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.

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