Tuesday, December 26, 2023

"The Sound of Music" across three languages

You may well be familiar with The Sound of Music, an American musical from the 1950s loosely based on the von Trapp family's memoirs. It features a neat little song for teaching musical notes, "Do, a Deer", which has been translated into a number of languages. Let's contrast three versions - English, Japanese, and Arabic - and see what they suggest.

Do, a deer, a female deer, ドはドーナツのド
Do is for "donut" (dōnatsu),
دو دروب ومعاني
Do is "paths" (durūb) and meanings,
Re, a drop of golden sun; レはレモンのレ
Re is for "lemon" (remon);
ري ربيع الأغنيات
Re is a "spring" (rabīʕ) of songs;
Mi, a name I call myself,ミはみんなのミ
Mi is for "everyone" (minna);
مي مـوسيقى وأغاني
Mi, "music" (mūsīqā) and songs;
Fa, a long long way to run; ファはファイトのファ
Fa is for "fight" (faito);
فا فـجر الذكريات
Fa, a "dawn" (fajr) of memories;
So, a needle pulling thread;ソは青い空
So is blue "sky" (sora);
صوتنا ملء الفضاء
Our "sound" (ṣawt) is a filling up of space;
La, a note to follow So; ラはラッパのラ
Ra is for "trumpet" (rappa);
لم يزل فينا الوفاء
In us is "still" (lam tazal) loyalty;
Ti, a drink with jam and bread; シは幸せよ
Si is "happiness" (shiawase)
سوف تبقى يا غناء
You, O song, "shall" (sawfa) remain;
That will bring us back to Do! さぁ歌いましょう
So let us sing!
لنغنّي نغنّي.. لحن الحياة
Let us sing, sing... the tune of life!

As should be obvious, the Arabic version is derived from the Japanese one (via a popular anime of the 1990s) rather than directly from the English one. However, it contrasts sharply with both in the choice of note-mnemonics. In English, each note name (well, except "la") is mapped directly to a near-homophonous monosyllabic word, taking advantage of English's relatively short minimal word length; most of these are widely familiar, high-frequency items. In Japanese, the word choices are necessarily longer and perhaps more obscure (the syllable fa is found only in relatively recent loanwords anyway), but in each case the note is mapped perfectly to the first syllable of a single word, usually referring to something readily visualisable. In Arabic, the note is again mapped (increasingly approximatively) to the first syllable, not of a word, but of a 2-4 word phrase; not a single one of these phrases refers to anything concrete enough to visualise. High-flown slogans replace the original's homely whimsy.

I have no way of proving it, but I believe this is symptomatic - certainly of the Arabic dubbing in the cartoons I used to watch in the early 1990s, and plausibly of Modern Standard Arabic discourse in general: an imagination based on recitation rather than visualization, preferring stirring abstractions to concrete details. After all, concrete details travel poorly in this diglossic context.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Latin authors from Algeria

The modern borders of Algeria had no existence or meaning in the Roman era, but for any potential Algerian classicists, it may be interesting to consider which of the Latin texts that have come down to us were written by people born in Algeria. So far, I've found the following:

  • Suetonius, born in Hippo Regius (modern Annaba), ca. 70 AD; historian
  • Fronto, born in Cirta (modern Constantine), ca. 100 AD; grammarian
  • Apuleius, born in Madaura (modern M'daourouch), ca. 124 AD; author of Metamorphoses, a comic-mystical proto-novel, along with various philosophical and rhetorical works.
  • Lactantius, born perhaps in Cirta, ca. 250 AD; a Christian apologist
  • Nonius Marcellus, born in Thubursicum (modern Teboursouk), perhaps late 200s AD; a lexicographer
  • Augustine, born in Thagaste (modern Souk Ahras), ca. 354 AD; a Christian saint notable especially for his autobiographical Confessions
  • Martianus Capella, born in Madaura, late 300s AD; author of a formerly influential allegorical curriculum of the liberal arts, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii
  • Cassius Felix, born in Cirta, late 300s AD; author of a medical handbook
  • Priscian, born in Caesarea (modern Cherchell), late 400s AD; Latin grammarian

Conspicuously, all but one of them were born in the east, in what was then Numidia, and all but three date to the late Roman Empire, after Roman citizenship had been extended to all free men under Roman rule but before the Vandals' arrival. It is no doubt misleading to treat such authors separately from their (probably more numerous) counterparts born just across the modern border in Tunisia.

Literary works, of course, are just a small subset of what was written in Latin. For a wider selection of much shorter texts written in Algeria, the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum covers the area in Volume VIII. Even the Albertini Tablets, a set of legal documents found near Tebessa and mostly dating to 493-496 AD, are online now.

No doubt I'm missing a few authors; who else belongs on the list above?

Friday, October 20, 2023

Being "upon the truth"

It's not too hard to think of words that are characteristically used in English almost exclusively by Muslims - salat, namaz, wudu, shahada, masjid... There are even a few such words that aren't borrowings from Arabic or Urdu: circumambulation comes to mind. It is much more difficult, at least for me, to think of characteristics of "Islamic English" that go beyond the lexicon.

I was recently struck, however, by the expression "upon the truth". Searching for "upon the truth" yields plenty of mainstream English examples like "hit upon the truth", "lay hold upon the truth", "an essay upon the truth of the Christian religion"... However, searching for "be upon the truth", "are upon the truth", "is upon the truth", etc. yields a very different picture. Suddenly almost every single search result is specifically Islamic:

You get the idea. The rare exceptions, like "their ultimate dependence is upon the truth", reflect quite a different construction, as the inanimate subject shows. In English, referring to people or groups being "upon the truth" appears to be unique to Islamic discourse (perhaps even to some genres thereof; most of the hits seem to have a vaguely Salafi vibe).

While this construction uses only well-known English vocabulary, it literally translates the Arabic expression على الحق ʕalā l-ḥaqq "on the truth/right". Within Arabic, this expression has a bit of an archaic ring to it, but is familiar from a number of hadith, e.g:

فَجَاءَ عُمَرُ فَقَالَ أَلَسْنَا عَلَى الْحَقِّ وَهُمْ عَلَى الْبَاطِلِ
At that time `Umar came (to the Prophet) and said, "Aren't we on the right (path) and they (pagans) in the wrong?" (Bukhari 65.365)

Being "upon the truth" is thus a calque into Islamic English from Arabic. No doubt a wider investigation would reveal other such cases.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Chenoua and the rectification of names

According to Ethnologue - or even to the HCA - Chenoua (Tacenwit) is one of the larger Berber/Amazigh languages of Algeria, spoken west of Algiers from Tipasa almost to Tenes. Unfortunately, no one seems to have told the speakers, who call their own language Haqḇayliṯ or Haqḇayləḵṯ - i.e. Kabyle. Chenoua is the name of one particular area, a mountain near Tipasa, and speakers from other areas are often entirely unfamiliar with the term; I recently learned of a first-language speaker who had reached her twenties without ever hearing of it.

This is not to say that they speak the same language in Tipasa as in Tizi-Ouzou! In fact, "Chenoua" is much more closely related to Chaoui than to what is usually called "Kabyle". But "Kabyle" is just an Anglicisation of Arabic qbayǝl - "tribes". It came to be applied to mountain-dwelling groups like this in the Ottoman period as a broad ethno-political category, not a linguistic one; around Jijel, communities who have spoken Arabic for many generations still call themselves Kabyle.

What should you call a language in a situation like this? "Chenoua" takes a part for the whole, and as such is confusing, as well as privileging one group of speakers over others. "Kabyle" matches speakers' traditional self-understanding, but misleads linguists, who are accustomed to using this for the much larger, not very closely related Berber variety spoken further west. "Western Algerian Berber" is potentially too broad; perhaps "Dahra Berber" is better, after the low-lying mountain range where most speakers live, but it presupposes a distinction from "Ouarsenis Berber" that is probably not linguistically justified.

But neither "Berber" nor the currently preferred term "Tamazight" correspond to traditional usage among speakers. "Berber" has never been used in any Berber variety; it has always been a term used by outsiders to label them, and in traditional coastal Algerian usage bǝṛbṛiyya actually referred to colloquial Arabic, not to Berber. And before the Amazigh identity movement gained ground in the late 20th century, most speakers in northern Algeria had never heard of "Tamazight".

In contexts like this, it makes no sense for a linguist to insist on using the name speakers use. Folk categories simply don't divide languages up at the same level as the one the linguists are interested in, nor for the same purposes. (In Bechar, šəlħa "Shilha" refers not only to several very different Berber varieties, but to the completely unrelated Songhay language Korandje). That doesn't mean denying the validity of folk categories; people can call whales "fish" if they want to. It does mean making sure not to get misled by them.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Nilotic father tongues

Back in the late 1990s as human genetic data started piling up, it became increasingly clear that there were a lot of language families where most speakers shared relatively recent common male-line ancestry, visible by looking at Y-haplogroups. George van Driem memorably turned this observation into the Father Tongue Hypothesis: that language expansions are typically male-led, with children often raised to speak their father's language rather than their mother's. Berber is one of the many families where this holds true; Afroasiatic, on the other hand, shows several quite different dominant Y-haplogroups depending on the subgroup, indicating a more complex story at an earlier stage. What about Nilotic?

Nilotic, the most geographically widespread family within the rather questionable "Nilo-Saharan" phylum, divides into three primary subgroups:

  • West Nilotic was originally concentrated around the White Nile, in modern South Sudan, including such languages as Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk. Medieval-era expansions brought Luo speakers as far south as Kenya.
  • East Nilotic languages are spread from southern South Sudan down to Tanzania, including such languages as Bari, Turkana, and Maasai.
  • South Nilotic languages are concentrated in mountainous areas of Kenya and Tanzania, including languages like Nandi and Kipsigis.

It turns out that each of these subfamilies has a reasonable correlation with a Y-haplogroup. West Nilotic shows high rates of A1b1b2b-M13 (62% Dinka, 53% Shilluk, 50% Kenya Luo, 38% Nuer, 22% Alur). Its northern members also have a high frequency of B (54% Nuer, 27% Shilluk, 23% Dinka), which is nearly absent from the more southerly ones (6% Kenya Luo, 0% Alur). A1b1b2b-M13 is also frequent, to a lesser extent, in East Nilotic (33% Karimojong, 28% Maasai and Turkana, 17% Samburu - but 0% Camus), though significant rates of B are recorded only for Karimojong (33%). In South Nilotic, on the other hand, A1b1b2b-M13 is much less frequent (13% Pokot, 10% Marakwet, 8% Ogiek, and so on down to 2% Datog and 0% Sabaot), with B even rarer (11% Pokot), and the plurality of lineages usually belong to E1b1b1-M35 - a Y-haplogroup otherwise notably associated with Cushitic and Nubian speakers (50% Ogiek, 46% Datog, 45% Marakwet, 38% Sengwer...) - or to E2. E1b1b1-M35 is not unknown further north, but is far rarer (20% Shilluk, 15% Dinka, 8% Nuer).

None of this looks much like the result of a single male-led expansion. An obvious interpretation would be that South Nilotic primarily reflects communal language shift, probably from Cushitic judging by the well-studied stratum of Cushitic vocabulary in these languages. One might reasonably postulate a classical male-led expansion to explain the spread of West Nilotic within South Sudan; but, if so, one is led to the conclusion (already plausible on linguistic and historical grounds) that the Luo expansion southwards involved considerable assimilation of local men, notably Bantu-speaking (the Bantu-associated E1b1a1-M2 accounted for 33% of Kenya Luo sampled). Such assimilation also appears probable in East Nilotic, for which I unfortunately lack data from South Sudan.

In a broader perspective, A1b1b2b-M13 is frequent in several far-flung "Nilo-Saharan" groups along the southeastern fringes of the Sahara whose languages are only very distantly related, if at all, to Nilotic: Fur (31%), various Sudanese Maban (26%), and even Cameroon Kanuri (27%). It does not, however, seem to be frequent among Nubian speakers, much closer at hand.

I won't attempt to exhaustively reference this post, which is basically open notes on work in progress, but key sources include Wood et al. 2005, Tishkoff et al. 2007, Hassan et al. 2008, Gomes et al. 2010, and Hirbo 2011. Note that I've combined different samples for Nuer and Dinka.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Feynman's Father's Fallacy

The first time I read this quote from Richard Feynman, I was quite convinced by it:

The next Monday, when the fathers were all back at work, we kids were playing in a field. One kid says to me, "See that bird? What kind of bird is that?" I said, "I haven't the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is." He says, "It's a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn't teach you anything!" But it was the opposite. He had already taught me: "See that bird?" he says. "It's a Spencer's warbler." (I knew he didn't know the real name.) "Well, in Italian, it's a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it's a Bom da Peida. In Chinese, it's a Chung-long-tah, and in Japanese, it's a Katano Tekeda. You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You'll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing-that's what counts." (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.)

And it would be true - in a world where no one else knows anything about birds. (That's probably not so far from the world you or I or Feynman grew up in as children.) If you don't know what nightingales are called, and neither does anyone else, then you can still learn about them - if you have the time and patience to go deep into the countryside to places where they live, and spend cold nights with a pair of infra-red goggles, or set clever traps deep in the countryside or something.

On the other hand, if you do know what a nightingale is called, you can find out enormous amounts about it by simply asking. You can scour Google Scholar for papers by people who did the hard part already; you can get birdwatchers talking about it; you can look it up in a reference manual; in short, you can benefit from the accumulated experience of many generations of observers, instead of having to reinvent the wheel yourself, only to have your knowledge perish with you in the end. If you know what it's called in other languages, you can find out what other communities of observers had to say about it - which, in some cases, may reflect much longer observation than English speakers have been able to undertake. Having found all this out, you can understand your own observations better. Maybe you've discovered something new! Or maybe you've misunderstood what you saw because you lacked a broader context. Either way, you'll know much more with the name than you're ever likely to be able to discover individually without it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Two Bambara words in Gnawa songs of Meknes

Across North Africa, small groups dominated by descendants of slaves brought from the Sahel preserve musical traditions, with ritual and medical functions, usually called Gnawa in Morocco, Diwan in Algeria, and Stambeli in Tunisia. Aguadé's Die Lieder der Gnawa aus Meknes provides the lyrics of an extensive corpus of Gnawa songs from Meknes in northern Morocco. These songs are primarily in Arabic, but characteristically include a number of words with no plausible Arabic or Berber source, presumed to derive from languages of the Sahel. Their identification, however, is generally difficult, although Aguadé ventures a few suggestions drawn from Hausa. Anyone can comb dictionaries for sound-alikes, but similar forms may be found across unrelated languages of the Sahel with very different meanings. It would be much easier if the meanings were certain, but the singers do not necessarily know the meaning of such words, and the context often hardly narrows it down. Nevertheless, some cases can be identified more confidently than others.

Aguadé's song number 88, Lalla l-Batul "Lady Virgin" (pp. 128-129), is dedicated to a female genie whose song cycle corresponds to the colour yellow. Its refrain (accounting for 5 out of its 8 lines) is a lalla l-batul, saysay "Oh Lady Virgin, saysay". The word saysay has no meaning in Arabic or in Berber. In Bambara, however, sáyi means "yellow"; the refrain would then be "Oh Lady Virgin, yellow, yellow".

In his song number 90 (pp. 130-132), the refrain is fufu dənba ya sidi "fufu dənba, oh master" (repeated 14 times, including the opening line of the song). Bambara dénba means "mother". The first verse after the initial refrain is ma bɣatək kda ya sidi "she didn't want you like that, oh master"; no feminine singular subject to which this could refer appears anywhere in the Arabic text of the song, but the Bambara interpretation allows this line to be better understood. I'd like to relate the preceding fufu to Bambara fò "greet" and/or fɔ́ "say, speak" - "greet Mother" would seem contextually appropriate - but I can't quite see how the grammar would hang together.

Addendum: In song 5, Sidi Gangafu "Mr. Gangafu", almost every couplet ends in Bambaṛa or shortened ya Mbaṛa, so a Bambara etymology seems worth considering (although an allusion to Hausa is also found). As Aguadé notes, Ganga is simply a kind of drum used by the Gnawa, whose name is shared across most of the Sahel, so one would expect this name to mean something like "drum-player" or "drum-maker". In fact, Gangafu can readily be interpreted as Bambara gàngan-fɔ̀ "play the ganga-drum". "Drum-player" should properly be something like gàngan-fɔ̀-la, but it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to suppose that the Bambara used by slaves among themselves would have had some non-standard features, given that for many of them it would have been a second language to begin with.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Some Dellys manuscripts

(Not linguistics, just history - possibly self-indulgent at that.)

Quite a few years ago in Dellys, I was allowed to photograph a bundle of pages from different manuscripts grouped together in a single detached cover, labelled as belonging to my great-uncle (رحمه الله). (I wasn't very good with metadata at the time, so I apologise in case anything ended up in the resulting folder from a different source.) Both the internet and my ability to read premodern Arabic handwriting have advanced a lot since then, and I can now identify (more or less) six of the works which these were taken from:

  • A commentary on al-Nawawī's Forty Ḥadīth - a selection of key sayings of the Prophet Muḥammad (SAWS)
  • Muhammad Mayyāra's commentary on Ibn ʕĀshir's Guiding Helper - a condensed summary in verse of essential Mālikī fiqh (religious jurisprudence)
  • Abū al-Layth al-Samarqandī's Warning to the Neglectful, a book of religious exhortation
  • Ibn Ghānim al-Maqdisī's Decipherment of the Symbols and Keys of the Treasures, explaining Sufi concepts and terms
  • A linguistically focused commentary on al-Būṣīrī's Mantle - a poem in praise of the Prophet Muḥammad (SAWS)
  • Ibn Mālik's Thousand-Liner - a condensed presentation of Arabic grammar in verse to facilitate memorisation
  • A commentary on al-Abharī's Isagoge - an introduction to Aristotelian logic

Apart from these, there were a few pages of rhymed dua (supplication to God), which I can't find a source for online.

I still can't identify most of the commentators; it seems that plenty of commentaries have yet to be properly digitised. But the geographic spread of the authors is noteworthy, covering almost the whole span of the former territories of the Umayyad Caliphate: al-Samarqandī from Uzbekistan, al-Abharī from Iraq or Iran, al-Nawawī from Syria, Ibn Ghānim al-Maqdisī from Palestine, al-Būṣīrī from Egypt, Mayyāra and Ibn ʕĀshir from Morocco, Ibn Mālik from Spain. The chronological spread, on the other hand, is notably more concentrated: 10th c. (al-Samarqandī), 13th c. (al-Abharī, al-Nawawī, al-Būṣīrī, Ibn Mālik), 16th/17th c. (Ibn Ghānim al-Maqdisī, Ibn ʕĀshir). The 13th century doesn't necessarily spring to mind as a golden age of Islamic thought, but for the early 20th century curriculum this notebook presumably reflects, it was at least a golden age of school texts. (On the other side of the Mediterranean, it was also the age of Thomas Aquinas and Dante.) The absence of 19th century texts here might be accounted for by the rise of printing, but that cannot explain the paucity of texts from other recent centuries; even the 16th/17th century texts seem to be intended to open the door to understanding older works. The common purpose of these works should also be clear: all of them either relate directly to religion or are ancillary to the religious sciences.

The texts themselves accordingly therefore cast only a very indirect light on the context where they were being studied. A note carefully added in pencil on the inside cover sometime in the early/mid-20th century, however, is much more eloquent:

WARNING: The earth is a dark planet, lit by the moon at night and by the sun in the day. The earth is suspended in space by the power of Allah SWT; He made a gravitational power in the stars that attracts the earth towards them just as a magnet attracts iron. The earth is not carried on the horn of a bull, as claimed on p. 36 of this book in a ḥadīth of `Abd Allāh ibn Sallām when he asked the Messenger of Allāh SAWS about the earth "What was it created from?" and so on until he asked him "And what do these seven earths rest upon?" He replied "On a bull." He asked "And what is the bull like?" He said "A bull with 40,000 heads", etc. This ḥadīth has no basis, and has been deemed fabricated, and none of the learned have confirmed this ḥadīth - and Allah knows best.

This short comment feels like the entire modernist era in a nutshell - that late 19th/early 20th century moment of collision with the West, when this vast storehouse of traditional knowledge, stabilised over centuries by mnemonic verses and long insulated from external criticism, is suddenly confronted with an urgent need to sift out the grain from the chaff and go back to first principles, or risk losing intellectual as well as physical battles. We're still living through the aftermath; one result is a widespread suspicion of works formerly treated as unimpeachable, including some of those above.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Notes on East Saharan

Along the southwestern fringes of the Sahara, in the Ennedi and Biltine regions of northeastern Chad and the Darfur region of western Sudan, a few hundred thousand people, the Beri or Zaghawa, speak a language called Beria. Until well into the last century, the Berti people of Darfur and Kordofan still spoke a rather poorly documented related language, Berti; today they are reported to have all shifted to Arabic. Together, they make up the Eastern subgroup of the Saharan family (supposedly part of Nilo-Saharan). I've been looking over some of the literature on these languages lately, so here's a very brief summary on their historical phonology; it's mostly just for my own memory, but if anyone else is interested then great.

Beria is divided into a number of dialects (cf. Wolfe 2001, Anonby & Johnson 2001), of which the best described - thanks to Jakobi and Crass 2004 - is the eastern variety of Kube in Chad. Unfortunately for present purposes, this also seems to be a good candidate for the least phonologically conservative variety. The southeastern Dirong-Guruf varieties preserve /f/, reduced to /h/ in Kube and in the rest of Beria but retained as /f/ in Berti; there is reason to suspect that it was originally *p (for instance, intervocalic variation between /rf/ and /rb/). The western Wegi variety of Darfur preserves intervocalic voiceless stops, which Kube voices, and intervocalic /d/, which Kube merges with *r. There's a lot of cross-dialectal variation within Beria between /m/ and /b/, especially in initial position, which is difficult to account for through regular sound change; word-initially, despite its name, Berti seems to have /m/ in almost all words that have Kube cognates with /b/. Wegi and Dirong appear to preserve a distinction between /l/ and /n/ that has been lost in Kube; but Berti also has /n/ in such cases, so one wonders whether this might be a split rather than a retention, though there's no obvous conditioning factor. It's hard to say much about Berti phonology given the quality of the sources, but it also seems to shift /ɟ/ to [z] in some cases.

Berti is much more closely related to Beria than any other Saharan language, and there are plenty of transparent basic cognates, like "name" (Berti tir, Kube tɪ́r) or "night" (Berti gini, Kube gɪ̀nɪ́ɪ̀). The surprise is that there are also lots of very basic words with no obvious cognates, like the personal pronoun "I" (Berti su, Kube áɪ), or the numeral "one" (Berti sang, Kube nɔ̀kkɔ̀), or the adjective "little" (Berti batti, Kube mɪ̀na). This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in Saharan; maybe more data will make things clearer, or maybe there's a contact context that needs to be better understood. Either way it makes subgroup reconstruction a lot trickier.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Book review: Zenati-Arabic Arabic-Zenati Lexicon, Haji (2019)

I got my hands on a copy of a recent dictionary of the Berber variety of Ouargla: Muʕjam al-mufradāt zanātī-ʕarabī ʕarabī-zanātī : Warqalah, Ngūsah, Tmāsint, Baldat ʕumar, ɣumrah, Maqrīn, Timīmūn wa-ḍawāḥīhā معجم المفردات زناتي-عربي عربي-زناتي : ورقلة، نڨوسة، تماسنت، بلدة عمر، غمرة، مقرين، تميمون وضواحيها, by Abderrahmane Haji, published 2019 with Afrmād in Algeria. The variety of Ouargla, Təggargərənt, is relatively well-documented thanks primarily to the texts and dictionary published by Jean Delheure. Delheure's work, however, was based on fieldwork between 1941 and 1976, and as such represents the speech of several generations ago. The primary merit of Haji (2019) is in presenting an up-to-date picture of Ouargla Berber as currently spoken and seen by a first-language speaker; it is also of sociolinguistic interest for presenting a heartfelt argument for linguistic diversity and "dialect" preservation from an essentially populist nationalist-conservative perspective. Unfortunately, however, apart from an understandable lack of linguistic training, the book is marred by an astonishing number of typographical errors (the Arabic text of the introduction gives the impression of never having been proof-read at all) and an orthography which fails to distinguish /ə/ from /a/; the author notes that he had to rapidly reconstruct the work from scratch after losing his original manuscript file.

The introduction starts by noting the constitutional position of "the Amazigh language" in Algeria and objecting that the variation across Berber is far higher than such a phrase might seem to imply, with only 2.4% (?) of vocabulary common across all varieties. He claims to be able to understand only 35% of Kabyle and 65% of Tuareg as against 80% of Chaouia, 95% of Tumzabt, and 95% of Timimoun; more surprisingly (typo?), he reports understanding only 40% of the rather similar varieties of Tiout, Boussemghoun, and Beni Ounif. A brief overview of Amazigh/Berber/Algerian history includes an original etymology of "Amazigh": he derives it from am jjiɣ, "as I left (it)", an idea made possible by Ouargli's tendency to merge š/ž with s/z, explaining his eccentric spelling of it as أمزيغ rather than أمازيغ. He then presents his objections to standardisation: "The attempt to create an Amazigh language in the laboratory, without immersion in its principles and the depths of its components spread across the nation is in itself self-destructive, and may find no one to feed it or protect it, being rootless and inauthentic and asocial... How can 17 dialects be reduced to one dialect which no one has deemed the source or the original? As Algerians say: 'When the crow tried to imitate the partridge, it forgot how to walk'." For good measure he takes such efforts to reflect "this savage project known as globalisation, which since 1945... has imposed what it (globalisation and pragmatism) considers appropriate for its ambitions and desires to let loose and satisfy the instincts and consumption in all its forms, and release blind freedoms and illusory democracy." Specifically, "dialectal diversity is a strong fortress and effective tool [against this project] which must not be reduced or destroyed for nothing."

The next section presents his perspective on the history of Arabic in Algeria. He seems to take for granted that the Kutama were descended from Himyar, and therefore that Kabyles are actually Arab, unlike Zenata (such as himself) who are indigenous, but who "learned Arabic of their own free will, far from the Hilalians and Riah and those under their influence, who preferred the wilds and transhumance, entering the town to buy and sell but leaving in the afternoon". He insists that, as with Berber, "In Algeria there are Arabics and not just one Arabic, which must likewise be gathered and corrected and preserved from oblivion." The main thrust of the section, however, is to argue against the exclusion of Arabic loanwords, since they are historically well-entrenched: "is it not true that most of English comes from French ... and most of French from Latin..? Is Arabic not our neighbour, even ahead of Islam being our religion"?

The next section briefly presents a linguistic geography of Algeria from a Saharan-focused perspective: Tuareg around Djanet, Tamanrasset, Borj and Tin-Zaouatine and Timelaouine; Regueibat (non-Amazigh) around Oued Daoura, Matar Ennaga, Hassi-Khebi, Tindouf, Ghar Djbeilat, and the Western Sahara; Zenati in Ouargla, Ngoussa, Goug, Beldet Amor, Temacint, Meggarine, Ghomra, Timimoun, Beni Ounif; Shilha in Tiout, Sfissifa, Boussemghoun, Chellala; Chaouia from Zeribet el-Oued to the Tunisian border, and from El Kantara to the edge of Souk Ahras; Kabyle in a rectangle from the edge of Setif to the sea of Bejaia and from Bouira to the edge of Algiers and Boumerdes - plus Zenati around Cherchell, as an afterthought.

He then briefly and polemically addresses script choice: "I write in Arabic, in accordance with article 2 of the Algerian constitution of 2016, and because Arabic came down from Paradise with Adam AS and Eve, and the Quran is in flawless Arabic... Moreover, Arabic is indisputably the oldest language in the world... Latin script destroyed the country and the people, and stole our goods and property, and split our unity; the people of the South reject it and don't want to learn it." He adds that Zenati has adopted plenty of Arabic loanwords, as well as others from "French and Hausa and Zarma and Bambara and Adadi[?] and other languages".

The next section is an overview of prior publications on Ouargla Berber, short yet replete with mistaken identifications ("Hodson" (sic: rather Hodgson) is identified as a general, René Basset as a member of the René missionary family) and apparently cut short in the middle of the first sentence to mention Delheure ("deleu").

Finally, he moves on to "the rules of Zenati" (قواعد الزناتية), summarizing the fully vocalised orthography he adopts (including new characters for ẓ, ṇ, ṃ, ṛ, but sadly no distinct solution for ə), and then describing the morphology. The headings adopted are "Feminine", "Verb", "Pronoun suffixed to the verb or noun", "Plural", "Negation", "Masdar", "Interrogative", "Warning", "Intimidation", "Calling for help", "Ululation", "Colours", "Relative pronoun", "Demonstratives", "Locative adverbs", "Nisba", "Paucal plural", "Free pronouns", "Demonstrative" (yes, twice), "Ownership", "Demonstratives suffixed to the noun", "Suffixed genitive pronoun", "Numerals and counting in Zenati", "Counting money", "Metre and poetry" (with basically no content), "Keys to Ouargli" (a list of function words). Many of these include asides on subjects that would not be expected based on the section title. These are followed by a series of paradigm tables: "Free pronouns", "Genitive pronoun suffixes", "Free pronouns" (absolute possessives), an unlabelled table of the conjugation of "say", "Conjugation of 'say' in the present then in the past", "Conjugation of 'say' in the negative'", "Conjugation of 'come' in the past then the present then the imperative", "Conjugation of 'give' with a first person subject in the past and the present and the imperative", "Conjugation of 'give' with a third person subject in the past and the present", "Form of exaggeration", ... and many other verb paradigms.

The remainder of the work is divided into three alphabetically ordered sections: a short phrasebook, "Phrases and expressions, Zenati-Arabic"; then the dictionary proper, "Zenati-Arabic dictionary of lexemes" and "Arabic-Zenati dictionary of lexemes".

On the whole, I found this work disappointing; with a better transcription system and some training in linguistics, the author could have created a definitive reference work rather than a miscellany. Nevertheless, serious students of the Berber varieties of the northern Sahara should not neglect it; it covers areas of modern life absent from earlier sources, and addresses some aspects of pragmatics neglected by more professional treatments.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

More miscellaneous Darja notes

These may or may not be of interest to anyone but myself; I'm posting them essentially so I don't forget them.

A couple of idioms:

  • ər-riħ f-əš-šbək الريح في الشبك "wind in the net" - empty talk
  • ʕla šufət əl-ʕin على شوفة العين "on the sight of the eye" - as far as the eye can see
  • ṣufa ṭayṛa صوفة طايرة "a flying piece of wool" - flighty, capricious
  • tɣiḍni ʕəmṛi تغيضني عمري "my life makes me feel pity" - I feel sorry for myself
  • qʷʕədna ki ʕəbd waħəd قُعدنا كي عبْذ واحد "we stayed like one person" - we kept working together

And another proverb: əɣʷləq bab-ək ma txəwwən jaṛ-ək اغُلق بابك ما تخوّن جارك "Close your door and you won't make your neighbour a thief" - I guess you could loosely render this as "Good fences make good neighbours". Note that the corresponding verb xwən "steal" خْون forms a minimal pair with xun خون "betray", confirming that semivowels are distinct from the corresponding vowels.

As discussed earlier, the name of the town of Djinet is pronounced variously with a final t or d. As a convincing argument for the latter pronunciation being more correct (if the historical evidence hadn't been sufficient), someone pointed out to me that people from Djinet are called jnanda جناندة. The version with t presumably reflects Turkish influence as well as folk etymology.

fut فوت "pass" is used as a serial verb in a construction whose exact semantics I need to figure out better, typically in subordinate clauses: ila fətt šədditu إلا فتّ شدّيتهُ "once you've grasped it..."

Two interesting bits of maritime vocabulary are walyun واليون "apprentice not-yet-sailor who cleans the fishing boat in port" and ṛədfun ردفون "shrimp net". For the latter, I wonder if the first element might be Spanish red "net"; but I can't see what the fun would be in that case. For the former, I hardly even know how to find out what the translation into other languages around the Mediterranean might be. Suggestions for etymologies are welcome!

(Update thanks to jitaenow on Twitter: walyun is from Neapolitan guaglione, and is ultimately cognate with "galleon".)

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Delicious Berber apples

While most Berber varieties use an Arabic loanword for "apple", several are reported to preserve a non-Arabic word: Jerbi a-ḏəffu (Brugnatelli), Nefusi dəffu (Motylinski), Zuara a-dəffu (Baghni). This word was derived by Vycichl (1952) from Punic *tappūḥ, a derivation generally accepted in subsequent work; Kossmann (2013:146) explains various forms along the lines of ta-dəffaḥ-t as blends between this and the Arabic form. Such an etymology makes sense on extra-linguistic as well as linguistic grounds: domestic apples originated much further east, in Central Asia, so a loanword is expected a priori, and given the important role of Carthage in early North African history, Punic appears the obvious source.

Talking to a speaker from near Batna yesterday, however, I realised that the Chaoui word for "apple" is really aḍfu, with an emphatic d. This cannot be explained in terms of regular sound change from the Punic form: the distinction between d and is in general very stable in Berber, particularly in the absence of any adjacent emphatic or laryngeal, and the apparent loss of gemination is also irregular.

The solution is Berber-internal. In more westerly varieties (cf. Nait-Zerrad, p. 451), we find a root ḍf-t for "taste, savour": Ait Atta t-aṭfi (verb iṭfi-t), Tashelhiyr tiḍfi (verb aḍfu-t), Zenaga taṭfih - also borrowed into Korandje təṭfi. While its geographical distribution seems relatively limited, nothing about this root suggests a foreign origin, and its attestation in Zenaga suggests a priori that it goes back to proto-Berber. We may therefore plausibly assume that at some point it was familiar to Chaoui speakers, if it isn't still. An otherwise unanalysable term for "apple" would therefore have been reinterpreted as, essentially "the tasty one".

Sunday, August 27, 2023

An unusual polysemy in Algeria and its cultural background

Today I heard nsəhhlu? “Shall we head off?” The verb səhhəl expresses two rather different meanings: transitive “make easy” and intransitive “head off, leave”. The former is well-integrated into the lexicon: the verbal template BəCCəD regularly forms causatives from triliteral adjectives and verbs, and sahəl “easy” accordingly yields səhhəl, just as barəd “cold” yields bərrəd “make cool”. The latter is much less so: the root shl has no particular ties to motion. A colexification of “leave” with “make easy” is not cross-linguistically common (see CLICS), and a linguist encountering it in isolation in some wordlist would surely be at a loss to account for it.

It is not, however, arbitrary or accidental. The missing link can easily be found by going beyond the lexicon proper into the realm of politeness: a standard expression used by people staying behind to say goodbye to people leaving is ḷḷah ysəhhəl “may God make it [the trip] easy”. (Algerian Arabic etiquette is pretty much all about knowing which blessing to use when.) The intransitive meaning is therefore indirectly derived from the transitive one.

Knowing this, and knowing the extent of lexical-typological convergence in this region, one might predict that a similar colexification should be found in Kabyle. Sure enough, consulting Dallet (1982), one finds sahəl “leave on a trip; (God) make a trip easy”. He even records the corresponding blessing to a person departing on a trip: ad isahəl ṛəbbi, yəlli tibbura! “may God make it easy and open the doors!” Unfortunately, the verb is simply an Arabic borrowing rather than a calque properly speaking, although it’s based on a different verb template than the Dellys Arabic one.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Miscellaneous Darja notes

With Twitter apparently determined to become an eX-network, the moment seems right for turning back towards blogging. I might change platforms (Substack sounds promising – any good ideas?), but in the meantime, let’s see if this is still working and post some miscellaneous notes on Dellys Arabic from my holiday.

Today, when a watch started randomly beeping, I heard a cousin say ʕəbbẓi næ̃mpoṛt waħda təħbəs “press any one, it’ll stop”. This is obviously the same construction as næ̃mpoṛt ħaja, and was indeed produced by the same person. So it seems that næ̃mpoṛt is indeed a fixed part of his grammar; but note that it is followed by an indefinite noun (ħaja ‘thing’, waħda ‘one’) rather than an interrogative pronoun as it would be in French (quoi ‘what’, qui ‘who’).

When I heard the verb ykạmiri ‘he’s filming’, I initially thought this was proof positive that the loanverb ending -i had become a productive denominal verbaliser (cp. kạmira ‘videocamera’); after all, there is no French verb camérer. But it turns out that camérer is attested in Algerian French, so the case remains ambiguous.

An old woman to a little girl: ya ṛṛwiħa ttaʕi! “oh my little soul!” The diminutive brings to mind Hadrian’s animula.

The mediopassive verbs ntkəl ‘be eaten’ and ntfəxswell up are old news to me, but somehow I had missed the corresponding participles mətkul ‘eaten’, mətfux ‘swollen’, which show that both verbs are to be analysed synchronically as n-passives (“Form 7”) with t-initial roots, though in both cases the t originally derives from a passive prefix or infix (“Form 8”).

On a trip up the mountain, I heard tuzzalt, which does indeed refer to ‘rockrose’, whatever the correct translation of tazalt might be. But the speaker was bilingual in Kabyle, so the pronunciation might not be representative of Dellys Arabic.

A colonial-era rhyming proverb that was new to me: ləmʕawna f-ənnṣaṛa wala lqʷʕad f-əlxṣaṛa ‘[even] helping the Christians is better than sitting around unprofitably.”

Onomatopeia for the sound of milking: čəqq čəqq čəqq. May help explain the Siwi verb…

As discussed on Twitter, skərfəj ‘grate (v.)’ seems to come from Italian scalfeggiare or something very similar. Along with spərpəħ ‘sprawl about’ it provides a rare example of what looks like a five-consonant root, but should perhaps better be interpreted as four-consonant with an otherwise poorly evidenced prefix s-; cf. sħaj ‘need (v.)’