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.)


Y said...

How about 'body ache', as from a flu or physical labor, vs. skin pain, as from a sunburn?

Unknown said...

Loads of interesting stuff here. The English word "body" itself appears to be a meronym: those who know tell me Old English 'bodig' meant the part of us roughly between the waist and the neck, not our whole body.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

OK, I've got some initial results already... Just asked a rather young speaker on Facebook who I haven't worked with much. For him, there's no ambiguity at all: aglim means "body" (even in reference to a potato it means the insides), and the Arabic loan ejjeld (which for the speakers I worked with just means "hide, leather") is used for "skin (as a whole)":

اجليم نبونادم يسرطيه اجلد
Aglim n bunadem iserṭiyya ejjeld.
The human body is covered in skin.

اللفعا تج جلدنس
Ellafɛa ttejj/tɣeyyaṛ ejjeld ennes.
The viper sheds/changes its skin.

Now to compare that with older speakers.

Y said...

اللفعا is an Arabic loan, isn't it?

David Marjanović said...

I wouldn't know how to render "body ache" in German...

Valentina said...

Dear Lameen, interesting post!
My data confirms that of your young consultant. Body is aglim and there is no ambiguity with ǧǧəld. I knew that aglim could be used for human or animal bodies but I didn't know you can also use it for vegetables, that's interesting.

As far as I know, iləm can be used for human or animal skin. For vegetables, you can both use iləm or laqšuṛ.

There is also tankuṛdast that is only used for the part of sheep or goat's skin that is usually eaten with meat.
ǧǧəld translates both iləm and tankuṛdast, so I think that the Arabic form is used in a more generic way, to designate skin in general.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks Valentina! Makes me wonder whether "skin" was a misunderstanding, although historically that's certainly what it meant originally in Berber.

Y: Yes.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

For comparison:

Tamasheq aǵlem "prayer skin, sheepskin used as prayer mat"
Ouargli aglim "peau, d'où cuir"

Unknown said...

" David Marjanović said...
I wouldn't know how to render "body ache" in German..."

Nor I, David. As a native speaker of (British) English, I am unfamiliar with the expression. Out of context, I would assume it to refer to "hurting all over", but apparently for "Y", it designates internal as contrasted with superficial pain. I hesitate to suggest "innerlich": I have a painful memory of a (native German) colleague of mine translating "overground silos" as "überirdische silos".

David Marjanović said...

That's not painful; überirdisch can have its literal meaning, especially when contrasted with unterirdisch. The silos won't be taken as celestial. :-)

Unknown said...

Is there a distinction for you between oberirdisch (physical) and überirdisch (metaphysical)? There seems to be a small number of words in which the prefixes über- and ober- are semantically distinctive.

David Marjanović said...

Yes, but the latter can be used in the meaning of the former when it's contrasted with unterirdisch. The opposite does not occur.

In dialects around mine, ober can even be used instead of the preposition über.

Unknown said...

I used to frequent a bar in Strasbourg where the head waiter (Ober) rejoiced in the name Antoine Uebel. He wasn't at all übel, he was very nice. Shame the final consonant wasn't 'r', he could have been Ober Über!