Tuesday, May 15, 2012
I recently arrived in Siwa – a pleasant experience as always, quite unaffected by the political turbulence of Cairo – and since getting here, I've repeatedly been learning the meanings of words I thought I already knew. Siwi has turart and adrar, whose cognates throughout Berber mean “hill” and “mountain” respectively. But a turart can hardly be called a hill – some are rock outcrops not much taller than a man – and the flat-topped layered “mountains” of Siwa that they call adrar would in English usually be considered hills, though the term can be used for larger ones too. ləbħaṛ can obviously mean “sea”, as in Arabic; but in fact, in a Siwi context it primarily refers not to the sea but to the two large lakes of the oasis. lašqəṛ is familiar from Arabic – Ibn Hazm notes, for example, that the Umayyad dynasty of al-Andalus were all blond ('ašqar), thanks to their seemingly heritable marital preferences – but it doesn't actually mean “blond” in Siwi, though that's an associated symptom; it means “albino” (albinism is fairly common in Siwa for some reason; it must be hard having no melanin in a place which hardly ever sees a cloud, but they seem to manage.) iləm is “skin”, as elsewhere in Berber; but the thick skin or hide of a sheep, which Siwis cook on special occasions, is not iləm, it's the Arabic loan əjjəld. Semantic elicitation is trickier than it might seem! Another etymologically interesting item of vocabulary I've learned is agbez “cowrie shell”, used in decoration. The word must be related somehow to Kwarandzyey (Korandje) tsyagmʷəš, but the correspondences are fairly funky. I wonder what it's called in Libyan Berber...
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