Saturday, December 08, 2007

More from Tabelbala

“əl`əyš ṭazu, əlma iri العيش طازو، الماء إيري
əlləṛḍ gəndza, ssma bini.” الأرض قندا، السما بيني

“Couscous is ṭazu, water iri,
earth is gəndza, sky bini.”

- A locally widely known ditty summarising Kwarandjie. Its antiquity is shown by the second line: across Songhay ganda and beene mean “earth” and “sky”, but in Kwarandjie their cognates have been restricted to “down” and “up”, with “earth” and “sky” normally expressed by dzəw and igərwən respectively - and the latter, while Berber, appears from the absence of an a before the w to have been borrowed not from Middle Atlas Tamazight nor Tabeldit (“ksours sud-oranien”) nor but from a language similar to Zenaga, which has not been spoken around here since the Reguibat's ancestors reached the area some five hundred plus years ago. Readers who know a little Berber may assume the r is a typo, as I at first did on reading Cancel, but it is not: I take it to be the product of dissimilation (n...n > l...n) plus the common Kwarandjie sound shift l > r. On the other hand, for the rhyme (such as it is) to work, the sound changes –e > -i and –a- > -e- [and thence to > i] / _r, at least, must already have happened.

The work continues. I've filled up five notebooks and made another few recordings, some quite interesting; my sketch grammar has reached 30 pages. I've gotten to know quite a large number of faces, something I find far more difficult than memorising words - although the latter is made easier by the habit of many people in this town of testing my knowledge of every noun they can think of on the spur of the moment.

Kwaṛa-n-dyəy, like many non-Arabic languages of the region, has a coded register in which Arabic loanwords or other expressions likely to be comprehensible to an outsider listener are replaced with other expressions. This register is quite extensive, and is known to many though not all speakers in all three towns. Since all numbers above 3 are Arabic borrowings, and hiding numbers is often particularly useful in trade, it perforce uses a base-5 counting system based on kembi "hand", a situation with parallels in several other Saharan oases which has led some to the probably mistaken idea that proto-Berber was base 5.

I have an open request from several interested citizens of Tabelbala for a competent archeologist, geologist, paleontologist, or other specialist in disciplines relevant to understanding and preserving the area's heritage to come and study. If you know or are such a person, please take note: you will find ample assistance and encouragement, and be welcomed hospitably. (Relevant bibliographical references would also be great.) The ruins of several medieval if not older towns are buried under the sands here, and some people at least would like to see them studied. You would be expected to make whatever information you find available to the town's citizens, and to help lobby for a local museum to put them in.

Qriqesh just came in, and requests that I put his nickname online for all to see: so here it is. (His real name is Abdallah Yahiaoui.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This book is fairly thorough:
Une oasis du Sahara Nord-Occidental : Tabelbala
Type Book
Author(s) Francine Dominique Champault
Publisher Paris: Centre national de la recherche scientifique
Pub. year 1969
Pag. and ill. 486 p.: ill., graf., krt., tab.; 28 cm
Notes Bibliogr.: p. 451-464