Thursday, December 31, 2015

10 years on

This year marks the end of Jabal al-Lughat's first decade. Hard to believe I've been doing this for ten years - when I wrote my first post (on N'Ko) in 2005, I formally hadn't even begun to study linguistics! It's been a great way to explore ideas not yet ready for writing up, to record observations or resources, and, sometimes, to get in touch with interesting people. This date seems as good an excuse as any to thank you all for your comments and support, and to wish you all a happy 2016.

It's been interesting to observe the changes in blogging over the years. When I started in 2005, the "blogosphere" was still new enough to be vaguely trendy. The term had apparently caught on in 2002, and that's also when linguistics blogging started to be a thing; Language Hat was started in 2002, and Language Log in 2003. Blogs tended to link to each other a lot, and you could follow the links back to see who was discussing what you had posted and in what context. However, that gradually changed sometime around 2011 or so, as Twitter and Facebook took over (a phenomenon that very much struck Hossein Derakhshan upon his release). For a long time now, most of my inbound links that aren't Google searches have been those shortened URLs habitually used by Twitter, or Facebook pages accessible only to somebody and their friends. Blogs are probably more numerous than ever, but I'm barely seeing a blogosphere any more, in the sense of an ecosystem of blogs interacting with one another; rather, most of it seems to be feeding into two big private aggregators, and a lot of the conversation is taking place there directly, with no blogs involved.

In case you were wondering: the pageview records only go back to 2010, but over the past five years, my top ten most popular posts have apparently been:

  1. Does Arabic have the most words? Don't believe the hype (2013 - almost 3 times as many views as the next one)
  2. Kabyle dialect geography and the Kutama-Zwawa divide (2006)
  3. How different are Egyptian and Algerian Arabic, really? (2013)
  4. Gaddafi Jr's speech (2011)
  5. Who has more than 40 words for camels? (2007)
  6. No, Berber isn't descended from Arabic (2009)
  7. A little mystery: an unidentified Indic language in the Genizah collection (2013)
  8. Wikileaks and Algeria's "language crisis" (2011)
  9. Language use in Tunisian politics (2011)
  10. Beni-Snous: Two unrelated phonetic forms for every noun? (2009)

All but two of these posts feature Arabic; apparently, rather more Internet users are interested in Arabic than in Berber or Songhay, understandably I suppose. Most of them wouldn't be anywhere near my own top ten; indeed, two of them are just quick and dirty passing comments on current events, with no further relevance. However, the Beni-Snous one seemed important enough to me that I gradually ended up developing it into an article: Syntactically obligatory code-switching? The syntax of numerals in Beni-Snous Berber. Of wider interest are several posts addressing popular conceptions and misconceptions: No, Berber isn't descended from Arabic and Does Arabic have the most words? Don't believe the hype remain fairly accessible debunkings of myths that unfortunately remain popular, while How different are Egyptian and Algerian Arabic, really? takes a step towards quantifying a question usually discussed much more impressionistically. Wikileaks and Algeria's "language crisis" also kind of fits this category, addressing misconceptions about Algerian sociolinguistics that seem to affect quite a few decision-makers.

So if I wanted to make this blog more popular, it seems that the way to do it would be to start posting regularly about popular myths about Arabic as reflected in current news stories. Needless to say, that's not in my plans - as long as I have anything to say about it, most postings here will continue to be esoteric, eclectic, sporadic, and of limited interest.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Raisins from Carthage to Siwa

Most Berber varieties have borrowed the word for "raisin" from Arabic, eg Kabyle azbib, or use a compound "dried grapes", eg Shilha aḍil aqurar. However, in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt the situation is rather different, as this Facebook post illustrates:
Location Word for "raisin" In Arabic script
Djerba izummucen
Jadu iz/ẓemmuken ايزموكن
Nalut ijemmusen ايجموسن
Zuwara ijemmucen ايجموشن
Yefren, El-Qalaa ijummucen, ijemmac ايجمّوشن, ايجوموشن, اجماش
Siwa ijeṃṃusen إجموسن

The variation in the consonants is not completely regular, but note that there is a regular correspondences between k in Jadu and š in Yefren and Siwa (from palatal *ḱ), and that sibilant harmony is a fairly productive process in Berber.

As far as I know, this word's etymology has not previously been investigated, so I was happy to discover it this morning quite by chance. It happens to be attested in an ostracon from about 2000 years ago (give or take), found at the site of Al Qusbat, on the Libyan coast east of Tripoli:

This line in Neo-Punic - that is, the later Phoenician dialect spoken in North Africa - starts ldn`ṭ' `sr kkr' ṣmq, rendered by Jongeling and Kerr (Late Punic Epigraphy, 2005:24) as "for Donatus, 10 talents of dried fruits". As usual for Phoenician, the interpretation relies mainly on its much better documented close relative Hebrew: in this case, the relevant comparison is to the ṣimmuq-îm צִמֻּקִים֙ "raisins", attested 4 times in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the root of this word, ṣmq, means "to dry up"; in Arabic, the same root yields the rare forms ṣāmiq "thirsty", ṣamaqah "milk that has gone off". The direction of borrowing is therefore clear: from Phoenician into eastern Berber.

Now most of the attestations of this form are in a region where intense Punic influence is completely unsurprising: the coast of Tripolitania and southern Tunisia. However, any Classicist will remind us that Phoenician rule stopped at the Arae Philaenorum: eastern Libya was in Greek hands, and Phoenician never had any significant presence there. What, then, is this word doing in Siwa? The answer is simple, as I discuss in the introduction to my book Berber and Arabic in Siwa (Egypt): modern Siwi seems to derive mainly from a Berber variety spoken much further west, which reached Siwa only during the Middle Ages. There very probably was a Berber language spoken in Siwa before that, but if so, it has left very few traces.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Austin in Augusta: how is it that non-performative non-assertions can be problematic?

Recently, a geography teacher in Augusta County, Virginia named Cheryl LaPorte set her students the following homework assignment:
"Calligraphy - the art of writing - is sacred to Muslims [sic]. It was born from the Arabic script of the Koran. [...] Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy."
The shahada is the statement that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God". Predictably, this made some parents very angry. Less predictably, it ended up making the national news, rather than remaining a question for Augusta County to worry about. Concerned editorials presented the situation as either an example of creeping Islamic indoctrination or a symptom of reactionary Christian ignorance, while concurring in any case that we should all be deeply concerned about it. So many emails poured in, threatening protests and violence, that the county was scared into closing the schools temporarily.

How could asking students to copy out a short phrase have this effect? Well, we know the objections of one parent at least, Kimberly Herndon (WHSV):

"I am preparing to confront the county on this issue of the Muslim indoctrination taking place here in an Augusta County school. This evil has been cloked in the form of multiculturism. My child was given the creed of the Islam faith to copy. This creed that is translated: There is no god but Allah. Mohammed was Allah's messenger. This is recited during their pledge to the Islamic faith. This creed is connected to Jihad in that it is the chant that is shouted while beheading those of Christian faith, or people of the cross as being called by ISIS. [...] Also unknowingly they [the children] were instructed to denounce our Lord by copying this creed of Islam."
Apart from the ridiculous ISIS connection, the keywords here are "indoctrination" - the idea that this assignment constitutes an attempt to make students Muslim, or at least to make them believe a particular ideology - and "to denounce our Lord by copying this", the idea that copying the shahadah amounts to declaring that Jesus is not God. Of these, it's the latter that is fundamental: the former makes little sense unless taken as a corollary of the latter.

If this is indeed Ms. Herndon's understanding of the situation, she would be well-advised to read John Austin's How To Do Things With Words. Austin, an Oxford philosopher, became famous in linguistics for pointing out that many sentences that superficially look like statements of fact are, in fact, actions in their own right: "When I say, before the registrar or altar, &c., 'I do', I am not reporting on a marriage: I am indulging in it." These sentences he termed performatives. The shahada is a classic example of a performative sentence: by uttering those words under the appropriate circumstances, one becomes a Muslim. Such an outcome is clearly not desired by Ms. Herndon, and for the teacher to seek it would violate the US constitution.

However, as Austin points out in great detail, performatives are effective ("felicitous") only when appropriate circumstances apply. These are determined by social consensus ("accepted procedure"), and, where relevant, by sincerity of intention. In this case, Muslim scholars have devoted a good deal of thought to the question of what count as the appropriate conditions for the shahadah to be felicitous from their perspective - for some English samples, try eg or Dr. Fouad - and copying out an untranslated phrase in a language you don't understand in order to complete your homework fails at the first hurdles: the student neither has knowledge of what is being said, nor certainty as to its correctness, nor sincerity in its assertion... In short, this exercise does not satisfy the conditions for performativity, and as such does not commit the student to the claim made in the shahadah. So there's nothing to worry about!

But surely Ms. Herndon would already agree that the children who copied this didn't actually "denounce our Lord", since they copied it "unknowingly"? If so, then her issue must lie elsewhere. "Indoctrination" is perhaps a relevant lead; the teacher presumably knew the meaning of the words, so, in Ms. Herndon's view, that presumably means that she was attempting to make them repeat words they wouldn't have repeated if they had known what they meant, which would be an abuse of authority. But that just leads us back to the original question: why wouldn't/shouldn't they have been willing to copy these words if they had known what they meant?

I'm not sure I have a philosophically sound answer, yet on that question I share the same intuition: I wouldn't sing or want my children to sing a song about Jesus being God, even though songs don't commit their singer to the statements they contain. It seems that statements felt as blasphemous, rather than merely false, continue to be felt as such even in contexts where they clearly can't be interpreted as assertions by the speaker. In that respect, they resemble swearwords, although with swearwords it goes even further - if you give an accurate quote of someone swearing, then you're swearing yourself, quotation marks be damned. In a Christian context, one might explain this by the commandment not to take the name of the Lord in vain. However, the fact that she didn't appeal to it, and the fact that this intuition is shared by non-Christians, suggests that that would merely be rationalisation.

This is not a domain I've worked on much, so let me open up the floor to any reader who's made it this far: what's going on here? Does anyone have a coherent and empathetic explanation for why some types of statements should be felt as problematic even when clearly not asserted?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Lunja in Sicily, and more Lunja from Dellys

I've now read quite a few Lunja stories, enough to say that there is in fact a core Lunja story which is virtually identical in the mountains of Morocco and Kabylie, as well as a few more scattered stories about Lunja. But the biggest surprise for me was that a Lunja story virtually identical to the northern Moroccan ones is told in Sicily. You can read it online in Crane's (1885) translation, "Fair Angiola", and compare it with several obviously much less closely related stories from the rest of Europe. The name is interestingly distorted: I can only suppose that it represents an etymological hybrid of Lunja with Angela.

Its presence in Sicily should not be too surprising; Sicily was ruled by North African Muslims for several centuries, who are ancestral to many Sicilians today, and they even tell stories of the pan-Arab trickster Juha (baptised as Giufa). But comparison of the two versions is instructive. In North Africa, after they escape, the hero is carried away by a vulture, and Lunja has to disguise herself as a dog (in Morocco) or a slave (in Kabylie) in order to find a place in his parents' household while waiting for his return - a transparent metaphor for the situation of a new bride, who in this part of the world traditionally comes to live at her in-laws' house under the thumb of her mother-in-law. In Sicily, it's the witch she escaped from who curses her to become a dog, and she can't come to live with the hero's parents until the curse is lifted. I don't know what social reality that corresponds to in Sicily, if any, but the difference in the story does correspond to a difference in marriage customs: in Sicily and the rest of southern Italy, newlyweds traditionally started their own household ("neolocal"), rather than living with the groom's parents.

I've also managed to learn a little more about the Lunja story in Dellys - enough to confirm that, despite the substantial differences, it must be cognate. Apparently, at some point in the story, the hero comes and asks "waš ʕšatək əl-lila ya lunja, ya lunja?" ("What was your dinner tonight, Lundja, Lundja?") and she replies "ʕšati nŭxala, wə-mbati mʕa zzwayəl" ("My dinner is bran, and my sleep is with the livestock"), or words to that effect. This is immediately recognisable as what happens in the better-known versions of the story after they run away, while the hero is a captive. It also seems that the superhero team consists of her brothers, which suggests some possible leads. But more investigation is required...

Friday, December 04, 2015

Lundja daughter of - whom? Some of a myth's many guises

One of the classic characters of north African folklore is Lundja or Nuja, a girl who... well, a girl, anyway. The name is widespread, but the story is somewhat more variable. Vermondo Brugnatelli and Hamid Oubagha record practically identical versions from western Kabylie (with the heroine named Lunja and Nuja respectively), in which a prince raised in luxury and isolation ventures forth to seek out Lunja, daughter of the ogress; they fall in love and escape by virtue of Lunja's wits, but the prince is swallowed up by a vulture on the way back, and Lunja disguises herself as a slave and toils for the king's household, regularly visited by the prince's soul in the form of a bird, until they manage to bring him back by offering the vulture a fat cow. In his fascinating but speculative article, Brugnatelli argues, based on some rather stretched comparisons with a widespread North African rain-making custom (which I might discuss later), the Ugaritic myth of Aqhat, and the Greco-Levantine myth of Adonis, that the prince in this story was originally a rain god, and Lunja his bride.

However, there are many versions of the story of Lundja - perhaps even many stories featuring Lundja. For Figuig (SE Morocco), Sahli (2008) records one where the connection with weather on which Brugnatelli speculates is made positively blatant, but in a manner difficult to reconcile with his specific hypothesis. In this version, Lundja is an ordinary girl, tied by her hair to a lote-tree by jealous comrades, who escapes only to stumble into the ogress's house. The ogress makes her her servant, and among other things requires her to tend her baby son, to whom Lundja sings Mi teḍṣid teffeɣ-d tfuyt, mi tilled taɣ tbica "When you smile, the sun shines; when you cry, the rain falls". She assigns her impossible tasks, but the birds help her to accomplish them. Eventually, her cousin shows up to rescue her, and Lundja manages to outwit the ogress in ways strikingly similar to Brugnatelli's version. She escapes with the ogress's bags of wind, sun, rain, and axes (perhaps originally thunderbolts?), and throws them one by one to the ogress each time she's about to catch them, delaying the ogress long enough for them to escape safely - and they live happily ever after. In this version, even more than in the western Kabyle one, Lunja's boyfriend is just a sidekick, and the real action is between Lunja and the ogress.

In Dellys, just a few dozen kilometres north of where Brugnatelli recorded his version, no ogress even features. Instead, Lundja is the daughter (or captive?) of Drig the ogre (دريڨ الغول drig əl-ɣul), who ties her long, long hair to his teeth when he sleeps to stop her escaping. To rescue her, they assemble a veritable team of superheroes: ضرّاب السيف đ̣əṛṛab əs-sif, the Sword-Striker; سمّاع الندى səmmaʕ ən-nda, the Dew-Hearer (to hear the ogre's snores from miles away); ضرّاب خطّ الرّمل, đ̣əṛṛab xəṭṭ əṛ-ṛməl, the Geomancer; and سلاّك الحرير من السدرة səllak əl-ħrir mə-s-sədra, the Disentangler of Thread from the Lote-Tree (to disentangle her hair from his teeth). Unfortunately, no one I know remembers much of the actual plot - and I've never come across anything similar in books or online, although the last of these "superheroes" clearly echoes the opening of the Figuig version of this story.

Brugnatelli tries to connect Lundja's name to those of a rain-making custom once widespread in the Maghreb, in which children dress up a ladle (Berber aɣenja) in women's clothes and go through the streets with it chanting a prayer for rain, while passers-by pour water on it. Whatever the plausibility of that connection, the name of Drig points in a rather different direction. In the context of an old North African port which received many Andalusi refugees in its day, one can hardly fail to be reminded of Roderic/Ludharīq لذريق, the last Gothic king of Spain, depicted in later legend as a usurper who kidnapped the daughter of one of his own noblemen. Could this be an Andalusi, or Andalusianised, version of the same folktale? Any leads would be welcome!

Sahli, Ali. 2008. Muʕjam Amāzīγī-`Arabī (xāṣṣ bi-lahjat 'ahālī Fijīj) yaḍummu qawā`id hāđihi l-lahjah wa-jāniban min turāŧihā l-'adabī. Oujda: El Anouar El Maghribia.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Religion and dialect geography in Morocco and Algeria

In many parts of the Arabic-speaking world, different religious groups in the same town or region speak different dialects. Morocco is one of the best-studied cases: in almost any town, the Arabic spoken by Jews was somewhat different from that spoken by Muslims. A lot of popular sources reify this as a distinct language, "Judeo-Moroccan Arabic". The actual situation revealed by dialect mapping (specifically, by Heath's Jewish and Muslim Dialects of Moroccan Arabic, the source for most of this post) is a bit more complicated. The dialects spoken by Jews differed from each other almost as much as do the dialects spoken by the Muslim majority - in some cases, such as Tafilalt, even more - and those differences often (though not always) reflected the way their Muslim neighbours spoke. In that sense, Jewishness can be seen as just one among several sociolinguistic variables affecting the way a given person spoke. Nevertheless, there are a certain number of important features that are very widespread among Jewish dialects and rare among Muslim dialects, which make it possible to speak of, if not a Judeo-Moroccan Arabic language, at least a more or less coherent Jewish dialect group in Morocco. Some of these features really are almost exclusively Jewish within Morocco:
  • merging s س with š ش and z ز with ž ج (this feature seems to have been emblematic, and was even extended to Jewish second language pronunciations of Berber)
  • no -i- in the perfect forms of geminate-final verbs - thus dəqq-t دقّت "I knocked" instead of nearly universal dəqq-it دقّيت (also occasionally attested in Jbala dialects)
  • relative marker di دي (similar to Jbala d), rather than li لي
  • ama أما "which" - common in Algeria and Tunisia, but otherwise unknown in Morocco
  • an allomorph -hu- of 3MSgAcc "him" when followed by a dative pronoun - common in Algeria and Tunisia, but otherwise unknown in Morocco
as well as a few lexical items, some archaisms:
  • ṛa را "see"
  • qum قوم "get up"
  • dnba دنبة "tail"
  • skkin سكّين "knife"
others borrowings (in fairly peripheral vocabulary) or probable neologisms:
  • guf ڭوف‎ "body", from Hebrew
  • gaṛfu ڭارفو‎ "fork", from Spanish
  • ɣyyəṛ غيّر "eat breakfast"

However, far more of the features that made Jewish dialects distinctive in their 20th century locations are shared with a particular subset of Muslim dialects: the northern ones. Among the more striking features shared by Jewish dialects all over Morocco with Muslim dialects of the far north or the Jbala - and, in many cases, with "pre-Hilalian" dialects of old cities like Fez, or of coastal regions further east in Algeria or Tunisia or Malta - are:

  • dual marker -ayn ـاين (an archaism)
  • future marker maši ماشي
  • bn بن "son" (an archaism)
  • ħəbb حبّ "want"
  • ʕməl عمل "do"
  • ṣib صيب "find"
  • ʕəbbi عبّي "take away"
  • bzəq بزق "spit"
  • fħal فحال "like", rather than bħal بحال
So it looks as though there was a fairly distinctive supra-regional Jewish dialect network, but forming part of an otherwise region-specific Northern dialect network. Two obvious possible explanations come to mind:
  1. Most Moroccan Jews originally came from northern Morocco, and they kept northern features when they emigrated.
  2. Most Moroccan Arabic speakers (at least in the towns, where most Jews lived) used to talk more like Northerners do today, and dropped these features in order to sound more like people from other regions.

There isn't much evidence for 1), so 2) is the most widely accepted explanation. That implies that mainstream (Muslim) Moroccan Arabic has been fairly heavily influenced by contact with Arabic dialects coming in later from further east. In fact - hard as it may be for students to believe - it means that mainstream Moroccan Arabic, even before TV, was already a compromise between the urge to maintain local forms and the urge to adopt trends coming in from the rest of the Arabic-speaking world.

So all of this is relatively clear for Morocco. What about Algeria?

For Algeria, nothing like Heath's religious dialect atlas exists or can be written, because almost all Algerian Jews had already abandoned Arabic well before independence in 1962. Algeria's Jews had received French citizenship in 1870, and all but the most isolated communities hastened to prove their loyalty to France by, among other things, adopting French as their home language. Then again, there isn't any dialect atlas of Algeria to begin with, so even where data on Jewish dialects exists, it's difficult to determine what features were distinctive or how they fit into a broader picture. Nevertheless, a few points can be gleaned. For western Algeria ("Oranie"), Cantineau (1940) paints a picture strikingly reminiscent of Morocco: all the Jewish dialects there shared phonetic and syntactic features specific among Muslim dialects to the mountainous coastal Trara region, around Nedroma and Ghazaouet. Unfortunately, he only mentions a handful of features, and gives very little specific data. For eastern Algeria ("Constantinois"), Cantineau reports elsewhere - again in rather general terms - that the Jews of Constantine and Annaba spoke sedentary dialects like those of the towns of Bejaia and Constantine and the mountains of Jijel and Skikda.

I haven't yet been able to see Cantineau's comments on central Algeria, but the vague picture he paints for these areas fits rather strikingly with the more detailed image given by Heath further west: in both Morocco and Algeria, the geographical dialect groups to which Jewish dialects belonged irrespective of location were eccentric "pre-Hilalian" ones spoken on the northern coast, at old ports and their mountainous hinterlands - even though those dialects do not themselves form a continuous territory. That raises a lot of questions about the region's linguistic history (which the label "pre-Hilalian" kind of sweeps under the rug), but those will have to wait for another time...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Do Siwi people have bodies?

For English speakers, it is mysterious and highly debatable whether we have souls, but obvious except to the odd philosopher that we have bodies. In other languages, this intuition doesn't translate so well; quite apart from the question of the soul(s), many languages - reportedly including Homeric Greek - don't seem to have a word for "body" in the sense of "the ​whole ​physical ​structure that ​forms a ​person or ​animal", notwithstanding the protests of NSM-ists. In Wintu, a language of northern California, Lee (1950:134) was only able to elicit kot wintu "all person". (Wintu is not that well documented, but in this case Lee's account agrees with later work; Schlichter (1981:242) gives winthu:n thunis "person altogether".) For Korandje, my data suggest the same, although further checking is needed; when asked, the oldest of my Korandje consultants came up with a precise equivalent of this expression, bɑ kamla "person whole", while others gave Arabic loans like ṣṣəħħəts (literally "health") or žžhaməts (which so far seems rather to mean "corpse").

In Siwi, the situation is slightly different. Unlike the hesitations and disagreements of Korandje speakers asked about this subject, Siwi speakers asked to translate Arabic jism "body" confidently reply aglim, and early wordlists confirm that they have been doing so for over a century. However, if you ask them to translate aglim, they equally consistently reply with Arabic jild "skin". A person or animal has an aglim, but so does a potato, and its aglim can be peeled off. To further complicate the semantic field in question, ilem also translates as jild "skin", but refers to a piece of skin rather than to the whole: kteṛṭiyya aksum ɣair ilem "You have brought me meat that is nothing but skin"; ilem en ṭad yekkes "Some skin came off his finger". This renders the interpretation of aglim questionable. Does it have two distinct meanings, "body" and "(whole) skin"? Or does it just mean "(whole) skin", and refer to the body only as the volume encompassed by the skin?

Thinking out the question here makes it obvious what I should try to elicit next time the occasion arises: how to say "The human body is covered with skin" or "A snake sheds its skin many times, but always has the same body". Any other suggestions for contexts that clearly bring out the relevant differences in meaning?

(I should mention that this question was inspired by a recent talk by Mustapha El Adak of the University of Oujda, arguing that all non-borrowed Berber words for "body" either include non-physical aspects of the person or relate specifically to a particular aspect of the body rather than referring uniformly to the whole.)

Friday, November 06, 2015

The clouds that own us: how animate is the weather?

Animacy - human or animal or object - often makes a big difference in grammar. However, what counts as animate, and when, is not always straightforward. In English, an adult or a child can only be "he" or "she", but a baby can already be "it"; an animal is usually "it", but a pet is quite likely to be "he" or "she". (And that's without even discussing sailors and Australians).

Going through some Tuareg texts from Mali recently, I found a rather eloquent passage describing the nomads' relationship to their land:

exắy năkkắneḍ, húllăn ăgg ăjăma wăr ăddobăt ád ikrəš ắkall făll ắkall, năkkắneḍ tijắrăken a-hənăɣ ílăn əntănắteḍ á-dagg nəkká d ắšăkšo, wắr noleh d ə́ddinăt wí n ɣərman, dihá-hənăɣ əttə́mălăn súdar e rə́zzejăn ɣás á nəkká, ášăl wa əssinḍărắn-anăɣ dắɣ teje ta n ătắram, ášăl wa ta n ăfắlla ášăl wa ta n əjúss, mušám wăddén á ikkắsăn erhitt-nắnăɣ y ắkall wa s ə́nta, á nəzzáy isidáw-anăɣ năkkắneḍ dătén tərə́zzekk-nắnăɣ.
Yes, as for us, a son of the wilderness cannot hold to just one place. Us, it's the clouds that own us, it's they that we go under, and the vegetation, we aren't like the people of the towns. There where staple foods are excellent for our animals is where we go. One day they toss us to the west, one day to the north, one day to the south. But it doesn't prevent our desire for the land which is what we know, it keeps us together with our flocks. (Heath 2005:18-21)
Now, -la- "own, have" does not have quite the same semantics as English "own"; you use it not only in reference to your property, but also to your children, and one can easily say "God owns us (yl-ânaɣ)" (Prasse 2010:30). Nevertheless, its subject is ordinarily human, as in English. The most obvious comparison here is with ownership of livestock. The clouds control where we go (by determining where vegetation will grow), just as we control where our flocks go; therefore, the clouds own us. Throughout the world's languages, control is commonly associated with higher animacy.

Quite coincidentally, I came across a clearer example on the other side of the world shortly afterwards. Omaha is a Native American language of the Siouan family, still spoken by a few elders in Nebraska. It has one of the most complicated systems of classificatory definite articles that I've ever seen: in particular, there are four articles normally used for inanimates, and several normally used for animates, depending on number, position, and whether they're moving, described in detail in Eschenberg (2005). As part of their efforts to revive the language, the Omaha Nation commissioned an iPad/iPhone app, effectively a small phrasebook/lexicon with audio and pictures. This happily includes a few minimal pairs, of which the most interesting for this post is, under "Weather":

nãží-kʰ(e) ubðĩ́bðã xtáaðe. "I like the smell of rain." (-kʰe: inanimate horizontal article. Transcribed differently in the app, but listen to the audio.)
nãží-akʰa ðištã́. "The rain has stopped." (-akʰa: animate singular "proximal" article)
This is systematic in Omaha, as noted by Eschenberg (2005:71-73); nouns such as "winter", "sun", and "snow" can (but need not) occur with animate as well as inanimate articles, and Eschenberg explicitly ties this to the fact that these entities have great power over people's lives and are not themselves readily controllable.

So is there any English parallel? You certainly wouldn't say "The rain, s/he stopped" in standard English. One possibility comes to mind, however: the curious habit of giving human names to hurricanes. Within weather, hurricanes are about the most powerful recurrent objects we are capable of perceiving at a human scale. And - what do you know - it turns out that some people do accept animate pronouns for named storms, strange though it sounds to me:

"This makes Patricia a 'Category Five' hurricane as she has sustained winds of over 157 mph." (ITV, 23 October 2015)
"Sadly, Patricia is not expected to weaken by the time she reaches Mexico and will hit when she’s a Category 5 hurricane." (Hollywood Life)
Obvious follow-up question: should global warming be treated as animate?

Friday, October 30, 2015

The cross-cultural ambiguity of "nation" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Advance warning: 1. I am no expert on Hebrew, nor for that matter on semantics. 2. Comments relating to word usage are welcome below; attempts to refight the conflict are not.

One thing that's always puzzled me about pro-Israel discourse is the enormous weight it tends to place on the concept of nationhood. Over and over again, you find Zionists insisting that Israel is a nation, that Palestine is not a nation, that Palestine must acknowledge that Israel is a nation - as if nationhood were the key issue at stake. In pro-Palestine discourse, on the other hand, the question of whether either party is a nation hardly arises except in responses; who cares? Recently it struck me that this difference in rhetoric could perhaps be understood in semantic terms. What is a nation? And just how badly does this rather polysemous word translate?

When Netanyahu defends proposals to define Israel as the "nation-state of the Jewish people" (מדינת הלאום של העם היהודי), or declares that "we do not want a bi-national state" (איננו רוצים מדינה דו-לאומית), the word he's using is le'om לאום. In the Hebrew Bible, this word (better transcribed lə'ōm) is fairly uncommon, occurring 26 times in the plural and 5 in the singular (26 of them in the singular), usually in poetry and paired with its far more frequent near-synonym ʕām עָם "people, nation". It occurs in the singular in Proverbs, with general reference, and in Genesis 25, in which Jacob and Esau are each presented as a le'om, implicitly representing the nation made up of his descendants: respectively, Israel and Edom. Elsewhere, it occurs in the plural, especially referring to other nations (eg Psalms 47:3). In a more modern context, le'om is the word used for "ethnic affiliation" on Israeli ID cards: an Israeli citizen's le'om can be Jewish, Arab, or Druze, but, curiously enough, never Israeli.

In Arabic, the "nation-state of the Jewish people" is rendered as "دولة قومية للشعب اليهودي", and "bi-national state" as "دولة ثنائية القومية", both using the word qawmiyy "national", from qawm "nation, people". The latter word is very frequent in the Qur'an, occurring 383 times. Its usage there, however, is rather different. It never occurs pluralised (though it takes plural agreement). Whereas the only le'oms defined by name in the Bible are defined by common patrilineal ancestry, a qawm is defined by name in the Qur'an only in terms of their prophet or (more rarely) leader: qawmu Mūsā "the people of Moses", qawmu Firʕawn "the people of Pharaoh", qawmi Nūḥ "the people of Noah", qawmi 'Ibrāhīm "the people of Abraham"... Otherwise, it is defined in terms of its characteristics: most often, believing (aware, realising, grateful, etc.) or unbelieving (wrong-doing, misguided, self-wronging, etc.)

As might be expected based on this, the noun qawm is hardly ever used to refer to something like a "Palestinian nation", nor to a "Jewish nation", nor even to an "Arab nation" (Google returns derisorily small numbers of hits, in the low thousands or below). If you search for dawlah qawmiyyah "nation-state", what you mostly get is discussion of Israel (along with a few fringe movements). Qawmiyyah, "nationalism", is a more prominent concept in the modern era - above all, al-qawmiyyah al-ʕarabiyyah "Arab nationalism", ie the dream of a single pan-Arab state - but one with a rather ambivalent ring to it at best; there are still Arab nationalists around, but the Arab unity project has had a musty 1960s smell to it for a while, criticised as much from the right as from the left. Even apart from its content, the common Israeli demand for recognition of a "nation-state of the Jewish people" thus translates rather poorly - not because the concepts don't exist, but because they don't have similar connotations. Palestinians aren't normally speaking in terms of a "dawlah qawmiyyah of the Palestinian people", nor for that matter of "the Arab people"; whether Palestine is a nation-state or some other kind of state is a secondary issue.

When Mahmoud Abbas mentions "national institutions" or a "national unity government" in his UNGA speech - or meets with the Palestinian National Council - the word he's using, and the word any Arabic speaker would use, is waṭaniyy وطني, from waṭan وطن "nation, homeland". In the Palestinian declaration of independence of 1988, qawmiyy occurs once (in a token nod to Arab nationalism), whereas waṭaniyy occurs 13 times, in collocations like "national identity", "national independence", "national rights", "national personality", "national will"... The word waṭan doesn't occur in the Qur'an at all; the closest it comes is a single usage of mawāṭin "regions". It unambiguously refers to a land, not to a group of people. And, unlike qawm, it has a profound resonance in the context of Palestinian - and Arab - nationalism, and not just because it provides the adjective used in collocations like "national liberation" or "national anthem". It recurs nostalgically in the poems of Mahmoud Darwish ("What is the waṭan? It is the house, and the mulberry tree, and the chicken coop and the beehive, and the smell of bread and the sky") or Tawfiq Zayyad ("As you were, so you shall remain, my waṭan - present in the leaves of the oleander and the fragrance of jasmine"). Further afield, Nizar Qabbani's remarkable line comes to mind now more than ever: "O my waṭan, have they made you a serial of horror whose events we follow in the evening? Then how shall we see you if they cut the power?" And, of course, waṭaniyyah وطنية "patriotism" has far more positive connotations than qawmiyyah. All of this vocabulary places the emphasis away from notions of ethnic cohesion or common ancestry, focusing on a different common ground: the land itself.

The Hebrew translation of waṭan would appear to be moledet (מולדת) "homeland". This word does occur in the Bible, 22 times - but, like le'om, it carries there a sense much more closely tied to human kinship, referring to "kindred, family" as well as "birthplace, native country". Israel's declaration of independence refers to the land as the "national homeland (moledet)" of the Jews, and there seems to be a good deal of Hebrew poetry on the subject. However, collocations like "national anthem" or "National Council" or "national unity government" or "national liberation" all derive from le'om, not from moledet.

"Nation" in English usage is ambiguous: is a nation united primarily by its attachment to a given area, or by its common ancestry? Either language can express either idea. However, the best-established and most positively viewed terminology in Arabic focuses on the former, while in Hebrew it focuses on the latter. This difference is hardly the source of the conflict, but it does play some small part in impeding mutual understanding.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The original chupacabra?

Americans of a certain age probably remember the "chupacabra" (goat-sucker), a nonexistent reptilian monster supposed to suck the blood of Puerto Rican goats back in the 1990s. The notion of goat-suckers, however, has a longer, less bloody, and slightly more respectable history. In European folklore, a goat-sucker (Spanish chotacabras, Latin Caprimulgus) is a kind of nocturnal bird, thought since Pliny to steal goats' milk as they slept. In Middle Eastern folklore, however, it's a creature a little more reminiscent of the chupacabra that is popularly supposed to steal milk from goats: namely, the monitor lizard (varan, ورل‍). In Persian, this lizard is even called بزمجه bozmajeh "goat-sucker" (Anderson, "Lizards", Encyclopaedia Iranica). Unlikely as this notion seems a priori, it does appear that monitor lizards will drink milk offered to them, if we may believe an aside in Kesteloot and Veirman's "Le culte du Mboose à Kaolack" (p. 85). I recently came across a passage describing how this is said to work in a recording in Korandje (a Songhay language of southwestern Algeria):
monitor lizard,when3Sg-seegoat=PL,
a-m-gwabmaʔʔʔʔ maʔʔ,
3Sg-IRR-INCEPTmaaa maaa,
so that3Sg-IRR-
so thatgoat-PLIRR-stand-3Sg.DAT3Sg-IRR-go3Sg-IRR-suckle-3PlEmph.
The monitor lizard, when it sees goats, it starts going maaa maaa, it bleats like a kid goat so that it- so that the goats will stand by it and it can go and suckle them.

I'll leave it to the biologists to determine whether this story has any basis in fact, and folklorists to consider if it can be connected to the Puerto Rican chupacabra. However, it does have one linguistically interesting feature as well. In Korandje, an aspect marker is ordinarily directly followed by a verb. It is possible to hesitate after an aspect marker, but not to insert anything between it and the verb it governs. However, in this sentence we find an aspect marker (gwab) followed directly by an onomatopeia representing the sound made. This suggests that, despite the inseparability of the verb from the aspect marker, it might be plausible to take them as two distinct words rather than as a single long word.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lyrics and language preservation?

The Berber-speaking oasis of Siwa in western Egypt, where I did doctoral fieldwork, has a rather extensive poetic tradition embodied in song lyrics. Practically every Siwi I spoke to quoted me some lyrics at some point, and songs in Siwi apparently remain a key element of parties. I included a few of these in my book about Siwi, among them four nicely arranged lines referring to Shali, the main town of Siwa:

Quṛ, ya lmendi, quṛ!Dry, O wheat, dry!
Baba nnek yexsa Cali.Your owner misses Shali.
Nan edderb n Cali,People of the Shali road,
Sellemm-i af elɣali.Give the beloved my greetings.

It wasn't until later that I finally received a copy of Bricchetti-Robetti's (1889) article "Sul dialetto di Siuwah", and not until this month that I finally got around to reading it carefully. When I did, I was surprised to find this poem transcribed practically word for word:

qor aimindi qorقور ايمند قور
babenik jiksa - scialiببنك يخس - شالى
nani derbj enscialiتندرب انشالى
salamuet - afelrhaliسلموت افلغالى

Apparently, these lyrics have been passed on orally for more than 120 years, with only minor changes.

There are many ways in which Siwa is different from Tabelbala, the Algerian oasis where I did the other half of my doctoral fieldwork. Linguistically, one that struck me early on was the variability of Tabelbala's language, Korandje, compared to Siwi. In Siwa, there was some interesting variation even within the speech of single individuals (1st sg. -ɣ- vs. -ʕ-, negative copula qačči/'ačči/ɣačči), but it hardly seemed possible to speak of dialects. In Tabelbala, not only did different villages take pains to distinguish themselves by different ways of speaking, but neighbours and cousins often showed substantial differences in pronunciation and even sometimes vocabulary. And whereas Siwis rarely seemed at a loss for words, in Tabelbala even the oldest speakers routinely had trouble finding a word, or disagreed on its meaning once they had remembered it.

Another striking difference is the low profile of Korandje poetry, if it exists at all. Whereas in Siwa I could hardly stop people from telling me lyrics, in Tabelbala my utmost efforts barely dredged up a few ditties which the speakers themselves considered absurdly simple. The poetry that men cared about and appreciated was in dialectal Arabic, and even that was far less prominent than in Siwa. (Some older women reportedly sing Korandje poetry in honour of the Prophet at regular Sufi gatherings, but I was unable to hear any of that; given its subject matter, I suspect the language used would be heavily influenced by Arabic.)

One possibility I'm tempted to consider is that these two facts are causally linked. In Siwa, songs are heard and sung in groups, and the best lyrics are widely circulated and - apparently - remembered for many decades; their rhythm and rhyme makes major rewording impractical. Logically, this should keep less frequently used vocabulary in circulation in much the same way as a written literary tradition, or a national broadcasting service. Without songs, for instance, would Siwi have kept a Berber word for "gazelle" (izem), an animal rarely if ever seen in the oasis today, but to which the beloved is constantly compared? In Korandje, on the other hand, the standardising force of songs and poetry is practically absent, and it's not obvious that anything else in their verbal arts (already sadly atrophied by television) compensates for it.

Does this reflect your experience, or contradict it? How do poetic traditions (or lack of them) in societies you're familiar with seem to affect the prospects for their languages?

Friday, October 09, 2015

From codeswitching to borrowing in une génération?

It's not unusual to hear sentences like the following from middle-class Algerian adults, especially women:

عندنا ان تيليفيزيون كبير
ʕəndna æ̃ tilivizyõ kbir
"we have a big TV"

شرينا لو تيلي
šrina lœ tele
"we bought the TV"

If I had in fact heard these from an adult, I would unhesitatingly classify them as code-switching, with a French noun phrase inserted into an otherwise Arabic sentence. That goes especially for the former - monolingual adults simply don't use the French indefinite article [æ̃ ] (un). In fact, however, I heard them from a monolingual 5-year old, born and bred in Algeria, who only took her first French class this term. Unless she knows more French than she or her parents are letting on, that necessarily makes them monolingual sentences. And that means that, for this young lady, [æ̃ ] (un) has become a borrowing into Algerian Arabic - an indefinite article used with words that take the definite article le.

Earlier, I noted that children don't typically initiate effective language change; and, in terms of output, this isn't a change at all. She's simply learned to produce the kind of sentences she hears all the time directly, without going through all the effort of learning French first. In terms of the underlying system, however, it's a significant change. Instead of having one indefinite article used with all nouns, she now has two: one with Arabic nouns, and one with French nouns. (Rather like the nouns borrowed from Berber that we looked at earlier, which can't take the Arabic definite article.) In Saussurean terms, one generation's parole (the relatively free Arabic-French codeswitching practiced by her parents) has become the next generation's langue. And that sort of change is by its nature something children, and only children, are extremely likely to lead.

(Note, by the way, that in French télévision is feminine; I'm not sure why she gives it masculine agreement, but probably this reflects the influence of the earlier borrowed form tilivizyun, which regular Arabic phonological gender assignment rules make masculine.)

Friday, October 02, 2015

Korandje from the 12th to the 21st century (popular article)

Korandje, the seriously endangered Songhay language of Tabelbala in southwestern Algeria, is a longstanding research interest of mine. As far as I can see, it has the most complicated contact history of any language in the Sahara, with multiple extensive layers of loanwords from each of at least five languages which successively dominated the region. I recently wrote a short summary of the history of Korandje (as I understand it), aimed at a non-specialist audience, for a special issue of The Middle East in London. You can read it here:

Gaining a language, losing a language: Korandje from the 12th to the 21st century.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Berber substratum nouns in Beni-Tamer (Adrar, Algeria)

In most of the Arabic dialects of the Algerian Sahara that I've encountered, Berber influence is rather inconspicuous. Loanwords exist, of course, but they are so well adapted to Arabic structure that they tend to be difficult to spot; who would guess, for instance, that šəṛšmala "skink" came from Zenati Berber *a-sərm-šal (cf. attested Tashelhiyt asrmkal?)

In a few areas, however, Berber loans retain the Berber nominal prefixes a- and ta-, and hence stick out like a sore thumb. In such cases, they often keep Berber-style plurals as well, reproducing a Berber subsystem within the otherwise Arabic domain of the dialect's nominal morphology. The only major Saharan dialect that consistently does this, as far as I know, is Hassaniya in Mauritania and the Western Sahara. However, during fieldwork some years ago, I came across another case well outside of Hassaniya. The area around Adrar (medieval Touat), in southwestern Algeria, seems to have shifted from Berber to Arabic relatively recently, and the process is not complete even today. At least one village, Beni-Tamer just outside Adrar, accordingly borrows many Berber nouns with Berber nominal prefixes, including ones unfamiliar to other speakers from near Adrar that I met. I only spent a short time with the one speaker from Beni-Tamer that I met, but he gave me quite a few examples from his Arabic (he did not speak Berber):

With masculine a-:

  • aždəl "garden near town"
  • ažəlžim “hoe” (Taznatit ažəlžim)
  • afdam “palm fibre” (cf. Hassaniyya fdām)
  • afrag “palm-leaf fence” (Taznatit afrag, cf. Hassaniyya efəṛṛāg)
  • aqənnin / qənnin "palm stump" (Taznatit taqənniħt)
  • agžəm “cellar” (Taznatit ikzəm)
  • amazzər “sloped spot in an irrigation channel”
  • anfif “drainage hole” (Taznatit anfif)
With feminine ta-:
  • tadmayt "garden outside town"
  • tasgat “large basket” (Taznatit tasgawt)
  • taṣəṛbiṭ “skink”
  • tagəmmi “stable”
Most of these are not attested in Hassaniyya, and closely reflect the Taznatit Berber still spoken at Timimoun, confirming that they represent a substratum of Berber words retained by this town's people after they shifted to Arabic. This also fits with their semantic distribution, including a lot of agricultural terminology. At least one of them takes a metathesised Berber plural, originally with the Berber masculine plural suffix -awən: agžəm “cellar”, pl. agəžwamən. Unfortunately I didn't elicit plurals for the rest. I don't think I'll be able to go to Adrar in the near future, but it would be interesting to look at this dialect more...

Have you seen anything similar in a dialect you're familiar with?

References: Hassaniyya from Taine-Cheikh, Dictionnaire hassaniyya-français; Taznatit from Boudot-Lamotte 1964, "Notes ethnographiques et linguistiques sur le parler berbère de Timimoun".

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Language anxieties and policies between France and Algeria

I recently finished reading Claude Hagège's Combat pour le français au nom de la diversité des langues et cultures (2006). For any Algerian reader, it's a rather ironic experience to read his strangely familiar-sounding defense of his national language against an unholy alliance of foreign manipulation and unpatriotic elites, cynically claiming to defend minority languages when their real aim is to weaken the national language. The irony is only heightened when you realise that, had the last 150 years gone differently, the author, born to Jewish parents in Tunisia, might have been writing the same book in Arabic (his last name is a transcription of حجّاج "pilgrim"). But when he discusses political history (pp. 190-196), the parallels go beyond the merely rhetorical to get strikingly specific, and one starts to realise just how unoriginal Algerian language policy is.

Anyone who writes about Algerian language policy is obliged to mention the Arabisation laws of 1991 and 1996, stipulating, among other things, that Arabic must be the language of all domestic administrative or corporate correspondence, of all television and conferences, and (by 2000) all university instruction. Fewer of those writers feel obliged to mention the fact that no attempt has ever been made to put these laws into practice, and that they are flagrantly violated on just about every Algerian street every day. None that I've read mention the obvious parallels in recent French history, to which Hagège devotes some attention:

Au termes de [la loi Bas-Lauriol de 1975], l'emploi du français était rendu obligatoire dans les échanges commerciaux, la publicité et les contrats de travail ; une circulaire d'octobre 1982 étendit ces dispositions aux étrangers exportant en France leurs produits, et un décret de mars 1983 imposait aux établissements d'enseignement et de recherche dépendant de l'Etat l'emploi des terminologies créées par les commissions officielles.
[By the terms of the Bas-Lauriol law of 1975, the use of French was made obligatory in commercial exchanges, advertising and employment contracts; a circular of October 1982 extended this to foreigners exporting their products to France, and a decree of March 1983 imposed on State teaching and research institutions the use of the terminologies created by the official committees.]
However, this law rapidly found itself "en voie d'obsolescence par défaut d'application" [on the way to becoming obsolete for lack of being put into practice]. The government responded in 1994 with the Toubon law:
[E]lle étend à de nouveaux domaines la portée de la loi Bas-Lauriol : codes du travail, examens et concours, marques de fabrique, règlements intérieurs des entreprises [...]) Enfin, elle est assortie de sanctions civiles en cas de transgression : cinq mille francs si les contrevenants sont des personnes physiques et vingt-cinq mille francs si ce sont des personnes morales.
[It extends the scope of the Bas-Lauriol law to new domains: labour codes, exams and competitions, trademarks, business-internal regulations... Moreover, it is furnished with civil penalties in case of violation: 5000 francs if the violator is a physical person, 25000 if it is a legal person.]
Part of this law was understandably struck down by the Constitutional Council as a violation of freedom of expression. The rest remained on the books, but, according to Hagège, continued to be openly violated with near-impunity. To make matters worse:
Les ministres du général de Gaulle redoutaient ses colères contre ceux qui, dans l'exercice de leurs fonctions, s'étaient exprimés en anglais. Les ministres d'aujourd'hui n'ont rien à craindre de tel quand, à l'occasion de conférences de presse, de réunions internationales, de discours dans les universités, ils utilisent l'anglais, soit parce qu'ils se piquent de donner une image de modernité, soit parce qu'ils sont convaincus que l'usage du français ne confère plus de prestige.
[General de Gaulle's ministers feared his wrath against anyone who, in a public capacity, expressed himself in English. The ministers of today have nothing to fear when - in press conferences, in international meetings, in speeches at universities - they use English, whether because they pride themselves on presenting an image of modernity or because they are convinced that the use of French is no longer prestigious.]
Substitute "Boumedienne" for "de Gaulle", "French" for "English", and "Arabic" for "French", and this statement could have been a direct quote from any recent Arabophone Algerian publication.

The comparison isn't perfect, of course: the status of Arabic in Algeria is far more precarious than that of French in France by any measure. Nevertheless, the parallels in attitudes, linguistic ideologies, and proposed responses are striking. I suspect that this is part of the problem: solutions that work well for France should not necessarily be expected to work well in Algeria (and observably don't), given the profound differences between the two countries. For one thing, Algeria has much less of a tradition of regarding the state as a basically benevolent force expressing the popular will, which makes state-centric approaches to language policy less likely to be effective. For another, attempts to regulate oral language use can hardly be effective if they fail to take into account the fact of diglossia, which is fundamental for Arabic but barely exists for French.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Discrimination against Arabic in Algeria?

Attention conservation notice: The story below is probably being promoted as a distraction, to keep Algerians talking about language instead of about what happens when a succession crisis combines with a fall in oil prices, in a state almost entirely dependent on oil revenue. Nevertheless, while not the most immediately pressing problem facing Algeria, it deserves attention on this blog.

After making the rounds of social media, a report of linguistic discrimination in Algeria recently got picked up by the unreliable but popular newspaper Ech Chorouk. Prof. Djamel Dou (who teaches physics at the University of El Oued, and formerly at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia) says he requested in writing - in English - that a stewardess on an Air Algerie internal flight should please address him in Arabic or English rather than exclusively in French, and got kicked off the plane, called a security threat by the captain, and sent to the police station for his pains. (Dou's video testimony is here.)

In keeping with its usual journalistic standards, Ech Chorouk didn't bother even to interview his fellow passengers, much less ask the flight crew for their side of the story, so I can't confirm whether this is a fair account. However, it reminds me so much of less dramatic encounters I've had with Air Algerie that I'm inclined to believe it. In particular, I remember one time in Timimoun a few years ago, when my French was rather poorer than it is now, walking into the local Air Algerie offices to get my ticket changed. I addressed them in Arabic (Darja, of course); they replied in French; I replied in Arabic; they replied in French, with some long set of details that I didn't fully understand; this continued, until eventually I got frustrated enough that I started talking to them in English. At that point they finally shifted to Arabic, after briefly lecturing me about how French was a national language after all (which, legally speaking, is entirely false) and how it's not fair for me to expect them to know English! I got my tickets changed in the end, so it worked out, but it was an eye-opening experience. I certainly spoke more French at the time than the average citizen of Timimoun (see Bouhania 2011:253). If Air Algerie's staff insist on using a foreign language even when the person in front of them obviously doesn't feel comfortable in it, how welcome do you suppose that makes their customers feel?

But the flip side of that is: why does anyone put up with such treatment? Why is it just Prof. Dou, out of an entire flight to a region where French is hardly spoken, complaining? In the case of Air Algerie, obviously because they have nowhere else to go for domestic flights. But I think there is a broader issue as well. People have internalised all too well the idea that Darja is an inferior non-language, unfitting for prestigious contexts like airline offices. So if they prefer Arabic, then, unless they belong to the minority who - like Prof. Dou - can speak grammatically correct Fusha on the fly, they're left with no effective options that they don't feel make them look bad. The immediate solution is obvious: insist that Darja is entirely appropriate in any and all conversational contexts in Algeria, including the most official and prestigious (and not merely that French is inappropriate in such settings).

One final thought, which I suspect many of those sharing this story have not thought about much: if people get treated like this for using the official and majority language, what do you think people experience when they try to use a minority one? A little sympathy on that point could go a long way towards healing the unhelpful political rifts that have been created between some Berber and Arabic speakers.

Updates, 31 Aug: Air Algerie has allegedly opened an inquiry into the incident (says Ech Chorouk). By way of background, Prof. Dou expressed his position on the language issue a year earlier: التعليم: لغة الأهالي أم لغة الكولون .

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Songhay historical linguistics: Three new articles

Northern Songhay is a small group of languages (Korandjé, Tadaksahak, Tagdal, and Tasawaq) spoken in the Sahara, with a Songhay core vocabulary and grammar but extremely heavy Berber influence on vocabulary and structure. In Tadaksahak and Tagdal, this has gone so far that verbal derivational morphology consists exclusively of Berber affixes attached to Berber roots, making the causative and passive of every inherited Songhay verb suppletive. How these languages emerged - often in areas quite far from the Songhay-speaking banks of the Niger River - remains mysterious in several respects, but my recently published article "Non-Tuareg Berber and the Genesis of Nomadic Northern Songhay" (Journal of African Languages and Linguistics 36:1, pp. 121-143, 2015) brings new comparative Berber data to bear on this problem for Tadaksahak in particular, showing that it wasn't just an encounter between Songhay and Tuareg as generally assumed. Copies are available on request, and here's the abstract:
With massive borrowing resulting in systematic suppletion, the nomadic Northern Songhay languages, Tadaksahak and Tagdal, are some of the most striking products of intense language contact in Africa. While the importance of Berber in their formation is obvious, published comparisons have focused almost exclusively on Tuareg, the currently dominant Berber language of the region. This paper, however, demonstrates that Tuareg-Songhay contact alone cannot adequately account for their emergence. Tadaksahak at least seems to have as its substrate not Tuareg, but rather a Western Berber language closely related to Tetserrét, a small minority language of Niger; such a language also played a role in the development of Tagdal. Western Berber influence, however, is not reconstructible at the proto-Northern-Songhay level, despite being attested in most Northern Songhay languages individually. A closer look at the Western Berber stratum in Tadaksahak indicates that language shift there was accompanied by broader cultural changes, including a shift away from the regional norm of cross-cousin marriage towards the North African preference for patrilineal parallel cousin marriage. These linguistic and cultural changes may have been part of an effort to assert an identity as specialists in Islamic learning, following regional political shifts around the sixteenth century.
A persistent problem for research in this domain is the inadequacy of the published data. A new article by Maarten Kossmann takes an important step forward in this regard, providing a sketch grammar of Tasawaq along with the first adequately transcribed published text in it: "A Tasawaq (Northern Songhay, Niger) Text with Grammatical Notes" (Linguistic Discovery 13:1, 2015). Conveniently, this article is freely downloadable - no subscription necessary.
[This article presents] a Tasawaq story with glossing and comments, recorded in Agadez in October 2003, told by Mrs. Ibrahim, born Nana Mariama Aweïssou, originary from In-Gall, but then living and working in Agadez. Mrs. Ibrahim speaks Tasawaq, Hausa and French; at the time of the recording her daily language was Hausa. [...] The text presented here is a well-known story in the region, a version of which appears, for instance, in Jacques Pucheu’s collection of Nigerien Hausa stories (Pucheu 1982:45ff.). There is a clear connection to Hausa stories in the name of one of the participants, the bóóráy tree.

Northern Songhay is just the most extreme example of a strong tendency to intense language contact throughout the Songhay-speaking world. Paulo Moraes Farias' article Bentyia (Kukyia): a Songhay–Mande meeting point, and a “missing link” in the archaeology of the West African diasporas of traders, warriors, praise-singers, and clerics (Afriques 4, 2013) - also freely available online - gives a historically oriented picture of some of the migration patterns that helped produce this, with a particular focus on a contact whose linguistic effects still need to be elucidated: between Soninke, the Mande language of the Kingdom of Ghana along the modern-day Mali-Mauritania border, and mainstream Songhay in places such as Gao.

The present tragedy in Mali draws our attention to the divisions, tensions and conflicts between West African ethnic groups, religious persuasions, and populations from different regions, in both the present and the past. But a long-term critical perspective on the past brings to light borrowings between cultures, and shows how the mobility of people across West Africa links regional and ethnic histories. The communication axis running from the Aḍagh to the Niger and, along the Niger Valley, from Gao to Busa (in Nigerian Borgu) and beyond, is a strategic locus for investigating this mobility and connectivity. It has linked together the Saharan, savannah, and forest zones of West Africa. It was a magnet for diasporas of Soninke praise-singers and Mande warriors and traders. Fishermen and other waterfolk along the river, oral traditionists and other craftspeople, priests and priestesses of African cults, and Islamic clerics, as well as armies, long-distance merchants, and enslaved human beings, moved along it. Although the archeological sites at Bentyia/Kukyia occupy a strategic position on this historical axis, they have not been excavated, whence a serious gap in our knowledge of the history of the eastern Niger Valley and of West Africa as a whole.

Much work remains to be done in this domain, but the picture is gradually becoming clearer, despite a political situation in the area which is not very conducive to research.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Teaching in Dardja before colonial rule

In a recent article on RFI, I'm quoted as saying that Darja (Algerian dialectal Arabic) was already used in education before the colonial period. Here's why I said so.

If you talk to anyone who studied at a Qur'ānic school before independence, you'll find they learned their letters by reciting a little ditty in Darja that goes ألف ما ينقط شي، البا نقطة من تحت، التا زوج من فوق... etc. (Alif ma yənqəṭ ši, əlba nŭqṭa mən təħt, ətta zuj mən fuq..., ie: "Alif is not dotted, ba has a dot underneath, ta has two on top...") The same ditty existed in Kabyle: alif u yneqqeḍ ara, ba yiweṯ s wadda, ta snaṯ ufella... . My own aunt learned her letters that way before independence - in a school affiliated with the Association of Muslim Ulama, who today are pressing for a school boycott if dialect is officially introduced as a means of primary instruction... Well, it turns out that this exact ditty is already attested in Franciscus de Dombay's Grammatica linguae mauro-arabicae, a study of the Arabic dialect of northern Morocco published in Vienna in 1800, thirty years before the occupation of Algiers, when European power in North Africa was limited to a handful of ports:

Standard Arabic was, of course, by far the most important language to learn. But it turns out that at least one other language was taught using Darja: Kabyle Berber! In Des noms et des lieux, Mostefa Lacheraf notes:

A propos de ces départs pour les zaouias du Djurdjura [...] je découvris l'existence de poèmes mnémotechniques que ces jeunes gens arabophones des Hauts-Plateaux et du Tell apprenaient par coeur dans le but de se familiariser avec un vocabulaire kabyle fonctionnel, et pédagogiquement bien choisi, qui serait susceptible de les aider à se reconnaître dans leur nouveau milieu. Je regrette de n'en avoir pas gardé un spécimen, mais je me souviens que dans cette poésie pratique, utilitaire, au rhythme bien élevé, en un dialectal correct, figuraient des verbes, substantifs et expressions berbères avec leurs équivalents arabes désignant des objets et des actes essentiels à leur vie courante. (pp. 218-219)
[Through these trips to the zawiyas of the Djurdjura... I discovered the existence of mnemonic poems which these young Arabic speakers of the High Plateau and the Tell learned by heart in order to make themselves familiar with a practical Kabyle vocabulary, pedagogically well chosen, which would help them to find their footing in their new situation. I regret not having kept a specimen, but I remember that this practical, utilitarian poetry, with a good rhythm and in a correct dialectal [Arabic], included Berber verbs, nouns and expressions with their Arabic equivalents, referring to objects and acts essential to their daily life.]

I've written previously about a Classical Arabic poem intended to teach Songhay in a similar context: students coming to study in areas where a different language is spoken. Unfortunately the poems Lacheraf describes have not been published, as far as I know, but the papers of the noted anti-colonial leader Shaykh Aheddad include a Dardja-Kabyle wordlist presumably intended for the same purpose; this is described in Aïssani's 2012 article Le lexique manuscrit Arabe dialectal-Kabyle de la Zawiyya historique de Cheikh Aheddad.

The merits of teaching in Darja are open to debate, as are the motivations of Benghabrit. But to go into a sudden moral panic over Benghabrit's proposal, you need to ignore not only current but also historical practice among Algerian teachers. Anyone who really thinks Darja should be banned from the classroom should push to have that actually happen, not wait until someone admits to it to start protesting - and should acknowledge that doing that would in fact be something new.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Algerian Arabic in schools? Actions speak louder than words

As we have seen, research and common sense both confirm that students learn better if you teach them non-language subjects in their first language, whereas it is still hotly debated whether it's better to teach languages in the students' first language or in the target language. One might therefore assume that Benghabrit had the former especially in mind when she proposed teaching 1st and 2nd grade in Darja (Algerian Arabic). After all, only half of the first grade timetable in Algeria is devoted to learning Arabic; the rest is rather ambitiously divided between Maths, Science and Technology, Islamic Studies, Civics, Art, and PE.

But no. In fact, Benghabrit specifically frames teaching in Darja as "a solution... for teaching standard Arabic to our children" and calls for "a national debate on the best way to teach Arabic and the main languages[?] to our children", while emphasising the problem of children failing Arabic. She notes that "if a child does not master Arabic, he cannot master the other subjects which are taught in Arabic, notably essential subjects such as mathematics", without so much as musing on whether maybe we should try to separate the problem of learning mathematics - especially in first grade! - from the problem of learning grammar.

Focusing specifically on Arabic teaching immediately begs the question asked by many critics: if it's more effective to teach Standard Arabic using the students' first language, why does that not also apply to French and English? French is introduced in 3rd grade, and her proposal stops at 2nd. Practically every Algerian I've ever met assumes - rightly or wrongly - that monolingual language teaching is more effective, or indeed that it's only way to teach a language. In such a context, Benghabrit's emphasis on using Darja to teach Standard Arabic can hardly fail to be seen as an attempt to handicap students' acquisition of Standard Arabic while leaving their acquisition of French intact. Her supporters in the Algerian press do little to dispel this assumption; the ones I've seen either don't address the question of its effect on Arabic teaching or are openly hostile to Arabic. That interpretation goes a long way towards explaining the violence of the public reaction against her proposal, disingenuous though it may be.

Even if Benghabrit had had the sense to frame this proposal around non-language subjects instead of around Arabic, actions speak louder than words. When someone obviously well-connected and well-educated, and presumed to be rich, comes and tells Algerians that mother tongue education helps children learn better, the question on people's minds is obvious: Did you demand it for your own children, or your nephews, or your grandchildren? If Benghabrit did, she hasn't mentioned it. Certainly no one else in the government did: we see the rich and powerful seeking out private schools in French, not looking for ones that teach in Darja. No wonder Algerians aren't buying it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Algerian Arabic in schools? More smoke than fire

Conveniently distracting public attention from the recent assassination attempt on the president's brother and the continuing drop in oil prices, Algeria's Minister of Education, Nouria Benghebrit, has recently provoked a stormy debate by announcing that preschool, 1st grade, and 2nd grade would from now on be taught partly in local dialects. (Contrary to some reporting, there is no question of introducing dialectal Arabic as a school subject.) In a TV interview, she points out that nearly 10% of Algerian children repeat second grade, and argues that the solution is for the teacher to make more use of the linguistic abilities they come into school with.

Public opinion in Dellys seems to be overwhelmingly against this move, and I suspect that applies to most of Algeria. The president of the teachers' union (UNPEF) called it "a dangerous precedent" reminiscent of "France's [colonial-era] efforts to erase the pillars of the national identity", while the Association of Muslim Ulama went so far as to call for a school boycott (also here) in the event of its implementation - echoing the strategy by which, twenty years ago, Kabyle activists forced the state to teach Berber in school. However, an independent teachers' union (SATEF) expressed its support, claiming that "in the 1970s Algeria called in Egyptian teachers who taught in Egyptian Arabic and no one said anything". I won't bother with the statements of party politicians, whose easily predictable positions are meaningless to anyone but the few who still take their game seriously; but it is interesting that quite a few journalists seem to have come out in support.

Despite all this noise, however, this move will have no direct consequences (except potentially for Berber speakers), for a simple reason: Algerian primary school teachers already, by necessity, teach largely in dialect. The minister admits as much in the same interview, breaking into French to say that this move will simply "déculpabiliser" the teachers. The more intelligent among her critics, such as Mohamed Djemai, make the same point. The problems Benghebrit points to are real enough - such as massive rates of subject failure in Arabic in completely Arabic-speaking regions - but telling teachers to start doing something that they're already doing is hardly likely to solve them!

Rather than as a change in practice, this statement could be understood as an attempt to move Algeria's Overton window (at least insofar as as it's anything but a distraction). If a government minister can now get away with suggesting publicly that the dialect has a positive role to play in education, then maybe one ten years down the line will be able to make proposals that are currently unthinkable. Whether she can in fact get away with this suggestion, or gets thrown out for it at the next reshuffle, remains to be seen. Algerians often assume that any proposal to improve the status of dialectal Arabic is just a stalking horse for preserving the position of French, so it doesn't help that Benghebrit speaks rather poor Arabic: even her conversational dialectal Arabic sounds rather halting when contrasted with the fluency of her frequent and jarring shifts into French.

So would more dialect in education be a good thing?

The state, and many parents, want all children to learn Standard Arabic, French, and English, in that order. Children's exposure to Standard Arabic is practically limited to school and the cartoons they watch; rather, they speak Algerian Arabic, which shares some basic structure and vocabulary but is still effectively a different language, or Berber, which is radically different. In effect, children are learning Standard Arabic as a second language, as well as French and English. That being the case, the question we need to ask in all three cases (not just for Standard Arabic!) is: is it more effective to teach a second language in the learners' first language, or in the target language, or in a combination of both? Algerians usually assume that the answer is to teach exclusively in the target language. There isn't as much scientific evidence on this question as one might hope, and the question is often debated without any convincing empirical evidence (Bruhlmann 2012 summarises some of this in regards to English teaching). August et al. find that non-English-speakers in English-speaking countries learn to read English better if educated in both languages than if educated only in English; but such students are also extensively exposed to English outside their homes, making the situations less comparable. Any SLA researchers reading this are cordially invited to propose better references.

However, schooling is not just about learning languages. Is it more effective to teach other subjects in students' first language, or in a second language? The answer seems too obvious to bear investigating, but it too has occasionally been investigated - notably in the context of America's bilingual education debate. Both Rolstad et al. (2005) and Slavin and Cheng (2005), usefully summarised here, find that immigrant children in the US learn more if taught bilingually than if taught only in English, even as measured by tests in English. Similarly, students in Hong Kong taught in English (Lo and Lo 2013) were found to perform more poorly in non-language subjects than those taught in Chinese, despite the large difference between the Chinese used in school (Mandarin) and that spoken at home there (Cantonese). So it seems that the obvious conclusion is true: it's easier to learn non-language subjects in your first language (i.e. Algerian dialectal Arabic), and failing that, easier to learn them in a closely related language (i.e. Standard Arabic) than in a very different one (i.e. French). This suggests that dialectal Arabic should play a rather larger role in Algerian schools than almost anyone is willing to consider at the moment.

Quite apart from school performance or school curricula, though - and no matter what the underlying agenda may be - it's nice that Algerian dialectal Arabic is finally getting taken seriously enough for proposals like this to be heard. It may be a shame that most Algerians can only express themselves fluently in this "dialect", but it's a fact - and their voices should not be banished from public debate by their inability to dress their thoughts up in a more prestigious language. A good knowledge of its extensive vocabulary and its complex morphology is an achievement that takes years; why do we insist on treating it as an embarrassment or a sign of ignorance?

One of the most interesting responses to this debate was by a teacher, interviewed by Mohamed Saadoune. She strongly supports teaching in Fusha, not for nationalistic or religious reasons, but simply - because its use lets teachers reassert their authority over the class! "It clearly signals to the student that we are no longer in the street, but rather in a place where we learn, and where there are rules. Putting Standard Arabic into question quite simply signals to the students that there is no longer any difference between the street and the school. This necessary boundary risks being erased." Understandable as it might be given the state of Algerian society, this is a counsel of despair: it presupposes that the way you learn to behave in school has nothing to do with the rest of life! In that case, what good does school do at all? Surely the goal should be, precisely, to erase or at least blur the boundary between school and the street - to make it clear that what you ideally learn at school, including expanded vocabulary and polite behaviour, can and should be applied outside school?

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Can two kids change Algerian Arabic? (Probably not, but let's see.)

In central Algerian Arabic, feminine nouns are usually marked by a suffix -a, which becomes -ət when possessed. Pronominal possessors are indicated by suffixes, eg -i "my", -u "his". The lax vowel ə cannot occur in open syllables; when the suffix starts with a vowel, this is resolved by dropping it. If doing so would result in a three-consonant cluster, then, in certain cases, the latter is broken up by inserting a new schwa after the first consonant in the cluster, and geminating that consonant: thus jəfn-a جفنة "big bowl" becomes jəffən-t-i جفّنتي "my big bowl". I've been trying to figure out when exactly this happens in the dialect of Dellys, and finding a good deal of variation, especially in the treatment of sonorants: some people (especially but not exclusively the older ones) say səlʕ-t-i سلْعتي "my goods", leaving the cluster intact, while others say səlləʕ-t-i سلّعتي. I was surprised, however, to find two children, 8 and 10-year-old siblings, using a strategy not, as far as I know, used by adults for nouns at all: changing the problematic ə into a. This was confirmed not just by elicitation (zənq-at-i زنقاتي "my alley", ʕənb-at-i عنباتي "my grape", səlʕ-at-i سلعاتي "my goods") but also by sentences produced; thus for bəlɣ-a بلغة "pair of flip-flops":
ənta ʕəndək bəlɣ-at-ək w ana ʕəndi bəlɣ-at-i انتا عندك بلغاتك وانا عندي بلغاتي
"You have your flip-flops and I have my flip-flops."
and for xədm-a خدماتك "work", completely unprompted:
kəmmli xədm-at-ək كمّلي خدماتك
"Finish your work."
which his older brother actually corrected to kəmmli xəddəm-t-ək كمّلي خدّمتك.

Adults' speech furnishes one plausible model for this strategy - not in nouns but in participles. The active feminine participle takes direct object pronoun suffixes, identical to the genitive ones except in the 1st person singular. In such forms, -ət becomes -at before a vowel, rather than dropping the ə: šayf-a شايفة "having seen (f.)", šayf-at-u شايفاتهُ "having seen him (f. subject)". But its extension to nouns is something quite new; neither their parents nor their elder brother nor any adult I've met use such forms.

Most probably, the next time I go to Dellys I'll find these two children using the normal forms and denying they ever spoke this way. Even now, they already use the normal form for body parts which almost always occur possessed: rəqb-a رقبة "neck" becomes rəqqəb-t-i رقّبتي "my neck". But what if this innovation instead spreads among their peers? Most likely it won't: there seems to be little evidence for children initiating language change, notwithstanding the idea's widespread adoption by generative historical linguists, and adults' innovations are much more likely to be maintained or copied (cf. Luraghi 2013, Foulkes and Vihman fc; for a potential counterexample, see Moyna 2009). For that very reason, however, it will be worth keeping an eye on them; potential counterexamples are always interesting.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Seaweed from Hell? A Qur'ānic hapax legomenon in a modern Arabic dialect

The Qur'ān contains many Arabic words obscure enough that even the earliest commentators (eg al-Ṭabarī), at a time when Arabs still natively spoke something quite close to Classical Arabic, considered them to need glossing. This fact has led to sometimes rather wild speculations; at the extreme, Luxenberg, whose attempt to reinterpret houris as grapes brought him some notoriety a decade ago, bases his entire project on the assumption that such words are mistranscriptions or misinterpretations of Syriac. A look at modern Arabic dialects, however, reveals that in some cases a Qur'ānic Arabic word that was evidently unfamiliar to the largely Levantine or Iraqi audience of early commentators nevertheless survives right up to the present in other regions, confirming its historical reality and confirming how regionally variable the vocabulary was within even early Arabic.

One such case that I recently came across is ḍarīʕ ضريع, occurring in the Qur'ān only once, in verse 6 of Surat Al-Ghāshiyah:

They [the inhabitants of Hell] have no food except ḍarīʕ, which neither fattens nor takes away hunger.
The commentators' consensus is that this is a Ḥijāzī word, unfamiliar to Arabs from other regions, referring in this passage to dried shibriq – a thorny shrub with the Latin name of Zilla spinosa. The obscurity of this term outside the Qur'ān may be gauged by the fact that many early Arabic dictionaries omit it entirely; almost all occurrences in's rather large collection of classical Arabic literature are in quotes or explanations of this Qur'ānic verse.

So far, I am not aware of any Arabic dialect in which a reflex of the word has survived in the Qur'ānic sense. However, the names of land plants are very often extended to sea plants – for example, Ulva lactuca is “sea lettuce” in English, “laitue de mer” in French, and šḷađ̣a taʕ əlbħəṛ شلاظة تاع البحر in Dellys Arabic – and ḍarīʕ appears to be a case in point. Ibn al-Bayṭār (a 13th century botanist born in Málaga) glosses ḍarīʕ simply as a plant cast up by the salt sea from its bottom, found along the sea coast, not even bothering to mention the Qur'ānic usage of the word. The 13th century lexicographer Ibn Manđ̣ūr, born in Tunis, likewise gives as the primary meaning of ḍarīʕ a green, stinking, light plant cast up by the sea”. [Addition: A more picturesque attestation occurs in al-Nuwayrī (Egypt, 13th-14th c.), who describes a Fatimid general's conquest of Morocco: "He continued until he reached the ocean, and ordered that some fish be caught, and put them in a jar of water and brought them to Mu`izz in the post, and put inside his letter ḍarīʕ of the sea."]

Unlike the terrestrial meaning, this sense has survived in colloquial usage right up to the present day: in Dellys (central Algeria), the keystone seagrass of the Mediterranean, Posidonia oceanica, is called ṭṛiʕ طريع. Just as Ibn al-Bayṭār describes, this seagrass is cast up by the sea in vast quantities along the coast. The change of ḍ > ṭ is not regular in Dellys, but is sporadically attested here (eg ṭəmm “gather together” < ḍamma), and is a good deal commoner in the very similar dialect of the Algiers Casbah; so the derivation is unproblematic.

What is the connection between Zilla spinosa and Posidonia oceanica? It would be hard to think of two plants which resemble one another less. Posidonia oceanica has no thorns, never forms a shrub, and isn't even the same shade of green. Rather than form, we must look to function. Zilla spinosa is (if we may trust the lexicographers and commentators) very bad fodder; Ibn Manđ̣ūr comments that camels fed on it gain neither fat nor meat. Posidonia oceanica has many functions reported for it in Mediterranean cultures, but that of fodder is conspicuous for its absence, suggesting that it too does not make good fodder. This suggests an etymology: the meanings of the root ḍrʕ include “be humble, weak”, and cattle fed on ḍarīʕ presumably become weak.

The obvious follow-up question is whether either sense of ḍarīʕ has survived elsewhere in Arabic, so I'll close by asking my readers: is the word ḍarīʕ used in an Arabic dialect that you know? If so, what does it mean?