Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Scattered etymological notes

I'm posting these mostly so I don't forget them...

Algerian Arabic jəḥmum جحموم "blackbird", and its Kabyle counterpart ajeḥmum, derive from Classical Arabic yaḥmūm يحموم "soot-black". This otherwise very irregular change y- > j- is perfectly paralleled in another animal name of the form yaCCūC: jəṛbuʕ جربوع "jerboa" from yarbūʕ يربوع. Could this be the regular outcome of this particular template? We need to check if any other yaCCūC animal names have survived.

The Korandje word for "vulva", imən, looks phonologically like an obvious match for Berber iman "soul, self". However, I could never see any sufficiently clear connection between the two semantically. The missing link is provided by Colin's (1918:118) description of the Moroccan Arabic dialect of Taza: there, rōḥ is glossed as a euphemistic term for "vulve de la jument ou de la vache". Is this attested in Berber itself anywhere, I wonder?

Another Korandje word, tasənɣəyt, refers to a type of rock; after Paleolithic discoveries near Tabelbala, paleoarcheologists ended up giving its name to an Acheulian cleaver type, the "Tachenghit" cleaver. This seems to match Jijel Arabic ašənɣud "pierre lisse (pour broyer)" (Marçais 1954:333), although Hassaniya Arabic may offer a more direct point of comparison. I don't remember seeing this in any Berber dictionary so far; is that attested?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Getting lost in the NW Sahara

Two languages of the northwestern Sahara, spoken reasonably close to each other, have basic motion verbs derived from a word that originally meant GET LOST. Let's see if we can figure out how that happened.

For COME, practically all Berber languages consistently use reflexes of the proto-Berber word *asəʔ. In the largest Berber variety, however - Tashelhiyt, in southern Morocco - this root has been lost, and a quite different verb is used: ašk (ⴰⵛⴽ). The original meaning of this verb can still be seen in other Berber languages, such as Tamasheq: GET LOST (a meaning which in Tashelhiyt has been replaced by what's probably a borrowing from Arabic جلا.) Presumably, GET LOST came to mean WANDER, and WANDER (over) came to mean COME.

In Songhay, GET LOST is *dere(y), preserved as such in most varieties. In Korandje in western Algeria, however - uniquely within the family - this root's reflex has undergone a very similar shift in meaning: dri now means GO. (Songhay speakers might assume this comes from dira WALK, but this word, from Proto-Songhay *dida, rather corresponds to Korandje zda WALK.) Meanwhile, Berber *aškəʔ GET LOST has itself been borrowed - probably from Tamasheq - as wuška GET LOST (the vowels reflect the Berber perfective form.)

In summary:

Gao Songhaykaaderekoy

Both changes can be summarized as GET LOST > BASIC-MOTION-VERB. Lexically, Korandje shows heavy influence from southern Moroccan Berber, much of which seems to match Tashelhiyt better than it does the Southern Tamazight varieties currently spoken closest to Tabelbala. That makes it rather tempting to seek a contact explanation. But if Korandje was copying a Tashelhiyt pattern, why would it replace GO rather than COME?

To make sense of what happened, I think we have to envision an intermediate earlier stage where WANDER (from GET LOST) was getting used as a generic verb of motion irrespective of direction in some (perhaps expressive) contexts. Both Tashelhiyt and Korandje require direction towards (and sometimes away from) the speaker to be expressed with a directional morpheme outside the verb root proper, so no ambiguity would necessarily result. From this situation, WANDER could end up replacing either COME or GO, while still maintaining the existing (seemingly superfluous) lexical distinction between the two by keeping the other root.

Now I think about it, British English offers a possible parallel for the initial stages of such a development, with particles substituting for the directionals of Berber and Songhay. In phrases like "he wandered over" ("he came over"), "he wandered off" ("he went away"), the original implication of aimlessness has faded away in informal usage to the point of being virtually absent. Should we expect some peripheral English dialect to replace "come" or "go" with "wander" altogether? Check back in a few centuries to find out...

Sunday, September 08, 2019

C. S. Lewis' criterion for prescriptivism

Prescriptivism - it's what linguists love to hate, and not without reason. So much of it is just a thin veil stretched over social prejudices. But could we have socially impartial, language-internal criteria for good and bad language change? C. S. Lewis, in Studies in Words (1960:6), proposes one:
This implies that I have a good idea of what is good and bad language. I have. Language is an instrument for communication. The language which can with the greatest ease make the finest and most numerous distinctions of meaning is the best. It is better to have like and love than to have aimer for both.

In the book, he makes some effort to use this to judge various changes in English lexical semantics: he deplores the loss of the old senses of "liberal" and "conservative" caused by their adoption as party political labels replacing Whig and Tory, but regards the change of "wit" from "genius" to its modern meaning as having happily made it a useful word.

What would his reaction have been to some of the changes in English that have occurred since? Applying his criterion strictly, he should have welcomed words like "vape" or "twerk" - new forms expressing previously unlexicalized meanings. (His probable reaction to their referents is another story!) "Irregardless" should have left him unmoved - a new (actually not that new) word for a meaning already expressed by "regardless" has no impact on the ease of making "the finest and most numerous distinctions of meaning" (and may make it easier for poets to fit their thoughts to the metre). The use of "literally" as a general intensifier, on the other hand, should have driven him up the wall - he specifically complains about "verbicide" through inflation, citing the comparable case of "awfully". In brief, whatever the merits of this criterion, it cannot consistently be used as a general-purpose attack on novelties; it forces the prescriptivist to consider them on a case-by-case basis.

Assuming such a criterion is accepted, the next move is predictable: someone somewhere is going to want to compare the merits of different languages on its basis. The problems with that should be obvious. Suppose language A makes finer and more numerous distinctions of meaning in one semantic field than language B, but in another semantic field the reverse is true (as is usually the case). How do you weigh the importance of different semantic fields in an impartial way? To make matters worse, many of the relevant distinctions of meaning are only going to be familiar to a handful of domain-specific experts; can we really consider them as properties of the language as a whole (whatever that even means)? A criterion like this makes more sense as a standard for measuring individual changes than as a metric for comparing entire languages.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

On reading Poplack 2018

It was a frustrating experience reading Poplack's Borrowing: Loanwords in the Speech Community and in the Grammar. On the one hand, it’s intelligent, well-written, and packed with a wealth of precious sociolinguistic data on borrowing and to a lesser extent code-switching; on the other hand, it appears to be largely dedicated to hammering home a definition of the former that appears to me to be fundamentally untenable. The author ably demonstrates that three criteria that one might expect to be closely correlated are not: conventionalization, morphosyntactic integration, and phonological integration are all independent of one another. Of these three, she chooses to define borrowing exclusively in terms of morphosyntactic integration. For her (enormous, but not very numerous) preferred corpora, this apparently works just fine. But...

The notion of “borrowing” emerged from diachronic studies of the vocabulary used in monolingual discourse. As such, whatever necessary criteria we choose to use to delineate marginal cases, conventionalisation must remain a sufficient criterion for borrowing: if the whole speech community uses the form irrespective of individuals’ level of competence in its source language, it must be a borrowing, not a code-switch. Poplack rejects the criterion of conventionalization as essentially extra-linguistic, preferring the criterion of morphosyntactic integration; yet the latter invokes community conventions just as much as the former, the only difference being the type of conventions invoked (grammatical vs. lexical.) Finding that single words of foreign origin overwhelmingly display morphosyntactic integration and are thus by her definition nonce borrowings, she concludes (p. 213) that “loanwords do not originate as code-switches… the very first mention of a nonce form already features the full complement of morphosyntactic integration into [the recipient language]”. But this makes some problematic predictions.

First of all, if this is true, borrowings should never retain source morphosyntax. This is clearly not tenable. Borrowings retain source morphology all the time: Berber nouns in several Arabic dialects, and Arabic nouns throughout Berber, keep their plurals; Latin nouns in German keep their case markers; in a tiny scattering of languages around the Mediterranean, such as Ghomara Berber, borrowed verbs even keep their conjugation. Some categories of borrowings retain their syntax as well: larger borrowed numerals precede or follow the noun according to the rules of the source language, not of the recipient, in Korandje; borrowed primary adpositions and complementizers rather consistently place their complement as in the source language wherever they are found (cf. Moravcsik 1978). Poplack attempts to dispose of the latter with a short footnote (p. 50): “More wide-ranging proposals for borrowability hierarchies […] including prepositions, determiners, pronouns, clitics, and complementizers may be characteristics of certain extreme borrowing situations, such as pidginization or creolization, or, alternatively, the result of confounding code-switches […] and borrowing. The latter is so heavily restricted to content words that this is practically a defining characteristic.” But this really will not do. Turkish (which has borrowed the complementizer ki from Persian along with the associated word order) is hardly anyone’s idea of a pidgin or creole!

Second, such a claim (along with the book as a whole) seems to presuppose that borrowings are necessarily single lexical items. This is manifestly not the case. In English, borrowings that consist of multiple source language words (quid pro quo, per cent, hors d’oeuvres…) are sufficiently unanalysable to be considered as single lexical items in the recipient language; these need not pose a problem for Poplack. But in quite a few languages, including many Berber varieties, at least two classes of multi-word borrowings remain clearly analysable as multiple words, and productive, even for monolingual speakers: numerals, and numeral+measure noun combinations. Such borrowings must necessarily start out as code-switches in Poplack’s terms.

From these facts, I conclude that the process of conventionalization is even more independent of morphosyntactic integration than Poplack assumes. Morphosyntactic integration, as Myers-Scotton implies, is far stricter for structure than for semantics, and is strictly obligatory in neither case. And for function words, at least, syntactic integration only concerns relations up the tree, not down it. It follows that neither morphosyntactic nor phonological integration can be considered necessary or sufficient criteria for borrowing.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Berber-Arabic macaronic verse

I recently came across a poem in praise of the oasis of Awjila in eastern Libya, attributed to its patron saint, the 15th-century Moroccan traveller Abu'l-`Abbas Ahmad ibn `Isa al-Fasi "al-Zarruq". The poem is in Arabic, but its first few verses stand out for including bits of the Berber language of Awjila:
أواجلة قوم يسوقون عيرهم The Awjilis are a people who drive their caravans
إلى مصر والسودان في طلب التبر To Egypt and Sudan in search of gold.
كلامهم "سوقات" في كل موطن Their speech is suq-at (drive!) in every country,
"أكا وكاقني" على أمد الدهر Akka (here it is!) and mag-nni (where is it?) all the time;
و"ييد وقيم ديلا" ألفاظ كلها And yid (come) and qim dila (sit here) are the words of all of them
و"أزل فيسا" لغاهم على الأثر And azzel fisa (run quickly!) is their accustomed utterance.

I can't vouch for the attribution, but it so happens that Morocco did have a tradition of Berber-Arabic macaronic verse, whose best-known exemplar is al-Rasmuki's 17th-century comic poem Qawm `ijāf ("A starved people"); the latter begins:

بسم الإله في الكلام إيزوار "In the name of the God" in speech izwar (comes first)
وهو على عون العبد إيزضار For He to help a person iẓḍar (is able),
وهو الذي له توليغتين And He is the one to whom belong tulɣiwin (praises),
وهو المجير عبده من تومريتين And He is the protector of his servant from tumritin (trials);
وبعده على النبي تازاليت And after that, upon the Prophet be taẓallit (prayer),
أعظم بها أجرا ولو تاموليت Great in reward, even if only tamullit (one time).
سافرت دھرا ووصیفي وینزار I set off one day with my servant Winzar,
في سنة قد قل فیھا ءانزار In a year where there was little anẓar (rain).
والقصد في السفر جوب تیمیزار The purpose of the journey was to reach timizar (lands),
والسیر في خیامھا وإیكیدار And travel in their tents and igidar (fortresses).
حتى حللت بعد سير أوسان Until I stayed, after a trip of ussan (days),
في قرية يدعونها بأورفان In a village that they call Urfan...

Given that the phenomenon is attested from both ends of the Berber world, it would be interesting to explore how widespread such poetry was, and whether it can be considered as constituting a genre in its own right.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Insults slipping through the diglossia filter

I recently came across a video, apparently from the little town of Souani near Tlemcen, of a poet, one Mohamed Tlemceni, performing a public satire of various Algerian establishment figures: كلمة في حق العصابة من إعداد شاعر الحراك تلمساني محمد. The poem itself is in Standard Arabic (Fusha), the normal language for formal public performance, but he intersperses elements from Algerian Arabic (Darja, italicised), as in:
أنتم تعيشون ببركات فخامته
فانحنوا له طاعة وامتثالا
خسئت يا من عرفناك رخيسا
شياتا للفساد طبّالا

"You all live thanks to His Excellency's blessings,
So bow down to him in obedience and compliance" -
Be off with you, you whom we know of old for a cheap bootlicker (lit. shoe-polisher),
a cheerleader (lit. drum-beater) for corruption!
or (in a reference to Ali Haddad):
جمعت ما يفوق الثلاثين مليار دولار بعرق جبيني
ولم أكن يوما محتالا
أول حرّاڨ بعد الحراك المبارك
فبعد أن كان ميليارديرا صار بطّالا

"I amassed more than 30 billion dollars by the sweat of my brow,
and was never once a crook."
The first harrag (illegal emigrant) after the blessed Hirak (protest movement) -
After being a billionaire, he became unemployed!

So what's going on here? The first part of the performance is satirical: for each person mentioned, he gives one or two vainglorious lines sarcastically put in the mouth of the target (often alluding to real quotes), then two or three tearing him down (then he throws the target's picture in the bin). In the second, he praises the Algerian people and urges it to ever greater achievements. Every single Darja element he uses is in the satirical part; various insults (shiyyat "bootlicker", Tebbal "cheerleader", HeRRag "illegal emigrant", HeRki "traitor") and one direct quote (mocked immediately aftewards). The unironic praise is pure Fusha.

This is not a particularly representative sample of the protests, as the small audience and the rural setting should suggest; in its theatrical, rather bombastic style, it harks back to the public speaking of the 1960s or 1970s more than to any contemporary mainstream. The theatricality is obviously to some extent deliberate and even prized; it almost inevitably accompanies the polished use of a language learned at school and never spoken in ordinary conversation. But it also undermines the force of emotional epithets, making them seem a bit recherché. Shifting into Darja for insults helps to restore their immediacy, while adding a bit of comic effect to a moment clearly intended to provoke laughter (at, not with). But it seems the poet is not yet ready to allow that kind of everyday realism into moments of hope; for dreaming of a bright future, only artfully selected, formal words will do. By relegating the Darja words exclusively to the context of mockery, he strengthens the principle of Fusha as the appropriate language for proper speech even as he violates it by letting them into the poem at all. It's a long way from something like Anes Tina's equally contemporary El Cha3be Yourid, where diglossia is hardly even felt as a relevant constraint.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Final r-cluster metathesis in one child's French

My favourite 4-year-old is doing something very interesting these days with final consonant clusters in his French. Many word-final consonant clusters starting with R get metathesised: parle (speaks) becomes [palʀ] (yet parler "to speak" remains [paʀle]), tourne (turn) becomes [tunʀ], herbe (grass) becomes [ebʀ], ferme (close) becomes [femʀ]. On the other hand, "porte" (door) remains [pɔʀt]; regarde (look!) [ʀəgaʀd]; "force" (strength) [fɔʀs]; "mars" (March) [maʀs], "parc" (park) [paʀk]. Presumably the phenomenon is related to sonority: {l, n, m, b} metathesise, {t, d, s, k} do not. But French allows word-final consonant clusters with falling or rising sonority, and he has no trouble with words like "monstre" (monster) [mõstʀ]. Any idea if this is typical in French first language acquisition?

Nothing of the sort happens in his English or his Arabic. Then again, his English is non-rhotic anyway for some reason, and in Arabic he pronounces /r/ as [ʕ]; French is the only one of his languages where he's got the pronunciation of rhotics more or less sorted.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ga3 c'est que ga3!

Among the many responses to recent events in Algeria circulating on Facebook, a particularly linguistically interesting one caught my eye:
His Excellency the People
"Throw 'em all out!"
That means all!
Million Man March of Friday 29 March
Peaceful, Popular, National, Civilised

The first two lines and the last two are in Fusha (Standard Arabic); the two middle lines are very much in Darja ("dialectal" Algerian Arabic). The clash of registers produces an amusing effect. But even more striking is the first word of the fourth line: سيك sik. You'll search for it in vain in Arabic dictionaries, or even in Algerian Arabic dictionaries (they do exist) printed before, oh, 2000 or so; it's a word from French - well, in French it's three words - c'est que, literally "it is that..." In French, this structure is used to mark sentence focus. You can find examples of it being used that way in Algerian Arabic too, eg in Lotfi DK's "Aar alikoum": "المشكلة فهذ البشر سيك في راسهم كاين لحجر" [The problem with these people is that there are rocks in their heads]. But that's obviously not quite what's going on here, though. I haven't come across this construction often enough to have a good sense of all its uses, but it seems to be gaining new functions as it becomes integrated into the wider system of information structure marking in Darja.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Kabyle-Arabic code-switching

One of the great understudied subjects in North African linguistics is Berber-Arabic codeswitching (unlike French-Arabic and French-Berber codeswitching, which are massively overstudied); among the few references available are Kossmann 2014, for a central Moroccan community, and Hamza 2007, for Tunisia. A video from "Nass Bejaia" that's been circulating on social media might seem to provide a promising data source for this: in an eloquent plea against efforts to divide and conquer by setting ethnic groups against each other, the speaker alternates fluent Darja [Algerian Arabic] and Kabyle [Berber] to convey his message to both groups. What better context for code-switching? But, surprisingly enough, there is almost no insertional code-switching, almost no embedded language islands. About the only example is (Kabyle in bold, Arabic underlined):
makanš la d aqbayli, la d aɛeṛbi, la d amẓabi, la d annayli, la d attargi, ula ma... yji waħəd məlkamrun ysəggəm ldzayər nqululu mərħba bik.

There is no Kabyle, no Arab, no Mozabite, no Naili, no Tuareg, even if... there comes someone from Cameroon who would fix Algeria, we'll tell him welcome!

Even here, the second shift comes after an audible pause, and it's probably no coincidence that all the Kabyle elements of this sentence except ula ma are immediately comprehensible to Arabic speakers; even copular d is widely used in Jijel and Bejaia, though unfamiliar elsewhere (and la is ambiguous, used in both languages, which probably facilitates the first shift). Otherwise, the language shifts are rather consistently at phrase boundaries, as in the sentence that follows the previous:

yji waħəd mənnižir, waħəd məḷḷalmạn, lɛaslama

Someone comes from Niger, someone from Germany, welcome.

or as in this later sentence (French in red):

Anda ara aɣ terrem? Wac, ad ɛawdeɣ? Lukan par exemple - Ya xawti, ya xawti, had əlmisaž muhimm židdan məbjaya, makanš əljihawiyya.

Where are you taking us? What, should I say it again? If for example - Brothers, brothers, this message is extremely important from Bejaia: No regionalism!

Sometimes the same content is repeated in both languages successively, sometimes it's left in only one language, but in general, any one phrase should be perfectly comprehensible to a monolingual. It remains to be studied whether this is typical of Kabyle-Arabic code-switching, or just a fact about this short clip.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Protest songs 3: Frs Wld El3lmA

The most sociolinguistically interesting protest song that I've come across since the last post is also among the earliest (28 February): Frs Wld El3lmA's Az-Zawja Al-Khamisa (The Fifth Wife), a heavily underlined (and quite sexist) parable of Algerian history over the past 30 years introduced with وأي تشابه مع الواقع فهو مقصود بشكل متعمد... جدا "Any resemblance to reality is intended deliberately... very deliberately". He then launches into the lyrics - the Arabic is already given as subtitles in the video, so I'll just provide translations... (If you're more interested in the sociolinguistics than in the politics, just skim the lyrics and go to the paragraph that follows.)
In a rich town, whose fortune was plentiful,
There was a Bedouin girl, with an interesting body,
Honeyed eyes and silken hair,
Very romantic; many sought her hand.
Rich and poor competed for her,
Doctors and directors raced each other to visit her family.
They betrayed each other, hated each other, envied each other, conspired against each other,
They withdrew, came to blows, fought each other, made war on each other,
On the pure earth flowed conscience's blood
In total Ignorance (jahiliyya) died young children
Blood flowed and women were raped
The building was destroyed when the skies turned black
And blood flowed from those neglected quarries
With the eyes of the bereaved, the widows, the pregnant...
So that the town would not vanish in the process,
They offered up the beautiful one as a sacrifice to the prince.
Its prince was a migrant, returned from far away
With experience and wisdom and promises and threats.
He made a truce among the people of the great town
And said: "Marry me to the little princess,
So I can finish the trajectory and continue the process
So we can completely destroy this dangerous conflict (fitna)."
He married the second one according to the town's law
And changed its sacred book with fabrications
And spread around its money to keep everyone quiet
And shook up its situation so that the herd would bow down
And said: "Our religion, and it is obligatory to obey it,
Has always made licit a third and fourth wife."
He married the third one, his hair already turning grey,
And [???]
So he admitted that it was time for him to go away,
"So take up the torch, our dear youth -"
But suddenly, a deceptive blow!
The old man is capable of marrying a fourth wife.
A fourth wife? My God! How shall he enter unto her?
He is a decrepit old man, he shall not touch her hand!
A bride, fresh, soft, virginal, timid,
To be handed to an senile man with no manhood
While her family watch silently
And no groom arises among them to protect her;
As if the beloved town had become barren
Bringing forth only females or pseudo-males.
After the wedding, the old man slept a deep sleep
And the bride was lost in the continuation of life.
Who here would protect her, who defend her?
At night, in the bed, he would slink towards her...
The old man wasn't dead, no, the old man wasn't dead
And his gang were enslaving all those who stayed quiet.
Meanwhile, a beautiful new bride grew up,
And the time for her wedding drew near.
Where is her new groom? Come on, men,
Come on up, come on up, get ready for the tournament,
For the old man has become like a dry stalk
And everyone says the sacred law forbids a fifth wife.
But then they brought out to them a letter from the void,
In the handwriting of an old man, signed in ink and pen:
"The sacred law forbids a fourth wife who is a free woman,
But we are in a town, not in Algeria.
You have accepted to become like slaves around me;
Therefore, your daughter is - a slave-girl."
A slave-girl!
After this extended, elaborate, emo parable, he adds an afterword for anyone dense enough not to have gotten it yet:
روينا لكم القصة بالفصحى، لأن الفصحى لغة الأدب. لا تضطرونا باش نحكيوهالكم بالدارجة. في هاذاك الوقت، يا سعدو لي هرب.
"We have narrated to you this story in Fusha [Standard Arabic], because Fusha is the language of literature/politeness. Do not force us [shifts to Darja] to tell it to you in Darja [Algerian Arabic]. At that point, happy* the man that has fled!"

The chants of the demonstrators follow, shouting in chorus: ماكانش الخامسة يا بوتفليقة! "No fifth term, Bouteflika!"

While sociolinguistics is hardly the intended point, the sociolinguistic message comes across just as loud and clear as the political one. Fusha is the language of carefully planned literary compositions, where all the arts of parable and metaphor can be deployed to provide a figleaf of deniability when the censors come along; in Darja, you tell it like is, and it hits hard. As previously, this pair of stereotypes is not to be confused with a fact about the world: Darja even has a dedicated verb for speaking in pointed allusions, يمعني ymaʕni, and the practice of doing so is a core linguistic competence, especially essential for women but admired in men too, and seen as necessary in order to convey criticism without creating grudges and worsening conflicts. Then again, doing so relies extensively on proverbs which, if still Darja, are often far removed from the language of everyday speech; in a sense, resorting to Fusha is a natural extension of that approach. Be that as it may, the trope of Fusha as the language of circumlocution versus Darja as the language of straight talk is out there, familiar enough to every reader to make his invocation of it here rhetorically very effective.

* Is سعدو here a pun on Said [Bouteflika], the president's brother, widely thought to be pulling the strings? I suspect so...

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"I don't speak Arabic, this is in our Darja"

This little clip, of sociolinguistic as well as non-linguistic interest, has gone viral in the Algerian online world (via Twitter):

The reporter, from Sky News Arabia*, is smoothly unrolling premature platitudes in Standard Arabic - الجزائريون يهنّئون بعضهم بما تحقّق إلى حدّ الآن يقولون "the Algerians are congratulating each other on what has been achieved up to now, saying..." when a somewhat inebriated-looking man pops into the frame (despite his companion's best efforts to stop him) and starts trying to address the camera. She very reasonably pushes him back off camera, then thinks better of it and decides to turn the intrusion into an impromptu vox pop. He says, making absolutely no effort at all to adjust his dialect towards any sort of externally imposed norm (the only word he takes from Standard Arabic is مُقتَنِعين "satisfied", presumably quoting the reporter):

ماكاش منها، ماناش مُقتَنِعين ڨاعيتيك باه تغيّر نحّاو پيو وعاودوا داروا پيو واحد أوخر، يتنحّاو ڨاع! That's baloney, we're not satisfied at all. To change, they took away a pawn and put on a different pawn again - they should all get taken away!

Knowing that her largely Middle Eastern target audience (not to mention her bosses) won't be able to understand this - especially not the French loanword pion, pawn - she tells him, in colloquial Algerian Arabic, to speak "عرْبيّة" (Arabic). He dismisses this with the classic line:

مانعرفش عربية، هاذي هي الدّارجة تاعنا I don't know Arabic, this is our Darja [colloquial].

The contrast being drawn there between "Arabic" and "Darja", striking as it is, should not be overstated. It was obvious from context that she was using "Arabic" to mean Standard Arabic or at least something a bit closer to it, and he ran with that; but in another context, he or any other speaker would use "عرْبيّة" (Arabic) to refer to Darja, as in the old joke about the Egyptian trying to buy stamps at an Algerian post office. (He asks for Standard Arabic "طابع بريدي" and gets nowhere; when the postmaster eventually figures out what he wants, he shouts "قول تامبر، ماتعرفش العربية؟" - "Say timbre - don't you even know Arabic?")

But it's still worth thinking about why this little video has struck such a chord. Part of the answer, I think, is that it resonates so perfectly with a whole set of stereotypes about Darja vs. Fusha [Standard Arabic]. Fusha is for parroting the official line; Darja is for telling it like it is. Fusha is for fluent, well-planned speech; Darja is off-the-cuff and from the heart. Fusha is for upwardly mobile women; Darja, for working-class men. None of these are truths about the world, obviously - you can be every bit as dishonest or premeditated in Darja as in Fusha (ask s'hab el kachir:), and fluent Fusha is no guarantee you won't find yourself hefting bricks for a living. But they are perceptions that emerge naturally from the regimented, restricted contexts in which Fusha is learned and required. If these stereotypes remind you of Glasgow or the East End, that's no coincidence; they emerge naturally in the context of urban diglossia.

Monday, March 11, 2019

More Algerian protest songs

A whole bunch more protest songs are emerging, as singers ride the wave. I don't think any of them have the kind of reach that La Casa d'El Mouradia does, but they should help counterbalance the Algiers-centrism of the previous post...

From the eastern plateau, in Chaoui (Berber), we have Sami Youress' "Ulac n cinquième" (No fifth term). Now I speak some Siwi, and a bit of Kabyle, but no Chaoui, so I wouldn't be able to translate this without the helpful subtitles, and my transcription is probably wrong in parts, but it starts:

Ulac ulac ulac, ulac n cinquième No no no, no fifth term,
Neṣbeṛ εecrin sna, temlim-aneɣ s imezgan We've waited twenty years, you've loaded us with problems.
Monsieur le Président ṛuḥ Ṛebbi ad yeεfu fell-ak Mr. President, go, God have mercy on you,
Ugir gg ubrid nnek, awid id-ek ayetma-k Go on your way, and take your brothers with you.
Agdud ad yeqqaṛ-ak εecrin sna bzayed fell-ak The people tell you twenty years is too much for you,
Ddzayer tamurt nneɣ ur teɣrid c sɣer baba-k / Algeria is our country, you didn't get it from your father.
Ddzayer tamurt nnek macci d elwert n baba-k. Algeria is your country, not your paternal inheritance.

Prominent opposition rapper Lotfi DK, from further east in Annaba, rose to the occasion as expected with Bandiyya (Bandits); there are whole theses on his oeuvre (well, at least one) so I won't devote too much effort to it here, but here's a short excerpt:

الشعب كرهكُم يا الكلاب The people are fed up with you, you dogs,
عشرين سنة بزّاف Twenty years is too much,
جمعنا أزمات البلاد باعوها في المزاد We've gathered crises, they've sold the country at auction,
البلاد رقّاسات ولبسات راهو زاد The country is dancers and costumes, it's gotten worse,
والرّئيس فلابوسات مانعرف مات ولاّ مازال And the President is in a stroller, don't know if he's dead or not yet...

Down in the Sahara in Adrar, a band calling themselves Gsariyine came up with their own take, with interestingly savvy lyrics as well as an unexplained goat:

واش بغيتوا فينا ضركا What do you want of us now?
البلاد راهي في غرقة The country is drowning;
انتُم عاطينها للسرقة You're handing it over to theft
والشعب خصروا النفقة And the people have lost the spending.
بغيتوا تزيدوا لينا عُهدة You want to impose on us another term
باش تديروا الزردة So you can have a party
تدخّلونا في هردة And get us in a mess
وتلعبوا فوقنا الروندة And play hopscotch all over us;
بلادي، c'est le moment - My country, it's the time
باش الشعب يتكلّموا For the people to speak up
ونكونوا يد واحدة And we'll be [as] one hand
ونبلّعوا للظالم فُمّهُ And close the wrongdoer's* mouth.
إيلا هوما ما حشموا If they have no shame,
حنايا نكونوا نفهموا We'll still understand
ونكونوا حضاريين And we'll be civilized
باش مبعد مانندموش So we don't regret it later.
في هاد اللخضة خصّنا نكونوا سلميين At this moment we must be nonviolent,
باش مايضحكوش علينا الُخرين So that "others" don't laugh at us.

And, moving back to the Algiers area for completeness, some sort of anonymous/Anonymous group came up with a catchy chaabi/country song. It ends:

إذا ادّاوا هاذ العُهدة If they get this term,
ما بقى في الدزاير قعدة No more staying in Algeria;
تتباع في سوق الخُردة It'll be up for sale in the flea market.
افّظنوا يا لا جوناس Wake up, youth,
ولّينا عرّة فالاجناس We've become the laughingstock[?] of peoples,
قولوا هاذ المرّة خلاص Say: This time it's enough.

I assume there are similar songs coming out in the west, and surely in Kabyle, but none of them have crossed my path; if you find any, let me know!

* Corrected following comment on Twitter.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Some Algerian protest songs

What's going on right now in Algeria is fascinating - and difficult to get a full sense of from abroad even if you speak Arabic and French, let alone if you're relying on English-language media. The lyrics of the protest movements - whether composed for the occasion or just reused for it - may offer some interesting perspectives. Unfortunately this brief selection can't claim any particular representativity; these are just a couple of apparently popular ones that have crossed my path.

Starting with what a Marxist might call the urban proletariat of Algiers, we have a USMA football fans' song which outlines the basic issue:

ساعات للفجر وماجاني نوم Hours to dawn and I still haven't slept,
راني نكونصومي غير بالشوية I'm taking drugs, but only little by little;
اشكون السبة واشكون نلوم Who's the cause, who should I blame?
ملّينا المعيشة هاديّا We're fed up* with this life.

في الاّولى نقولوا جازت In the first [presidential term], we'd say it's fine;
حشاوهالنا بالعشرية They filled our heads with the decade [of civil war].
في التانية الحكاية بانت In the second, the story became clear -
لا كاسا دالمورادية La Casa d'El Mouradia [the Presidential residence].
في التالتة البلاد شيانت In the third, the country got thin
بالمصالح الشخصية thanks to private interests...
في الرابعة الپوپيّة ماتت In the fourth, the doll died [ie the president became too unwell to appear in public]
ومازالت القضيّة And the situation continued.

[chorus again]

والخامسة راهي تسويڥي And the fifth is following on,
بيناتهُم راي مبنية It's been set up between them;
والپاصي راو آرشيڥي And the past is archived,
لاڥوا تاع الحرُّيّة The voice of freedom.
ڥيراجنا الهدرة پريڥي Our corner** is [a place for] private talk,
يعرفوه كي يتقيّا They know it/him when he vomits;
مدرسة ولازم سيڥي A school where you need a CV,
بيرو محو الأمّيّة An anti-illiteracy office.
Looking at this as a linguist, there's an interesting contrast between the first and second stanzas; the first is basically in normal Algerian Arabic, but the second uses some very striking French loanwords - some imposed by the rhyme in -ivi, several not. For discussion of similar stylistic devices in medieval Andalusi poetry and late 20th century Algerian rai, see Davies and Bentahila 2008.

Moving on towards the more rah-rah end of the scale, we have "Win Win Win", showing obvious Middle Eastern influence in its form and substantial Standard Arabic influence in its Algerian Arabic. It starts:

وين وين وين؟ وين بيها وين؟ Where where where? Where with it, where?
وين وين وين؟ وين رانا رايحين؟ Where where where? Where are we going?
عيبنا فاح وطننا راح ضاع بين الرجلين، Our shame has festered, our homeland is gone, lost between the legs;
دمنا ساح والمشعل طاح، ماصابش اليدّين، Our blood has flowed, the torch has fallen, it found no hands [to carry it];
ضحّكتو علينا الاجناس وراكو فرحانين You've made the peoples laugh at us, and you're happy about it.

جزاير أرض الحُرّيّة ماتوا عليها رجال Algeria is the land of freedom, for which men have died.
رجال ونسا حاربوا بالنية وجابوا الاستقلال Men and women fought with right intention and brought independence.
ادّيتو الحُكْم بالبُندُقية خُنتوهم يا انذال You people took power at gunpoint and betrayed them, you wretches;
باسم الشرعية الثورية خلفتوا الاحتلال In the name of revolutionary legitimacy you succeeded the occupation.
On the more hipster/"lachichi" end, Jidal showcases a group of artists from Algiers working together to make a worthy but rather forced protest song, guitars, dreadlocks, melodramatic handcuffs and all. The lyrics are mainly in Algerian Arabic, with a stanza or two in Berber, but the refrain is in French ("Libérez l'Algérie", Free Algeria).

يمّا كتّريلنا الدعاوي Mother, pray for us a lot,
ولادك راهُم خارجين Your sons are going out
يمشيوا على الحُرّيّة To walk for freedom***;
يمّا ولادك متحضّرين Mother, your sons are acting civilised,
طالبين ديمُقراطية Asking for democracy -
هاك الورْد زيد الياسمين Here are roses, throw in jasmine - [demonstrators have been giving roses to the police]
في مسيرة سلمية In a peaceful demonstration
عالتغيير معوّلين Bent on change.
الشعب est libéré - The people is free,
Libérez l'Algérie; - Free Algeria;
Libérez, libérez, - Free, free,
Libérez l'Algérie. - Free Algeria.

* Edited: was "tired".
** Edited, thanks to Imad's comment.
*** Fixed.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Abdurehim Heyit's "Mother Tongue"

While I was doing my PhD at SOAS, I found myself one term helping teach a field methods class focusing on Uyghur, a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek spoken in Xinjiang in far western China (textbook here). At the time, as far as I gathered, it was a sleepy borderland region; these days, it's best known for the massive reeducation camps into which the Chinese government has thrown a substantial proportion of the population, in what appears to be an ambitious effort to eradicate their language, culture, and religion. ("Kill the Indian to save the man" was the American version.) Today, it's being reported that the talented Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit (ئابدۇرېھىم ھېيىت, equivalent to Arabic عبد الرحيم عيد), from Kashgar, died in detention at the age of 55, after two years in the camps. [UPDATE: It now seems that he's alive and still being imprisoned without trial.]

One of his best-known songs, originally a poem by Qutluq Shewqi, is a good fit for this blog: Ana til (ئانا تىل), "Mother Tongue" (lyrics, translation). When he sang it, language was still a relatively politically acceptable element of Uyghur identity to emphasise; traditional Communist Party policy for officially recognised ethnic minorities emphasised development of their languages. Now, with hundreds of thousands of people arbitrarily imprisoned, the rapid loss of language rights is the least of anyone's worries.

ئانا تىل بىلگەن كىشىنىڭ ئىززىتىن قىلغۇم كەلۇر،I salute the people who speak my mother tongue,
ئانا تىلنى ئاغزىدىن ئالتۇن بەرىپ ئالغۇم كەلۇر.I am willing to pay in gold for the words they speak.
بۇ ئانا تىل بولسا گەر ئامەرىكا-يۇ ئافرىقىدا،Wherever my mother tongue is found, be it Africa or America,
سەرپ ئەتىپ مىڭلارچە تىللا ئاندى مەن بارغۇم كەلۇر.I would go there, whatever the cost and expense.
ئانا تىل بىلگەن كىشىنىڭ ئىززىتىن قىلغۇم كەلۇر،I salute the people who speak my mother tongue,
ئانا تىلنى ئاغزىدىن ئالتۇن بەرىپ ئالغۇم كەلۇر.I am willing to pay in gold for the words they speak.
ئەي ئانا تىل بىزگە سەن قالغان ئۇلۇغلاردىن نىشان،Oh, my mother tongue, you are the sacred bequest to us from our great ancestors,
سەن بىلەن روھىي زىمىندا ئىپتىخارلانغۇم كەلۇر.With you, I desire to share my pride in you in the spiritual world.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hausa in Tamanrasset

On a recent trip to Tamanrasset, Algeria's southernmost significant city, I was not surprised to see lots of signs in Arabic and French, and not too surprised to see a significant minority of signs with Tamahaq (Tuareg) content; if I have the time I'll post later on the Tifinagh alphabet they used, closer to traditional Tifinagh than the version used in the north but still quite conspicuously modernised. But I hadn't fully appreciated how much immigration Tamanrasset attracts from the south these days, and even allowing for that I wasn't expecting to see Hausa signs as well. There was much more Hausa spoken than written, of course - on our brief trip through Tafsit market, I heard probably as much Hausa as Arabic, and even in the upmarket souvenir shops Hausa music was playing some of the time. But one Hausa expression had clearly made its way into the visual linguistic landscape of the town: over and over again, I saw little unpretentious-looking restaurants labelled with various spellings, in both Latin and Arabic script, of the Hausa phrase mai nama, "meat owner" (ie meat seller). Most of my pictures were blurry, but one came out - here it is.