Saturday, April 23, 2016

Arabic substrate etymologies as urban legends

In Arabic as in English, social networks have a constantly flowing undercurrent of poorly sourced, manipulative stories being shared and reshared by people who vaguely think they sound right. Over the past, say, five years, I've noticed the emergence of a linguistically interesting new subgenre within this miasma of lies and half-truths: etymological tables purporting to prove the massive contribution of Berber, or Syriac, or (more rarely) Coptic, or perhaps some other pre-Arab substrate to the local Arabic dialect. These tables, in my experience, never cite an academic source, and rarely cite anything at all; closer examination generally reveals a farrago of correct etymologies and bad guesses. For example (from the preceding links):
  • Tunisian məlɣiɣa ملغيغة "fontanelle" really is from Berber tamelɣiɣt, a word widely attested in Berber and with no obvious Classical Arabic counterpart...
  • but Tunisian gdər قدر "pot" is of course from the Classical Arabic qidr قِدْرٌ, which ought to be familiar even to elementary school students; the Berber cognates cited are borrowings from Arabic.
  • Tunisian bəkkuš بكّوش "dumb, mute" is slightly less obvious, but again from Arabic: it's an irregular expressive formation from 'abkam أَبْكَمُ, substituting the dialectally rather productive suffix -uš. The suffix might be from Berber, but the root is not.
  • Syrian (and Algerian) dālye دالية "grape-vine" may well be from Aramaic; the word is attested in Syriac with the right meaning (dālī-ṯ-ā "vine-branch, vine"), and belongs to a semantic field where Aramaic borrowings are to be expected from a very early period. Within Arabic, this word was already noted as a regional synonym of karmah in the 10th century by the Palestinian geographer al-Maqdisi.
  • However, Syrian mnīħ منيح "good" has nothing to do with Aramaic; it's a local version of widespread dialectal Arabic malīħ مليح, with nasality assimilation. This adjective exists both in Classical Arabic (malīħ) and in Syriac (malīħ-ā) with the meaning of "salty"; in an era where salt was more expensive than now, this naturally tended to imply "tasty". There is no reason to assume either language borrowed this word from the other, since the root is proto-Semitic and the template is productive in both languages. However, only in dialectal Arabic did it go on to develop the sense of "good", which it now has in a wide variety of dialects including North Africa.
  • More problematic is Syrian wāwā, a baby-talk word for "pain" used (as far as I can see) neither in Syriac nor in Classical Arabic. Syriac does have wāy "woe!", but so does Coptic - and, if it comes to it, English "waaah!" is closer than either. Onomatopeia is a better explanation than borrowing or inheritance in this case.

The optimistic take on this is that it shows that there's a real public demand in the Arabic-speaking world for information on etymology and on substrate influence. The pessimistic take is that people just want "information" confirming what they want to believe - in this case, that they're not really that Arab after all. (The converse case also exists, of course - recall Othmane Saadi - but I haven't seen as much of it circulating on social media, though that may just reflect my own bubble.) The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.


M said...

Thanks for your new post !

So, if I understand well, Dalia (that is used in Morocco as well) is likely to be an Aramaïc word.
However, I would like to know when did the word appear for the first time in Arabic dictionnaries? Was it a word that was used only in the Levant, where the substrate is Amaraïc and that has, afterwards, be added to the dictionaries ?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

If it is from Aramaic, it was certainly borrowed within the Levant or Iraq, and was brought to North Africa by Arab immigrants. Very likely it was borrowed before Islam. In any case, it seems to be attested in Iraq in an Arabic manuscript of 852 AD (, and no doubt a closer look would uncover earlier attestations.

Imed Adel said...

Talking about etymologies, is it possible to get the root of words in Darija such as dda/yddi, ja/yji, xda/yax°(u)d, qra/yqra, and nbi? I have tried following the method used by Arabic grammarians, but many of these words are problematic: Do you consider 'i' as 'ey' or just a vowel 'i'? Do you take into consideration the etymological glottal stop or not (you shouldn't because you are trying to generate the root from the existing words and not from their etymological forms)?

I've also tried the Berber way: drop all the vowels and the repeated consonants. Quite useful, but is it right?

P.S. Take the verbs klika/ykliki (to click) and pṛugṛama/ypṛugṛami (to program) for example, applying the Arabic method gives 'KL(Y)KY' and 'PṚ(W)GRMY' while the Berber Method gives 'KLK' and 'PṚGṚM'.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

To be useful for lexicography, a root should ideally be something from which you can predict all the derived forms, and which you can find given any of those derived forms. Whether it consists only of consonants or includes vowels as well should be a secondary consideration, derived from language-internal facts rather than taken as a priori. The customary Berber way fails in this respect not only for Darja but for Berber as well: not only is it impossible to predict the conjugation of a Berber verb from its consonantal "root", but completely unrelated verbs end up having the same "root". In both Standard Arabic and Darja, it would seem theoretically preferable to include unpredictable short vowels in the root. However, such vowels are relevant to inflection but not to derivation, which makes it lexicographically convenient to drop them. Long vowels, on the other hand, often have to be treated as part of the root in both Standard Arabic and Darja. In Standard Arabic this fact is disguised by rewriting them as semivowels, but I see no reason to extend this practice to Darja. In particular, typical French loan verbs' vowels are stable in all derived forms (except for the final vowel), so there's really no possible justification for excluding their vowels from their roots.

xđa and kla are irregular verbs, so the root is naturally a bit trickier; but derivations like makla, maxđ suggest a root axđ, akl.

Imed Adel said...

Thank you so much. So you basically you suggest the roots "ddi, ji, pṛugṛami, kliki, -axd, -akl"?

What do you suggest for a noun without a verb? Should it be used as it is?

Since my questions are related to a work about the names of species in Darja, do you suggest marking the interdentals (e.g. dib or ðib)? Whenever I think about this issue, I remeber the words tlata/θlaθa/tlaθa, kaġət/kaġəθ, and yfədlək/yfəðlək. Can you give me your opinion about this? (You marked the interdentals in all of your works and writings).

Imed Adel said...

Sorry for confusion between interdentals and dentals.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Yeah, those would do fine as roots for these words. As for nouns without verbs, that would depend on their morphology, and arguably more generally on their shape. You could quite reasonably argue that if xəbbaz "baker" has the root xbz, həjjal "widower" should be assigned the root hjl, for instance; but it would be much harder to argue that maṣṣu "mason" should have any particular root, because nothing about its shape would allow you to break it up into a root plus a discontinuous morpheme.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

As for interdentals and dentals, it depends what you're trying to do. For documenting the language, of course you should mark them. For creating a common standard, it could be argued that not marking them makes it easier for speakers of dialects that don't distinguish them.

Imed Adel said...

Thank you a lot. If I'm not marking interdentals, should I use "ḍ" for every word pronounced with [dˤ] or should I use it only when it can be pronounced with both [ðˤ] and [dˤ]? I mean for example, should I write "ḍuwwaṛ" or "duwwaṛ" (in the second case, the "ḍ" is used with words such as "ḍbeɛ" with [ðˤ])?

Unknown said...

We started a work about words from Berber in north african arabic dialect(s) in Babel forum which, I guess, is serious.
You can see it here :
Some of the words listed are commonly used in north African, some others are specifics to particular areas more influenced by berber language :
ببّوش - bebbūš > escargot

بسّس - bessas > mettre le linge (la بسّاسة)

تبسّس - tbessas > se mettre le linge (la بسّاسة)

بسّاس (ج) بسايس - bessās (pl.) bsāyes > latrines // pot de chambre

بسّاسة - bessāsa > linge passé entre les cuisses de l'enfant pour recevoir ses excréments, couche // pessaire // linge que porte les femmes à l'époque des menstrues

بشّ - bešš > pisser (enfants)

بركس - berkes > rouler, faire le berkūkes

بركوكس - berkūkes \ بربوشة - berbūbša > gros couscous

بزّ (ج) بزوز - beẓẓ (pl.) beẓūẓ > enfant

بزّن - bezzen > mettre en bouillie // gâcher, abîmer // amollir, rendre mou quelqu'un

تبزّن - tbezzen > se mettre en bouillie, s'écraser (surtout fruits)

مبزّن - mebzzen > se met en bouillie (fruit) // mou, mollasse (homme)

بازينة - bāzīna > sorte de bouillie

باعوش - bāʿūš > bestiole

بلبولة - belbūla > bouillie d'orge

تاتة - tāta > caméléon

تبروري - tebrūrī > grêle // neige (parler arabe juif d'Alger)

تازرة - tāzra > corde en palmier nain (ouest)

تكّوك - tikkūk > coucou

تكّك - tekkak > courir de côté et d'autre, se dit des bœufs piqués par un taon et effrayés

تمارة - tamāra > fatigue, peine physique

توّز - tewwez > faire une corvée de labour

تويزة - twīza > entraide, corvée de labour

توّس - tawwas > contribuer à la collecte (la tāwsa) // faire cette collecte

تاوسة - tāwsa > collecte que l'on fait dans un mariage ou dans une fête, dont le produit est pour le marié ou pour celui qui donne la fête

لمّ التاوسة - lamm l-tāwsa > faire cette collecte // quête // repas fait par souscription

جعلل - ǧaʿlel > balancer

جعلولة - ǧaʿlūla > balançoire

بو جغلولو - bū ǧeġlūlū > escargot

جلّاط - ǧellāṭ > confusion, désordre, tintamarre

يخلّاط و يجلّاط - yiẖllāṭ wa yiǧllāṭ > il met tout sens dessus dessous, il parle à tord et à travers

جرانة - ǧrāna > grenouille

خيخي - ẖīẖī > sale (enfants)

ديدي - dīdī > bobo (enfants)

دادوش - dādūš > marche (enfants)

دريز - drīz > bruit du galop d'un cheval, d'une voiture qui roule, etc.

أدريس - adrīs > thapsia

أدغاس - ādġās > colostrum

دمر - dmer > bourrer, choquer, heurter

تدامر - tdāmer > se choquer, se heurter

دمرة - demra > bourrade, choc, heurt

دمامة - demāmā \ أدماماي - ādmāmāy > aubépine

أرَدَّر - ārdder > sorte de jeu de colonnes

روّن - rūwen > délayer // mêler, tourner avec une cuillère // embrouiller les mots

تروّن - trūwen > se délayer

روّاني - rūwānī > mangeur de rwīna

روينة - rwīna > farine de blé grillé qu'on détrempe dans l'eau pour la manger

تروين - terwīn > délayement

مروّن - mrūwen > délayé

طعام مروّن - ṭaʿām mrūwen > couscous mal cuit, en pâte

زبّوج - zebbūǧ > olivier sauvage

أزدوز - āzdūz > pilon

تزقّة - tazzeqa > (du kabyle) maisonnette couverte de tuiles

زرموط (ج) زرامط - zermūṯ (pl.) zrāmeṯ > ver de terre (Est)

زرمومية - zermūmiya > lézard

Unknown said...

زلف - zellef / زلّف - zelf > griller ; parer une tête de mouton avec un fer rouge // flamber ; griller // brûler ; griller le teint

تزلّف - tzellef > être flambé ; se flamber // se bronzer ; se hâler

زلّيف - zellīf / زلّوف - zellūf / بو زلّوف - bū zellūf > tête de mouton parée pour être mangée

مزلّف - mzellef > flambé // halé ; bronzé ; bruni // grillé

زلّڤ - zelleg > enfiler // faire des zlāg // retordre le fil de laine après qu'il a été filé // lisser le fil pour la couture des souliers // remanier le gros couscous

زلاڤ - zlāg > chapelet de feuilles de tabac

زلّوڤ - zellūg > chapelet de figue

مزوار - mezwār > chef de douar

مزوارة - mezwāra > première épouse

زاوش (ج) زواوش - zāweš (pl.) zwāweš > petit oiseau, en général // moineau (parler arabe juif d'Alger)

زاوڤ - zāwg > chercher protection (Maroc)

زواڤ - zwāg > protection

مزواڤ - mezwāg > qui cherche protection

اسَدّو - āsddū > bouchon (Skikda) *probablement formé à partir d'une racine arabe

ساروت - sārūt > clef

سردوك (ج) سرادك - serdūk (pl.) srādek > coq

سردوك الهند - serdūk l-hind > dindon

اسافو - āsāfū > tison, morceau de bois allumé (Taher)

سلبة الفار - slebt l-fār > chiendent

أسلمون - aselmūn > myrte

شبّيردو - šbīrdū > fouine, raton, homme petit et rusé (fig.)

أشاشو - āšāšū > mesure à grain

شلاغم - šlāġem > moustache

شلمون - šilmūn > myrte

شنافة (ج) شنايف - شنوفة - šnāfa (pl.) šnāyef - šnūfa > lèvre, grosse lèvre (péjoratif)

تشنّف - tšennef > faire le hautain, mépriser, faire la lippe, faire la moue, bouder, faire la gueule
شاشرة - šāšir \ غشاشر - ġšāšir \ إشير - īšīr > enfant / garçon

أطريلال - aṭrīlāl \ أطليلال - aṭlīlāl > ptychotis

غروطة (ج) غرايط - ġrūṭa (pl.) ġrāyeṭ > omoplate

غروطي - ġrūṭī > par force, de force, forcé

غرسن (ج) غراسن - ġersen (pl) ġrāsen et غرصن (ج) غراصن - ġerṣen (pl) ġrāṣen > résidu d'une ancienne chaîne placée sur le métier à tisser (ouest)

غراس - ġrās et غراسة (ج) غرايس - ġrāsa (pl.) ġrāyes > ruche d'abeilles, ruche à miel // coffre de l'homme, la partie supérieure du corps

غروس - ġrūs et بوغرّوس - bū ġerrūs > espèce de sandales en cuir cru

غزّ - ġeẓẓ > ronger, mordiller, manger des choses dures

غزّيت راس باباك - ġeẓẓīt rās bābāk > tu as croqué la tête de ton père = ton père est mort
انغزّ - īnġaẓẓ > se ronger, être rongé

غزّ - ġeẓẓ > action de ronger

غزّاز - ġeẓẓāẓ > rongeur (adj.)

مغزّ - mġeẓẓ > rongeur

مغزوز - meġẓūẓ > rongé

تغزاز - teġẓāẓ et تغزايز - teġẓāyeẓ > micocoulier

غسمار - ġesmār > mâchoire

غنجاية - ġenǧāya > cuillère à café (Tunisie)

غنجة \ غنجية - ġenǧaya / ġenǧa et بو غنجة - bū ġenǧa> poupée confectionnée avec la grande cuillère à couscous et enveloppée de chiffons que l'on promène solennellement pour obtenir de la pluie

غلّس - ġelles > crépir avec du bousillage, enduire // bousiller une aire

تغلاس - teġlās et تغليس - taġlīs > crépissure, crépi de boue

مغلّس - mġelles > crépi, enduit avec du bousillage // emplâtré, barbouillé, sale (visage, mains)

فجغال - feǧġāl > jeunes fèves mangées crues avec la gousse

فداوش - fdāweš > vermicelles

فرّر - ferrār > crémer (lait)

فرارة - frāra > crème du lait frais ou du lait bouilli // pellicule qui se forme sur les liquides

أفرور - āfrūr > poterie rouge en argile

فرطاسة - ferṭāsa > teigne

فرطاس - ferṭās > teigneux, chauve

تافزّة - tāfza > grès tendre

فسكر - fesker > dévider en écheveau

تفسكر - tfesker > se dévider en écheveau

فسكار (ج) فساكر - feskār (pl.) fsāker > écheveau

تفسكير - tfeskīr > dévidage

مفسكر - mfesker > dévidé

فطيس (ج) فطايس - fṯīs (pl.) fṯāyes > masse de fer pour casser des pierres

Unknown said...

بو فرططّو - bū ferṭeṭū \ فرططّو - ferṭeṭū > papillon

فغول (ج) فغايل - fġūl (pl.) fġāyel > monstre ; animal qui à une conformation contraire à l'ordre de la nature

فكرون - fekrūn > tortue

فنزر - fenzer > faire saigner du nez

تفنزر - tfenzer > saigner du nez

تفنزير - tfenzīr > saignement de nez

ڤدّل - geddel > mettre un terrain en prairie // accaparer (fig.), prendre quelque chose ou quelqu'un pour soi seul, l'occuper exclusivement // consigner un lieu

ڤدال \ ڤديل - gdāl \ gdīl > prairie, pré réservé, pâturage réservé

مڤدّل - megddel > mis en prairie, terrain // accaparé (fig.) // consigné (bien)

ڤرّج - gerreǧ > ébrécher un pot, lui faire plusieurs brèches

ڤرّوج (ج) ڤرارج - gerrūǧ (pl.) grāreǧ > ustensile tout ébréché // brèche (dents) // cruche mutilée dont il ne reste que le ventre

ڤرّوجة (ج) ڤرارج - gerrūǧa (pl.) grāreǧ > bagatelle, brimborion, colifichet, fanfreluche // chiffons de femmes, affiquets

مڤرّج - mgerreǧ > tout ébréché (pot)

بو ڤرمان - bū garmān ou بو ڤرامان - bū grāmān > aunée

ڤرشالة - geršāla > son fin où il reste une certaine quantité de farine // blé moulu dont on a retiré la semoule

ڤلاف (ج) ڤلايف - gelāf (pl.) glāyef > essaim

قليلو - qlīlū > chlora grandiflora

ڤلمونة - gelmūna > capuche

ڤنين - gnīn > lapin *forme proche du latin cuni, étymologie obscure

أڤوال (ج) أڤولان - āgwāl (pl.) āgūlān > tambour

كركور - kerkūr > tas de pierres sacrés

كسكسو - kesksū \ كسكسي - kusksī \ سكسو - seksū > couscous

كسكاس - keskās > couscoussier

كيضار - kīḍār > cheval de somme

كفكف - kefkef > écumer

كفكوف (ج) كفاكف - kefkūf (pl.) kfākef > écume, bave // écume, sueur du cheval

كفكوفة (ج) كفاكف - kefkūfa (pl.) kfākef > flocon d'écume // voile du palais du chameau qu'il fait sortir de la bouche quand il est en rut

مكفكف - mkefkef > écumant, écumeux

لوس - lūs > beau-frère

لوسة - lūsa > belle-sœur

لالّة - lālla > dame

أليط - alīṭ > orgelet

أمدر - āmdar > branche (Maroc)

مرد - mered > se traîner par terre

مرّاد - merrād > qui se traîne

الجراد المرّاد - l-ǧrād l-merrād> jeunes sauterelles qui n'ont pas encore d'ailes, criquets

مرّويت - merrūyet \ مرنويت - mernūyet > marrube

مازوزي - maẓūẓī > tardif, dernier né

زعر مازوزي - zaʿara māẓūẓi > semer tardivement

مزيان - mezyān > jeune

مسّاطة (ج) مساسط - messāṭa (pl.) msāseṭ > os coxal, hanche // fesses (Ouest)

ممسوط - memsūṭ > déhanché, qui a une hanche plus haute que l'autre, cheval

مسّوس - messūs > insipide, fade // pain azyme

مش - meš > chat

ماڤرامان - māgrāmān > aunée

مولاب - mūlāb > lézard vert

أميلوس - āmīlūs \ أمالوس - āmālūs \ مالوس - mālūs \ ميلوس - mīlūs > boue

ميلوسي - mīlūsī > boueux (nord tunisien)

مليلس - mlīles > nerprun

ملغيغة - melġīġa > fontanelle

ممّي - memmī > bébé

ميموش - mīmūš > minet, minou // mot qu'on dit aussi pour appeler un chat

نسار - nsēr > moucher

نڤافة - negāfa > femme accompagnant la mariée

أنڤول - āngul > galette d'orge

نڤيول - ngīwul > petit pain renflé à ses deux extrémités et avec un étranglement au milieu

أنغور (ج) أنغران - ānġūr (pl.) ānġrān > trou

نانّا - nānnā > grand mère // nom donnée à la sage femme par l'enfant à la naissance duquel elle a assisté

تينسنست - tīnesnest > crasse blanche de la tête \ pellicules des cheveux, écailles furfuracées de la tête

هجّال - heǧǧāl > veuf

هجّالة - heǧǧāla > veuve

تهجّيل - tahǧǧīl > veuvage

هلموش - helmūš > myrte

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That's quite a list - thanks for sharing it. Probably most of it is of Berber origin, but I can see several problematic cases - šlāɣəm and sərdūk, for example, are quite unlikely to be Berber. gnina for "rabbit" is definitely not from Berber, but rather from Latin or more recent Romance. Reviewing the whole list would be a huge job...

Unknown said...

Thanks !

Actually, I also have doubts about šlāɣəm and sərdūk but I can't find their roots.

For gnina, I know the latin word cuniculus for rabbit but in the Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue latine (Ernout and Meillet) it's said that this word isn't from indo-european origin but from some old spanish language, maybe the iberian one (Pline : leporum cuniculos apellat, fcunditalis innumerae famemque Baliarum insulis populatis messibus afferentes).

We can imagine that both berber and latin inherit it from this spanish language or that the language from which cuniculus come from was related to berber and that's why the berber agnin and the latin cuniculus look similar. It seems "weird" that ancient Berbers took a word from latin to name an indigenous animal of their land while Latins - whom were strangers around the Mediterranean sea - didn't knew it.

Anyway, we can supose that north african arabic loan it from berber, not from latin.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Not a bad argument as far as it goes, but a closer look at the regional variation indicates otherwise. Within Arabic, it's attested with q and g (qunn in Bechar); such q/g variation is well-attested for Romance borrowings, but very rare in borrowings from Berber. Moreover, in light of qunn, gnina is easily recognised as a diminutive of *gunn, just as cuniculus is of cun-; Andalusi Arabic qunayla reflects the Romance diminutive suffix. Finally, within Berber agnin has a very limited distribution, and nothing suggests that it can be reconstructed for proto-Berber; the proto-Berber word for hare is clearly ayerẓiẓ. Almost certainly, the few Berber varieties that have this word got it from Arabic, and Arabic got it from Romance/Latin.

As for sərduk, I'm not sure it's even attested in Berber at all; certainly it has no connection with the dominant Berber roots for "rooster" and "chicken". Behnstedt and Woidich consider its etymology unknown, but probably it's some kind of compound based on Arabic dīk.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Another non-Berber one is šnāfa "lip", cf. Arabic šafah. A better attested, clearly non-borrowed Berber form for "lip" is aḍlis.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your answers.

Actually, there ara two words in berber for hare/rabbit : awtul and ayerẓiẓ

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

There are, yes, but the latter is geographically much more widepread than the former. As a matter of fact, the distribution of the two (awtul being limited to the north, basically) makes it possible to imagine that at some point maybe awtul was the word for (wild) rabbit, while ayerẓiẓ was the hare proper.

Imed Adel said...

A recent tendency among Tunisian Darijists is trying to prove that everything in Tunisian Arabic is actually from Punic. This includes even the verb conjugation.

It's weird how people ignore all the linguistic papers and try to come up with their own conclusions....