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of this verb can still be seen in other Berber languages, such as Tamasheq: GET LOST (a meaning which in Tashelhiyt has been replaced by what's probably a borrowing from Arabic جلا.)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...


John Cowan said...

"All that is gold does not glitter / Not all who wander are lost."

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Tamasheq uses ăkk for GO. In Tachehit, ekk means to go through somewhere. E.g., mani tekkit? means "where have you been?". Yet another drift?

nycguy said...

Didn't English already undergo that shift, in the past tense of go, where went is from wend?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

JC: That fits...

Anonymous: Probably - someone needs to reconstruct Berber motion verbs in full one of these days.

nycguy: Good point!

PhoeniX said...

This seems relevant: the Tashlhiyt/Tamazight verb ddu 'to go' appears to have a cognate in Zenaga, whose etymological relationship however isn't entirely clear. But most importantly, in Zenaga the verb means 'to get lost'!: Zng. əddāh I əttəddāh ‘to get lost’

Bob Hoberman said...

I've wondered why 'village' in Arabic is ضيعة ḍajʕa. Is it "lost" out there in the countryside?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Good find PhoeniX!

Bob: I can only suppose so... or was the shift the other way?

Anonymous said...

In Tachelhit “ack” means or can mean both ‘to come, arrive’ and “to get/be lost” (see Dictionnaire des racines berbères, Zerrad).
The same goes for some parts of the central and eastern part of the High-Atlas (maybe even the Middle-Atlas) where they make a difference between; ack: come and acck: lost
Imiccki/imicki [Zerrad/Morocco] means someone who is lost.
Also Zenaga (Mauretanie) has “eck” lost, errer| ackan: to arrive|amecki: stranger, imecki: guest (see Dictionnaire des racines berbères, Zerrad), furthermore Zenaga has: di/ əddāh(PhoeniX, Taine Cheikh): lost and;
- eddidah icmucki off-i’n: viens soir hote sur moi, je te prie de venir chez moi, de venir dejeuner chez moi, je t’invite [La langue berbère de Mauritanie , pp.219 Francis Nicolas]

-Awjila: cki: to leave, to come out [see >An Aujila Berber Vocabulary, Marijn van Putten]
-Senhaja de srair: acka: disappear

In the region of the central-high-atlas [Tachelhit] of Morocco ‘dri’ means ‘go’[with extreme hurry].

examples in morocco:
- asd: come (as-d, near) [> msasa: to agree]
- ackd: come (ack-d, near) [>mcucka: to agree]
- addud: come (ddu-d, near) [Zenaga, ddu/ddg: to agree]

An other observation and comparison ‘asd’ can refer to something that is good, nice, beautiful. In Kabyle you can find: ack: beautiful, happy/heureux

> Ancient Tachelhit examples::

A sentence from Kitab al-ansab [almohad period: 1121–1269]:

ma zgegh wer anegh tefisem negh yucek
wandi geranegh idewen yesennelkemen

"Why have you not informed us? Or did the person you
sent to bring us an invitation lose his way"

> yucek= he lost his way (acek)

- The Berber Literary Tradition of the Sous, with an edition and translation of 'The Ocean of Tears' by Muhammad Awzal
- G. Marcy, 'Les phrases berbères des documents d'histoire almohade', Hespéris, vol. 12 (1932), pp. 61-77

Ibn Tunert 1085 – 1172 mentions: 2 verbs with the root: CK, 1 with the meaning: to come and the second with the meaning: to be lost

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thank you Anonymous: much food for thought there.

Where are you getting the central High Atlas "‘dri’ means ‘go’[with extreme hurry]" from? Personal knowledge, or a published source?

Blasius B. Blasebalg said...

It seems natural for a language to have an underived word meaning "get lost" ...
aaaand yet, before reading this article, I wasn't aware there is even on such language!

It is just too easy to reach that meaning through all sorts of derivation.
Or maybe getting lost is a more salient topic at the edge of the desert than elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lameen,

...In the region of the central-high-atlas [Tachelhit] of Morocco ‘dri’ means ‘go’[with extreme hurry]......

I have heard it in the city of Azilal, i asked the people who used this word during their conversation what it meant and I wrote it down and shared it on your blog ;-), the province of Azilal was also known in old literature as ‘region Demnate’.
I found an example in the dictionary of Hassane Benamara 2013 >Dictionnaire Amazigh-Francais [Parler de Figuig et ses régions]
- drəy: expulser violemment, répudier, exlure
- amədruy/tamədruyt: marginal, exclu
- amsədray: exclusion mutuelle, répulsion

Anthony Grant said...

Went is from wend, and it's old sense of 'turn' is all but lost in PDEng. It does hang on in 'wend one's way'. One might have thought that OE eode, MidE yede 'did go' would be core enough not to be lost without a trace....but one would be wrong.

Bob, perhaps the basic distinction is that villages are remote from towns (where the bustling life is)? BTW does anyone knw why Spanish has aldea rather than assimilated *adea (ditto with Portuguese aldeia)? That's puzzled me efver since I came across the power of sunny letters (over non-assimilating moon letters) reaig about Malti as a kid.