Sunday, March 26, 2017

Why it's Siwi, not Tasiwit

In English- and French-language discussions of the languages of Egypt, the Berber language of Siwa Oasis in the Western Desert is more and more often called "Tasiwit". Please, don't do this.

In Moroccan and Algerian Berber, as in the Sahel, language names are feminine, and are formed with the feminine circumfix t-...-t: Taqbaylit, Tarifit, Tamazight... In Siwi, however, languages are masculine, as in Egyptian Arabic. Ordinarily, Siwis simply call their language Siwi. When they want to specify the language as opposed to anything else from the oasis, they call it Jlan n Isiwan, "speech of Siwa/Siwis".

If you're writing in a more westerly Berber language, it's quite appropriate to nativise this term into Tasiwit. But if you do so when writing in a Western language, you're just imposing a Moroccan/Algerian convention on a language whose speakers are even less familiar with it than your readers are. On top of that, the feminine of Siwi in Siwi is Tsiwett, not Tasiwit as it would be further west. So just stick with Siwi, OK?


PhoeniX said...

Important point to make, and also goes for Awjili of course!

Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever seen someone refer to Awjili as Tawjilit...

Similar to Siwi, the name for language in Awjili also uses the same lexical item for 'speech': žlán n awílən.

This is (as you know, but might be interesting to readers) in fact unexpected. Awjili ž comes from Proto-Berber *z; Whereas Siwi j/ž comes from Proto-Berber *ǵ. In other words, those two identical words can only have the same origin if one is a loanword of the other.

This is not impossible, as Awjili and Siwi have clearly shared enough contact together to have even innovated a resultative formation together.

But one wonders which of the two is the donor of this word. I'm inclined to think it is Awjili, where žlan could come from izlan, the plural of izli < Proto-Berber *a-zăləʔ (?). This word generally refers to a line of poetry, or a specific poem type in the Western dialects. But one wonders if such a specific term can take on such a general meaning as 'language'.

Eli said...

What about "Siwa"? Wikipedia currently titles their article on the language "Siwa language," which could conceivably be taken as an [adjective] [noun] or [attributive noun] [noun] structure, but there is also one example of bare "Siwa" in the text used to refer to the language, which I think would only be appropriate according to ordinary English conventions if "Siwa" can be an adjective. But it seems to me based on your post here that "Siwa" is a noun referring either to the Siwa oasis or to the cultural group.

Eli said...

I guess "Siwa" used for the language could be a metonymic extension from the reference to the place, especially in phrases like "in Siwa" which could mean "in the Siwa Oasis/in the society of the Siwa Oasis" or "in the Siwi language." Is that what's going on here?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Wikipedia's practice is irrelevant: it reflects the undiscussed whims of an editor by the name of Kwamigakami, nothing more. Moving to more serious sources, Maarten Kossmann systematically refers to small Berber languages by the name of the place they are spoken, I think on the reasonable grounds that this avoids potential ambiguities such as Siwi vs. "Tasiwit"; he thus calls it "Siwa Berber" (not, of course, "Siwa" alone). However, almost all English-language work on Siwi has used the term "Siwi", including Walker, Vycichl, Naumann, myself, and Schiattarella. (The exceptions are Stanley 1912, who called it "Siwan", and Bayle St. John 1849, who rather confusingly called it "Siwahí".) No article or book in English dedicated to the language has ever called it by the term "Siwa".

PhoeniX said...

This reminds me of the fact that I for some reason when writing my book decided to refer to Awjili both as "Awjila Berber" and just "Awjila", indeed taking the name of the place and reanalysing it as an adjective. That was a purposeful decision, as I felt it was weird to use an Arabic morpheme -i, to refer to a Berber language, in English. I kind of regret that decision now, and usually say Awjila Berber/Awjili.

I've actually gotten comments about that decision being weird in a review of my grammar. Oh well.

petre said...

Hi, not directly relevant to this post, just a question.

I have the opportunity to visit Dakhla this summer. Can I expect Tamazight to be spoken there, and if so, what kind of dialect? I'm assuming Moroccan Arabic will be the language I hear most, with Spanish as my default rather than French. Can you advise/correct?