Thursday, February 27, 2014

Korandjé music video (Algeria's other language)

As regular readers will know, for some years I've been working on the only language of Algeria that's neither Arabic nor Berber – Korandjé, spoken in a tiny oasis betwen Bechar and Tindouf called Tabelbala. A little while ago, we saw a brief video of one of its closest relatives, the Tagdal language of Niger. Today, for the benefit of anyone who may have wondered what Korandjé sounds like, I'd like to present the first music video in Korandjé to reach YouTube – a nostalgic song in a Middle Eastern style by Abdou Makhloufi:

Musically and poetically, it's rather derivative (and not derivative of Tabelbala's traditions either). But I salute the author's efforts anyway; it's not easy to go against the flow, and the trend in Tabelbala is very much to leave music (and most other domains of life) to Arabic. Here's an attempt at a transcript, minus most of the repetition (almost every line is repeated at least twice):

عباعمير كُارا عباعمير
ʕ-baʕam-yər kʷạrạ, ʕ-baʕam-yər
I-wanna-return town, I-wanna-return
I wanna go back home, I wanna go back,

تكُّاري ندا ادرا ن لهوا ابيسحر
tsəkkʷạrəy ndz’ adṛạ n ləhwa a-b-yisħər
sand and mountain ’s air it-IMPF-enchant
The sand and the mountain air are enchanting,

عباعمير كُارا عباعمير
ʕ-baʕam-yər kʷạrạ, ʕ-baʕam-yər
I-wanna-return town, I-wanna-return
I wanna go back home, I wanna go back.

ومّوغيسي، عباعميرنيسي
wə-ṃṃə̣w-ɣəy-si, ʕ-baʕam-t-ndzi-si
y’all!-listen-me-to, I-wanna-say-y’all-to
Y'all listen up, I wanna tell you all,

اوغ اكّس ان كُارا، توغا اڤُّاسي
uɣ əkkəs an kʷạrạ, tsuɣạ ggwạ-a-si
who abandon his town, what remains-him-to
Someone who abandons his hometown, what's left for him?

عباعمير كُارا عباعمير
ʕ-baʕam-yər kʷạrạ, ʕ-baʕam-yər
I-wanna-return town, I-wanna-return
I wanna go back home, I wanna go back.

الله الله، ڤايو زّينيو بايو
əḷḷạh əḷḷạh, gạ-yu zzin-yu gạ-yu
God God, house-s old-s house-s
O Lord O Lord, the old houses,

ڤايو، بايو ندا لغاديايو
gạ-yu, bạ-yu ndza lɣadya-yu
house-s, person-s and ???-s
The houses, the people and the ???s,

ڤُند عفّكّر كُارا، عاهيو
gundz ʕa-f-fəkkəṛ kʷạṛạ, ʕa-hyu
when I-ed-remember town, I-cry
When I remembered the hometown, I cried.

عباعمير كُارا عباعمير
ʕ-baʕam-yər kʷạrạ, ʕ-baʕam-yər
I-wanna-return town, I-wanna-return
I wanna go back home, I wanna go back.

تاميسا عباعمدغنني، تامسّخ ما كُنّاني
tsamis a ʕ-baʕam-dɣən-ni, tsaməssəx ma kunna ni!
how FOC I-gonna-forget-you, how what find you!
How could I forget you, how – what's wrong with you!

ڤُا بايباهنڤاني، آ نمبغسي واراني
gwạ bạ-i-ba-hanga-ni; a nən bə̣nɣ-si wara ni
stay person-s-have-follow-you, ah your head-to even you
Stay, people are following you; ah, (stay) for yourself too!

تاميسا عباعمدغنني، تامسّخ ما كُنّاني
tsamis a ʕ-baʕam-dɣən-ni, tsaməssəx ma kunna ni!
how FOC I-gonna-forget-you, how what find you!
How could I forget you, how – what's wrong with you!

اقّا عقّوم عمزوني، عمزوني
əgga ʕa-ggum ʕa-m-zəw-ni, ʕa-m-zəw-ni – əgga ʕa-ggum
PAST I-swear I-'d-take-you, I-'d-take-you – PAST I-swear
I had sworn to marry you, to marry you

نزّو افيط نكّسغي
nə-zzəw a-fyəṭ nə-kkəs-ɣi
you-take an-other you-abandon-me;
You married another and left me;

تامسّخ ما كُنّاني
tsaməssəx ma kunna ni!
how what find you!
How – how could you!

نن لقبيلت اسبغغي، اسبغغي - نن لقبيلت
nn ləqbilət a-s-bəɣ-ɣəy, a-s-bəɣ-ɣəy – nn ləqbilət
your tribe it-not-like-me, it-not-like-me – your tribe
Your tribe doesn't like me, doesn't like me – your tribe;

إدرامن اسباغيسي
idṛạmən əs-bạ-ɣəy-si
money not-be-me-to
I don't have money

آغي عمبين اكُّاري، نبّي مسّخ من بكري
aɣəy ʕan bin ək-kwạrəy, nə-b-bəy məssəx mən bəkri
Me my heart is-white, you-PF-know thus from long_ago
But my heart is clear, you've always known that

تامسّخ ما كُنّا ني
tsaməssəx ma kunna ni!
how what find you!
How – how could you!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

18th century Zenaga poetry and language change

By far the most distant Berber variety from the rest – a separate language by even the most generous standards, as the lines quoted below will probably convince you – is Zenaga, the Berber of Mauritania. In an old article by Harry Norris (1969), "Znaga Islam during the 17th and 18th centuries", I recently came across an passage in a photograph of a page from a 20th-century Mauritanian manuscript called Dhāt alwāḥ wa-dusur, discussing a poem written in Zenaga by Wālid bin Khālunā al-Daymānī (d. 1797), and containing words already obsolete by the commenter's time. The article says this was to be published by James Bynon, but that doesn't appear to have happened. While I can make out much of it, especially with the help of two partial translations into Arabic quoted in the article, I cannot fully parse the few lines given there – perhaps some commenters will join in the fun of decipherment. The author also throws in some unexpectedly insightful observations on language change...

وأما الثانية فيعسر ضبطها جدا لأن الفاظها كلها عجمية ومع ذلك فتلك الالفاظ قد اندرست اليوم وعدم من يعرفها لأن اللغات تتبدّل فكل سنة تنسى كلمات ويوتى بآخر غير معهودة ولولا محافظة الناس على اللغة العربية في الدهر الذي نزل فيه الوحي تبدلت بالكلية حتى لا يوجد من يعرفها ويدلّ على ذلك ان العرب الاقاح في هذا الدهر الذي نحن فيه قد تغيرت السنتهم حتى لا يتكادون يفهمون العربية الاصلية الا ان يتعلموها وتسمى هذه الثانية بالمزروف ومطلعها:

اترگ نئك اراكلئذ * ايشذ ننتا شد اذچان
ايش اتؤچش اذ تنجگفئذ يسگذان اشرن يستغان

قوله اكلئد اي السلطان
وقوله اتؤجش اي وجوده
وقوله تنجگفئذ اي القدم
وقوله نِ اي انا اي القائم بنفسه

"As for the second [poem], it is very difficult to determine it, because its words are all non-Arabic, yet those words have become rare today and no one knows them any more – since languages change. Every year some words are forgotten, and others, little-known, are brought forth. If people had not preserved the Arabic language at the time when the revelation came down, it would have changed completely, to the point that no one would know it. This is shown by the fact that the tongues of the Arabs of our time have changed, until they can barely understand original Arabic unless they have studied it. This second [poem] is called "al-Mazrūfa", and it opens with:

əttäräg niʔk är ägälliʔḏ – äyš äḏ nəttä šd äḏžān
äyš ätuʔž-əš äḏ tənd'əgfiʔḏ – yässəgḏān āš ni yəstəġān

("I ask of the Sultan * He who is my owner
Whose existence is eternity without beginning * who is rich, who needs nothing")
  • His saying ägälliʔḏ means "Sultan".
  • His saying ätuʔž-əš means "his existence".
  • His saying tənd'ägfiʔḏ means "eternity without beginning".
  • His saying ni means "I" ie "the independent"."

From Taine-Cheikh (2007), we find that ättər is "ask", and əttär-äg therefore perfective "I ask"; niʔk is "I" (note the carefully written glottal stop!); and är is "from". Perhaps unsurprisingly given this passage, ägälliʔḏ has not made it into the modern era, so the vocalisation is conjectural, but it is obviously cognate with Tashelhiyt agllid "Sultan". äyš is a relative complementiser ("that") normally combined with a resumptive pronoun; äḏ is the copula ("is"); nəttä "he" is presumably the expected resumptive pronoun (the text actually clearly has two n's, but I'm assuming one of them is a typo). The rest of the line is a bit of a mystery; my best guess is that it involves the perfective participle of the verb "own", äyi(ʔ) in Taine-Cheikh (note that her y is often ž in other Zenaga varieties, from original *l), but then I would expect a glottal stop to be written. äyš "that" we have already seen, and -əš is "his/her/its". ätuʔž, explained as "existence", must be derived from the verb y-uʔy "exist", but the t is surprising. äḏ "is" we have already seen. We are given the meaning of tənd'ägfiʔḏ, but even its vocalisation is conjectural, and I can't find an appropriate root to relate it to. yässəgḏān (vocalisation conjectural again) must be a participle of the verb corresponding to Ould Hamidoun's eʔssəgḏīh "richesse", quoted by Taine-Cheikh (note that vowel length, phonemic in Zenaga, is transcribed accurately!). The rest is another blur, except that yəstəġān (?) may be from Arabic istaġnā "not to need".

If this isn't enough of a challenge, there's several other lines of Zenaga poetry quoted in that article...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Arabic Script in Africa

An article of mine that's been in the pipeline for almost four years has finally come out: "Writing 'Shelha' in new media: Emergent non-Arabic literacy in Southwestern Algeria". I discuss the usage of non-Arabic languages (Berber and Korandjé) in Southwestern Algeria in digital media, looking at the orthographic solutions adopted and the purposes of those writing it. The results suggest that, under appropriate circumstances, a high degree of orthographic uniformity is possible without any formal training in writing the language in question – but that the existing sociolinguistic marginalisation of these languages in speech is taken even further in writing.

I received a copy of the book recently, and found the rest of it very interesting. Maarten Kossmann and Ramada Elghamis discuss the traditional Arabic orthography of Tuareg, which shows several unexpected features. Two articles discuss the writing of Afrikaans in Arabic script, which – hard as it may seem to believe – predates its writing in Latin script. Nikolai Dobronravine discusses the use of Arabic to write African languages (as well as the Arabic language) in the Americas – the archives of Brazil, for example, contain a surprising number of letters confiscated from slaves. Other articles examine Fulani, Kanembu, Manding, and Swahili, as well as the history of Arabic writing in general and its distribution in Africa.

On a related note, if you're interested in Libyan Berber, it turns out there's a surprisingly large number of people writing even some of the least well-known varieties on Facebook, often in Arabic script; see my recent post on Awjili negation for Awjila, or Awal n ɛdeməs for Ghadames.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Aljazeera video of mixed Tuareg-Songhay language, Tagdal

Aljazeera's documentary Orphans of the Sahara is worth watching for anyone interested in Tuareg language, as well as Tuareg politics – the producers took the very commendable decision to do most of the interviewing in Tuareg, giving a much more representative picture of Tuareg opinions than if they had stuck to interviewing French speakers as many other journalists do. Other languages of the region, apart from Arabic (and other ethnic groups' opinions) are rather less well represented, but about ten minutes into the first video, my ears perked up as I realised that I wasn't hearing Tuareg any more. As the camera follows Mohammed Igdali's first meeting in many years with his grandmother, somewhere outside Agades in Niger, you hear them speaking in a language that sounds oddly like Tuareg yet has a completely different grammar (from about 10min13s to 10min52s): In fact, this language is Tagdal, the language of the Igdalen tribe – a close relative of Korandjé, the Algerian language I studied for my doctorate. Most of its vocabulary is from Tuareg (or sometimes other Berber varieties), but its grammar and a few hundred of the commonest words are from Songhay, a language family spoken mainly further south along the Niger River. I can make out "Maxámmad Xásan, nənn áahay. – ɣann áahay ah?" (Mohammed Hassan, your grandchild. – My grandchild?), in which "grandchild" (áahay) is Tuareg and the possessive pronouns "your" (nən) and "my" (ɣan) are Songhay, as well as "nən bárar ɣo ggóra nə́n moo ka" (your child who is sitting in front of you), in which only bárar "child" is Tuareg, while the rest is Songhay. This is the first recording of Tagdal I've ever heard.

Tagdal is extremely inadequately documented – there are only three published resources on it that I know of (see my Northern Songhay bibliography), none of which provides even a sketch grammar (although a sketch grammar by the missionary linguist Carlos Benítez-Torres should be coming out in a couple of years, in The Oxford Handbook of Language Contact). It would be a rather interesting language to study, both as a case study in extremely intense language contact and for what it indicates about regional history. (Unlike most Tuareg tribes, the Igdalen are thought to have come from the west, and they seem to have played a prominent role in early medieval history; their original language, like that of the Idaksahak, was quite likely not Tuareg.) Unfortunately, the political situation described in that documentary makes fieldwork rather difficult to undertake for the moment.