Friday, September 15, 2017

Berber and not so Berber words in Tunisian Arabic

Not too long ago I finished reading Lotfi Sayahi's Diglossia and Language Contact: Language Variation and Change in North Africa. The book is a valuable contribution to the study of synchronic language contact between Tunisian Arabic, Standard Arabic, and French in Tunisia, with some coverage of the rest of the region as well. Unfortunately, when it briefly looks at Berber lexical influence on Arabic (pp. 135, 187), reflecting joint work with Zouhir Gabsi, its conclusions are rather over-hasty. Since this book is likely to become a standard point of departure for English speakers studying language contact in North Africa, I think it's worth correcting the record here even at the risk of being pedantic:
  • fakru:n "turtle" and ferzazzu "wasp" really are Berber, though the -u:n suffix in the former was first added in dialectal Arabic (almost all Berber varieties have forms similar to Kabyle ifker/ikfer).
  • garžu:ma "throat" is a very difficult word to etymologize, but may ultimately be Berber (compare Tuareg a-gurzăy), although it does bring to mind Romance forms such as French gorge.
  • karmu:s "fig" is clearly derived from karm-a "fig tree", which is definitely not Berber, and seems to come from a narrowing of the meaning of Classical Arabic كرم karm "orchard" (see the brief discussion in Behnstedt & Woidich 2011:491). The suffix -u:s might theoretically be Berber, I suppose, but probably not; it's not widely attested across Berber, and it fits well with the widespread dialectal Arabic pattern of augmentatives in -u:-.
  • sebsi: "pipe" is from Turkish sipsi.
  • bu-telli:s "monster/nightmare" ("sleep paralysis", to be precise) is a compound involving bu- "possessor of" (originally "father of") plus telli:s (a kind of rug). The latter is well-attested within Arabic in the Middle East as well as in North Africa; its etymology is controversial, but it may derive from Latin trilicium "triple-twilled fabric".
  • ḍabbu:ṭ "axilla" (ie "armpit") is evidently an expressive formation from Arabic إبط 'ibṭ. The widespread Berber word for this is rather taddeɣt (from which we get Maghrebi Arabic dəɣdəɣ "tickle").
  • dagdag "to shatter" is a reduplicated form from Arabic دقّ daqqa "pulverize".

I don't have the time to check the rest of the reduplicated verbs he cites (tartar "to mutter", dardar "to muddy", maxmax "to nibble", maṣmaṣ "to rinse", sɛksɛk "to flow", tɛftɛf "to graze", and wɛdwɛd "to talk nonsense"), but maxmax and maṣmaṣ include phonemes with no regular proto-Berber sources, and I doubt any of them is really Berber in origin.

I don't mean to pick on the authors; notwithstanding this brief lapse, it's a good book, and worth reading. But I do want to hammer home to every linguist the message that etymology needs to be done properly. If you want to do etymology in a North African dialect, don't just assume that any word you don't recognize from Modern Standard Arabic or French is a Berber loanword; check other regional languages (especially Turkish), check existing publications on the subject, check the distribution of the word across different Berber and Arabic varieties. Etymology may not be a very trendy subject, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

16 comments:

Abu Ilyás said...

According to F. Corriente (A Dictionary of Andalusi Arabic, 1997, p. 80), "bu-telli:s" would rather be a folk etymology for Greek ἐφιάλτης (nightmare, phantom).

I wonder whether this "one with the basket" (or "the blanket") relates to the figure of the Sack Man.

Imed Adel said...

Bechir Lamine suggests the word καρπός as an etymon for kǝṛmuṣ

Abu Ilyás: Sack Man is actually bu-škaṛa (a man who takes naughty children in the afternoon). It's very different from bu-tǝllis, the monster/jǝnn who paralyzes you during sleep.

opoudjis said...

Etymologies. They're what you look for on the Tiber, not the Ganges...

Abu Ilyás said...

Imed: Of course, they are not the same, but, since تليس means a large sack too (cf. Coptic "thallis"), the figure of بوشكارة (or أبو كيس in the Middle East) might have helped ἐφιάλτης (sleep paralysis) be analyzed as أبو تليس.

L.H said...
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LAYACHI Hamza said...

Thanks for the post.
I think there are two words that shouldn't be mixed up : tellis (kind of rug or even cloth bag, word indeed Latine) and bu-tellis (monster).
I will assume the latter comes from the pan-berber root "WLS" (darkness). In Tamazight, "tillass" beyond its first meaning, also refers to "lies/ fake tales", which is very close to the meaning of "bou-tellis".
I would like to add that "bou-tellis" means in Morocco (espacially in the countryside) a disease that leads to loss of sight (« affection de la vue qui rend la vision presque nulle après le coucher du soleil ») Dictionnaire arabe - français (de culture et langue marocaines) De Prémare, Tome 6, p156. / it can refer to a nightmare as we can hear it there : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0c7lHCPBkD8 (10:10). Therefore, the tunisian (and Fassi : De Prémare, ibid) meaning of "monster / nightmare" is very likely to be a Berberism:
Darkness > loss of sight > monster, nightmare.

Some tribes around Casablanca still use the verb "telless" (make it dark). Darkness in all jbala's varieties is "asalass" (the factitif of WLS (S+WLS) ; in all berbers dialects, "sulles" means "make it dark", e.g in Tamazight: isulless l-hal (it's getting dark) vs "iffu-d lhal" (it's getting light). In Sefrou (about 35km south of Fès) where was spoken (and is still spoken by elder people) a variety of "Prehilali Arabic", we find the expression "lhemm ou illass"! (i.e Damn!). Lhemm : worry / illass seems to have lost it's first acceptation but according to the context, it very likely refers to darkness, nightmare etc...

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

Abu Ilyás: I hadn't noticed Corriente's solution, but now I see it, I find it rather appealing, though not quite certain.

Imed: There is a possible piece of corroborating evidence for that hypothesis from Kabyle: akurbuz "unripe figs" (Dallet). In light of that form, we might suppose that the pan-Maghrebi form kəṛmus got reshaped under the influence of kəṛma through folk etymology, and was originally kəṛbus. But I'd be happier if forms with a b turned up in more than one place.

Opoudjis: I'm afraid the allusion went over my head!

Hamza: That's an interesting suggestion, but I don't see how to get the vowel pattern of təllis from the Berber forms; the Greek etymology seems more appealing. As for lhemm ou illass, I wonder if the second word isn't derived from اليأس.

LAYACHI Hamza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LAYACHI Hamza said...

Thanks for your reply.
لياس is used in Moroccan Arabic. قطع لياس: to give up. I don't think إلاس :chedda above ll (like تيلاس).
The vowel pattern could be explained by the fact that Arabic didn't borrow to current Berber but to older varieties. Actually, it reminds me tislit (Taqvaylit, Tamazight) versus taslit elsewhere

AB said...

I'm not sure I quite understand how ḍabbūṭ is an expressive formation from 'ibṭ. Does that mean it is essentially a random derivation (i.e. there is no specific "expressive" morpheme or pattern).

PhoeniX said...

AB: Well expressive formations, at least in Berber, and it seems by extension North-African Arabic are not completely "random". The pattern can be summed up as: XəCCVC where X is an 'exotic' consonant, and V stands for a plain vowel. But yes there is not one clear way to create an expressive formation. But expressive formations are real, and rather common in Berber. Some common examples from Berber:

Kb. abuḍ ‘navel’, expressive: aεəbbuḍ ‘belly’
Tamazight tadist ‘belly’, expressive: aεəddas, aεəddis ‘id.’
Kb. ašəlbuḍ ‘blister’
Tashl. ašrwiḍ ‘rag’
MA aεəlluš ‘lamb’, Men. tɣallaš ‘ewe’, Kb. aqəlwaš ‘billy-goat’

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

AB: You're right to highlight this as problematic; I don't think we fully understand the phenomenon of expressive formations yet (at least I certainly don't). In this specific case, the template CəCCuC is particularly common in Maghrebi Arabic for such formations (look at /qədduṛ/ from Abdelkader, or /ħəmmud/ from Ahmed), and that gives us /'əbbuṭ/. It's not obvious where the /ḍ/ came from, but expressive formations do tend to get these extra consonants; compare Dellys Arabic /ḥmiṭəṛ/ "little donkey" instead of expected */ḥmiyyəṛ/.

AB said...

Thanks for your thoughts.
Phoenix: the first two examples you give certainly fit the pattern XǝCCVC; the final one is unclear-what would it be the expressive formation of?
Lameen: isn't the pattern CǝCCVC a diminutive pattern, or at least is as modification of a diminutive pattern (e.g. šābb > šabbūb) as in the ḥmiṭǝr example.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I don't see anything particularly diminutive about the semantics of CəCCuC - a /xənnufa/ needn't be any smaller than a /nif/, and /ħəmmud/ is if anything more likely to refer to an adult than to a kid. But I'm open to persuasion if you have examples. What does šabbūb mean?

AB said...

I suppose it has to do with how diminutives are used, in some places at least as forms of endearment so that words like šabbūb and ḥabbūb are more endearing (or expressive, if you will) forms of šābb "guy" and ḥabīb "dear". But perhaps those are not diminutives, which is what I originally thought, but a more general form of expression or endearment. More name examples are coming to mind (addūm), but they are used in the same way as actual diminutives of names: ržūba < ražab, ḥmayda < ḥamad or muḥammad, etc (not all names of course have this CǝCCVC form, *ražžūb).

petre Tepner said...

AB good point about diminutives. It can happen that words that look (morphologically) like diminutives are actually (semantically) augmentatives.

More generally "etymology needs to be done properly" is a slogan I would have branded, or at least tattooed on every linguistic student. If anyone was thinking of specializing in Balkan historical linguistics, please don't, if you wish to preserve your sanity: it's a never-ending hellish game of "pass the parcel" combined with "musical chairs".