Friday, July 23, 2021

The *Bugzu of Bagzan?

Mt. Băgzăn, at the heart of the predominantly Tuareg-speaking Air massif in Niger, bears a not very Tuareg-looking name. The only Berber meaning for the root BGZ found in Nait-Zerrad is a word used by the neighbouring Iwellemmedan, taken from Alojaly's dictionary: ebăgez, pl. ibəgzan "vessel for dogs or for rubbish"; this corresponds regularly to Tahaggart ebăǵăh, pl. ibəǵhan "crude vase or plate (used for giving dogs their food and for gathering rubbish)", with a feminine tebăǵăht, pl. tibəǵhin "flat, slightly concave instrument used as a dustpan" (Foucauld). Not a root one would want to reconstruct very far back in Berber, nor an obvious source for the name of a mountain.

Hausa provides a surely related form that may shed light on the term's history: the ethnonym būzu < *bugzu (by Klingenheben's Law, as shown by the pl. bugā̀jē) "serf of the Azben [Air] people" (Bargery). The term refers to ex-slaves, iklan, what in Mali would be called Bella. It presumably does not share an etymology with būzu pl. būzā̀yē "undressed skin mat, loin-cloth", with no *g, for which Skinner (1996) gathers plausible cognates elsewhere in Chadic.

Combining the two, we get what looks like a brief glimpse of morphology: the homeland of the *Bugzu is *Bagzan (perhaps their manufactures included crude plates). From a Tuareg perspective, -ăn looks like a masculine plural ending; but the specific vowel alternation would be hard to explain Tuareg-internally, though Tuareg has a-ablaut in other plural types. From a Chadic perspective, one is reminded of the -n plurals of Bade and Ngizim, e.g. Bade zawa-n pl. zawa-n-ən "stick" (Schuh ms), Ngizim gâzbə́r̃ pl. gázbàarín "tall" (Schuh ms, 1972); Ngizim even offers parallels for the vowel alternation, and a-ablaut plurals are widespread in Chadic more generally. The Bade-Ngizim subgroup includes geographically the closest Chadic varieties spoken to the Air besides Hausa, located almost due south of the Air, so it seems a promising point of comparison; could the *Bugzu have spoken a since lost West Chadic B.1 language? But of course, nothing guarantees that Bagzan should be an old plural; perhaps -ăn was a locative suffix, or something else entirely.

I wouldn't be surprised if some early 20th century work proposes this connection, but I haven't come across it in the literature so far; if you have, let me know.


Laurent said...

y aurait-il possiblement un lien avec le cheval Bagzan

"Il est aussi connu sous les noms de « Berrezem », « Baguezzan »1, « Baguezane » ou « Kinaboutout », qui signifie « long pénis »2. Le nom « Bagzan » désigne à la fois cette race spécifique de chevaux, et le cheval ailé dans la mythologie des Touaregs3. Le Bagzan, considéré comme mythique et légendaire et seul digne d'être monté par un bon Touareg, est ainsi nommé en tant qu'animal de prestige par opposition au cheval commun et de peu de valeur, l′efàkre." -> Wikipedia


Xerîb said...

I was looking at photographs of the Bagzans. I got the impression that the name Bagzans (monts Bagzanes) refers to a massif with several ancient calderas or the like, rather than a single peak. I don’t know how accurate my impression is in relation to the how the landforms are named by the local people. Here are some good photographs:

From this page:

We can see a plateau with several elliptical or roughly circular ancient low calderas taking the form of raised basins bordered by rims of higher relief. The Wikipedia has this description:

Les monts Bagzane sont un plateau d'origine volcanique du massif de l'Aïr… D'une altitude moyenne de 1 500 à 1 700 m, bordé par un escarpement abrupte de 200 à 300 m, le plateau comprend des collines, de hauts bassins alluviaux à fond plat…

In this regard, it is interesting to note geological terms designating landforms like basin, caldera, crater and kettle, all ultimately the names of household receptacles, and more recently the astronomical term patera “a broad, shallow, bowl-shaped planetary feature with a scalloped or irregular edge”—cela se réinvente. (And further mesa.) Indeed we can perhaps even remark French plateau “ustensile à bord peu élevé, servant à transporter, à présenter des mets, des boissons, à poser des objets” (TLFi, the word being attested from the 13th century onwards), although both TLFi and FEW give plateau in the meaning “terrain plat” as an independent formation from plat and the suffix -eau. Could the Bagzans simply have bene “the trenchers, the big platters” in one of the local languages, from which Iwellemmedan ebăgez and Tahaggart ebăǵăh were also borrowed?