at this period neither language had an unambiguous way to transcribe ث.

The loss of dual agreement on verbs and adjectives is universal in Arabic - no dialect that I know of has kept it, and we can safely assume spoken Arabic lost it before reaching North Africa. The limitation of the dual on nouns to only a small fixed subset (not the body parts, which as you say are plural now, but words like يومين، عامين) is more likely to be a specifically North African development, but you'd expect Berber influence to lead to its disappearance rather than its limitation.

Incidentally, few if any North African dialects are purely Hilalian. The mainstream koine dialects reflect a combinations of Hilalian features with pre-Hilalian urban ones, with the latter playing a major role.

David Marjanović said...

Iughurtha

No, Iugurtha without gh. I'm not aware of Roman transcriptions of anything with gh, a spelling which would hardly have made sense to the Romans.