Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Chenanith b'Libya - in the 11th century AD?

Anyone interested in North African languages who doesn't speak Dutch should immediately check out Bulbul's posting on Latino-Punic. The Phoenicians brought their language with them to North Africa when they founded Carthage and other cities. Carthage was destroyed, of course, but many other cities continued to speak Phoenician for longer; however, like Arabic in more recent times, it changed a lot under Berber influence, and this later dialect is usually called Punic. This language was spoken by St. Augustine, who quotes a number of Phoenician words, such as salus (< shalu:sh < shalo:sh < shala:sh < thala:th) "three", in his works. In eastern Libya, as it happens, Punic continued to be written even after the Phoenician alphabet was forgotten; this body of inscriptions, using the Latin alphabet to write Punic, is called (logically enough) Latino-Punic, and a comprehensive database of such inscriptions is available from Leiden. Recently, as Bulbul points out, a thesis was submitted at Leiden on Latino-Punic and its Linguistic Environment; I would love to read it.

The twist in this tale is that Phoenician may have survived into the 11th century AD! Al-Bakri (whom I've mentioned before) enigmatically says of the inhabitants of Sirt in Libya that:
لهم كلام يراطنون به ليس بعربي ولا عجمي ولا بربري ولا قبطي ولا يعرفه غيرهم
‍They have a speech in which they jabber which is neither Arabic nor Ajami (by which he probably means Latin but might mean Persian) nor Berber nor Coptic, which no one but them knows.
The location (in eastern Tripolitania) is about right for it to be Punic, and if it were Greek you would expect him to know, considering he cites (more or less correctly) the Greek etymology of طرابلس (Tripoli) in the next page. So was Punic still spoken in the 11th century? Your guess is as good as mine, but it looks plausible.

13 comments:

bulbul said...

Aw shoot, the database somehow escaped my attention. Good catch as always, Lameen.
When someone speaks of Ajami in Maghrib (especially on the coast), I always take that to mean something Romance, maybe even Lingua Franca. What leads you to believe al-Bakri might have meant Persian?
And one more: Chenanith? As in כנענית?

bulbul said...

Oh and slightly off-topic: have you seen this on Moroccan Darija (via kalebeul)?

MMcM said...

Re: the Darija article that Bulbul links to. Isn't سلطة naturalized into Standard Arabic? It's in Wehr. There are more shades of gray, aren't there? Sorry for continuing OT, but this is my shtick.

Lameen Souag said...

The only reason I mentioned the Persian possibility is because it's common usage in other parts of the Arab world, and I haven't checked how he uses the term himself. It almost certainly does mean Latin/Romance, just as in Ibn Quraysh.

Chenanith? Well, Augustine mentions "Chenani" as the name of the Punic-speaking inhabitants of Hippo, and this is generally taken to reflect כנעני; I've just added the -th on the reasonable assumption that Punic formed language names the same way Hebrew does.

سلطة yes, that's become standard Arabic, but not the North African form شلاظة. Likewise, طماطم "tomatoes" made it into Standard Arabic, but the North African reflexes of the same loanword, طوماطيش (< Spanish pl.) and ماطيشة (ditto) did not. Even in its choice of loanwords, Modern Standard Arabic is heavily biased towards the Mashriq.

MMcM said...

Wehr does go part way with سلاطة. What about بطاطس? I do not propose to inventory the entire trolley; I really am slowly trying to put together something on Solanum. I don't suppose papa shows up?

Lameen Souag said...

In Algerian Arabic it's باطاطة - same origins, but singular instead of plural form borrowed. No papa (not as a food name anyway.)

Carrots is the slightly puzzling زرودية, incidentally, supposedly from a small Tunisian town called زرود. In Morocco, it's خيزّو, maybe from Berber.

MMcM said...

Fascinating. Does باطاطة work for sweet potato as well as Irish potato? If I've got other dialects correctly, the singular loanword بطاطا is (usually?) the former and the plural بطاطس the latter.

Lameen Souag said...

Sweet potatoes aren't widely grown or known in Algeria; where they are available, they're just called باطاطة حلوّة "sweet potato".

Anonymous said...

Carrots is the slightly puzzling زرودية, incidentally, supposedly from a small Tunisian town called زرود. In Morocco, it's خيزّو, maybe from Berber.

--> although i'm Tunisian, i never heard from a town but from a wady called Zroud, carrots in tunisia are called سفنّارية or سنّارية, and no idea about the origin of this word...
-----------------------------------------
طماطم "tomatoes" made it into Standard Arabic, but the North African reflexes of the same loanword, طوماطيش (< Spanish pl.) and ماطيشة (ditto) did not. Even in its choice of loanwords, Modern Standard Arabic is heavily biased towards the Mashriq.

--> i think in some countries (like Syria) tomatoes are called بندورة, probably a loanword from italian

Bilel.

komfo,amonan said...

Anonymous: carrots in tunisia are called سفنّارية or سنّارية, and no idea about the origin of this word

According to the Diccionario de la lengua española, سفنّارية is the source of the Sp. zanahoria and comes from the Greek σταφυλίνη ἀγρία ('wild carrot').

SimplyMoroccan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Inkubus said...

عجمي stands in this context for an unknown romance language, generally عجمي is "not-arabic speaker, barbaric" and "persian" but not the case here.

RMK said...

For those interested, the book is now out: http://www.mohr.de/en/theology/reference-works/buch/latino-punic-epigraphy.html