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?