Showing posts with label Siwa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Siwa. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Siwi on Wikipedia

I am not a big fan of Wikipedia, despite its usefulness. To contribute good material to it - and there is a lot of wonderful material there - is to make an article look reassuringly reliable. That appearance of reliability then makes the article prime prey for anybody with an ideological or even commercial agenda to push: one little edit, and their propaganda is integrated into the same text, gaining credibility from its context, and getting copied over and over and over. Nevertheless, the insistent niggling itch of knowing that "someone is wrong on the internet" eventually got to me, and last month I ended up massively expanding the article Siwi language - including a fairly extensive section on Siwi oral literature. Suggestions or comments are welcome, although I make no promises.

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?

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Origin of Mid Vowels in Siwi

How does a language with a relatively small vowel system react to pressure from a language with a larger one?

Most northern Berber varieties have a simple four-vowel system: tense /a/, /i/, /u/, vs. lax schwa (/ə/, written e in the official orthography), the latter being mostly predictable and limited to closed syllables. In the eastern and southern Sahara, however, we tend to find slightly larger vowel systems, and it looks very much as though proto-Berber had a rather asymmetrical six-vowel system, close to modern Tuareg but missing /o/: it had tense /a/, /e/, /i/, /u/ vs. lax /ɐ/, /ə/.

Siwi Berber, in western Egypt, has a more symmetrical six-vowel system: tense /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ vs. lax /ə/. All of these vowels occur in inherited vocabulary as well as in Arabic loanwords. It is obvious by inspection that, in almost all contexts, *ɐ merged into /ə/. But the distribution of /e/ shows little connection with that of *e: in fact, most instances of proto-Berber *e correspond to Siwi /i/. And the origin of /o/ is not immediately clear at all. How did this happen?

My latest article - written together with Marijn van Putten - proposes some answers. It turns out that proto-Berber */e/ was retained in Siwi only before word-final /n/. Most instances of /e/ and /o/ are found in Arabic loanwords. Within inherited vocabulary, almost all instances of /e/ - and all instances of /o/ - are phonetically conditioned innovations, arising from at least three distinct regular sound changes and one sporadic one. The net effect of this "conspiracy" of sound changes is to extend phonemes otherwise almost entirely restricted to Arabic loans into inherited Berber vocabulary.

If you want the full story, go read our article: The Origin of Mid Vowels in Siwi (published in Studies in African Linguistics 45:1-2 (2016), pp. 189-208).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Siwi vocabulary for addressing animals

Probably every language has a certain number of forms used especially for addressing animals, especially domestic animals. In response to a recent query by Mark Dingemanse, I gathered together all the ones I happened to have recorded for Siwi - the list below is definitely not exhaustive, but should at least be suggestive. Note the sounds used - clicks do not usually form part of Siwi phonology!

To chicks:
didididididi: eat!

To cats:
ərrrr: come!
ǀǀǀǀǀ: come!
pss: move!

To dogs:
ʘʘʘʘʘʘʘ: follow me!

To goats:
əšš: go!
ħəww: go!
xətt: go!
kškškškškš: eat!

To donkeys:
ǁǁǁǁ: giddy-ap! (?)

The interesting question here is: to what extent are these arbitrary, reflecting an emergent cross-species convention just as most human lexemes do, versus to what extent do they reflect innate properties of animal perception and communication? How do they compare to those you've encountered, if any?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Do Siwi people have bodies?

For English speakers, it is mysterious and highly debatable whether we have souls, but obvious except to the odd philosopher that we have bodies. In other languages, this intuition doesn't translate so well; quite apart from the question of the soul(s), many languages - reportedly including Homeric Greek - don't seem to have a word for "body" in the sense of "the ​whole ​physical ​structure that ​forms a ​person or ​animal", notwithstanding the protests of NSM-ists. In Wintu, a language of northern California, Lee (1950:134) was only able to elicit kot wintu "all person". (Wintu is not that well documented, but in this case Lee's account agrees with later work; Schlichter (1981:242) gives winthu:n thunis "person altogether".) For Korandje, my data suggest the same, although further checking is needed; when asked, the oldest of my Korandje consultants came up with a precise equivalent of this expression, bɑ kamla "person whole", while others gave Arabic loans like ṣṣəħħəts (literally "health") or žžhaməts (which so far seems rather to mean "corpse").

In Siwi, the situation is slightly different. Unlike the hesitations and disagreements of Korandje speakers asked about this subject, Siwi speakers asked to translate Arabic jism "body" confidently reply aglim, and early wordlists confirm that they have been doing so for over a century. However, if you ask them to translate aglim, they equally consistently reply with Arabic jild "skin". A person or animal has an aglim, but so does a potato, and its aglim can be peeled off. To further complicate the semantic field in question, ilem also translates as jild "skin", but refers to a piece of skin rather than to the whole: kteṛṭiyya aksum ɣair ilem "You have brought me meat that is nothing but skin"; ilem en ṭad yekkes "Some skin came off his finger". This renders the interpretation of aglim questionable. Does it have two distinct meanings, "body" and "(whole) skin"? Or does it just mean "(whole) skin", and refer to the body only as the volume encompassed by the skin?

Thinking out the question here makes it obvious what I should try to elicit next time the occasion arises: how to say "The human body is covered with skin" or "A snake sheds its skin many times, but always has the same body". Any other suggestions for contexts that clearly bring out the relevant differences in meaning?

(I should mention that this question was inspired by a recent talk by Mustapha El Adak of the University of Oujda, arguing that all non-borrowed Berber words for "body" either include non-physical aspects of the person or relate specifically to a particular aspect of the body rather than referring uniformly to the whole.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Néologismes en n- en berbère siwi

(experimentally posting in French - opinions?)

Très tard, j'ai commencé cet été à mieux organiser mes notes léxicographiques sur le berbère siwi d'Egypte. Ayant atteint 2300 mots après avoir transcrit trois carnets, je prend une pause pour donner une observation qui pourrait être utile un jour à l'aménagement linguistique, si ce dernier est envisageable pour un parler aussi minoritaire ... Pour former les noms déverbaux, le berbère siwi d'Egypte utilise souvent une stratégie analytique assez différente des stratégies morphologiques préférées ailleurs en berbère : la particule du génitif, n, + le nom verbal. J'en ai neuf exemples clairs, pour ne pas parler d'autres cas plus opaques. Le nom peut être le complément du verbe :

  • ačču manger : n-ačču nourriture
  • aknaf rôtir : n-aknaf viscère / aubergine rôti
  • alessa se vêtir : n-alessa vêtements
  • tiswi boire : n-tiswi boisson
ou bien l'instrument pour faire l'action du verbe:
  • ančlaħ glisser : n-ančlaħ planche de dune
  • asebded arrêter : n-asebded bouton d'arrêt
  • aṣṣey tenir : n-aṣṣey poignée
  • azerzi chasser (les mouches) : n-azerzi chasse-mouche
ou même, plus rarement, le lieu :
  • aɛenɛen s'asseoir : n-aɛenɛen la planche transversale d'un chariot sur laquelle on s'asseoit
Comme le montrent "planche de dune" et "bouton d'arrêt", cette forme reste encore productive. La plupart des nouveautés prennent naturellement les noms arabes utilisés par leurs vendeurs, mais si les siwis voulaient adopter des formes puristes, il serait facile d'appeler, par exemple, la télé n-aẓeṛṛa - alors que, en fait, le néologisme le plus connu à Siwa, chez ceux qui s'en intéressent, est la curieuse forme elmeẓṛa, apparemment dérivée de tiliẓṛi à partir de transmission orale.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Siwi addressee agreement and demonstrative typology

My article "Siwi addressee agreement and demonstrative typology" has just been published, in STUF 67:1. In this article, I discuss the semantics of Siwi demonstratives, focusing especially on a phenomenon that I briefly covered in a post from 2012, Siwi: addressee agreement and addressing Aljazeera. Here's the abstract:
Siwi, a Berber language of Egypt, shows gender/number agreement of medial demonstratives with the addressee. Such phenomena are crosslinguistically very rarely reported, and are not discussed in major surveys of the typology of demonstratives (Diessel 1999; Imai 2003). However, within person-oriented demonstrative systems, such marking amounts to an iconic representation of addressee anchoring. The pragmatics of Siwi demonstratives thus cast light on the nature of the mapping from person to place that such systems reflect (Greenberg 1985). Comparative eastern Berber data suggests that demonstrative addressee agreement may be more widespread than the literature reflects.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book out: Berber and Arabic in Siwa (Egypt)

I am very happy to announce here (a couple of days late) that my book Berber and Arabic in Siwa (Egypt) has now come out. The oasis of Siwa in Egypt, already famous in Classical times for its Oracle of Ammon, is by far the easternmost place where Berber is spoken. As a result of its isolation from the rest of Berber, and of a history that includes significant immigration and language shift, the Berber variety spoken there is highly distinctive (and not mutually comprehensible with Moroccan or Algerian Berber). On the one hand, some of the most persistent quirks of Berber grammar have been substantially simplified; on the other, even highly irregular core Berber morphology has been retained, and massive influence from Arabic – including the borrowing of productive root-pattern morphology – has generated new complexities. Based on part of my doctoral thesis but significantly expanded, this book:
  • proposes a classification of Siwi within Berber, and a corresponding probable account of where this Berber variety originated;
  • describes the grammar of Siwi, in greater detail than any previous work;
  • establishes how, and how much, long-term contact with Arabic has affected its grammar;
  • examines the dialectal affiliations of Arabic loans in Siwi, providing further evidence that this contact involved very different varieties at different periods;
  • provides a number of fully glossed Siwi texts of different genres, illustrating Siwi grammar and casting light on Siwi culture.

Thanks once again to everyone who helped in this process, and especially my friends in Siwa. To all those who find this sort of thing interesting, I hope the book comes in handy!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Siwi political slogans

If there's one genre I was convinced would never develop in Siwi, it's political slogans. All my previous experience with the oasis had left me convinced that they would remain withdrawn from national-level political activity as they always have, cautiously attempting to court whoever wins – a sensible policy, perhaps, for a peripheral oasis with no political power and highly vulnerable to changes in policy. However, this year's events in Egypt have apparently brought even Siwa to the point of mounting a couple of demonstrations. Egyptians have displayed a seemingly inexhaustible facility for coming up with rhyming couplets for use as slogans in demonstrations, and I woke up this morning and saw an example of the same genre in Siwi:
فل اسيسى فل نشنى نمل لا جندول
fəl a Sisi fəl • nišni nəṃṃəl la ga-nədwəl
Go, Sisi, go! • We have said we won't go back
I asked a few Siwis about the issue, and apart from general points, one reason they gave for supporting Morsi particularly struck me. Since long before the revolution, the Egyptian security forces have viewed the border populations – Bedouins in Matrouh and Sinai, as well as Siwis – with great suspicion; many army/police jobs are closed to them simply for where they come from. As far as the core state is concerned, they're not thought of as real Egyptians, but as clannish minorities under Egyptian control, with undesirable cross-border ties and a predilection for going places the state doesn't want them to be in. Many Siwis felt that Morsi was reversing this situation, attempting to develop the border regions and treating their inhabitants as fellow Egyptians; a resurgence of military rule obviously threatens those gains. The long-term prospects remain to be seen; I can only hope that whatever government emerges from the current situation tries to address the problem of exclusion of border dwellers.

Monday, July 01, 2013

So how different are Algerian and Egyptian Berber?

In the previous post, we looked at how hard Egyptian Arabic was for an Algerian to understand (answer: not that hard) and how it diverges from the rules of Algerian Arabic (answer: a lot). What if we try the same exercise for Berber – specifically, Kabyle vs. Siwi? Obviously, I don’t speak Kabyle fluently or even well; if you do, feel free to correct me or give me your own impressions. However, with a bit of help from a dictionary, I think it’s worth a try. There aren’t any Siwi stories recorded online at the moment, about Juha or otherwise, but here’s a short fable with a sad ending retranscribed and retranslated from Laoust’s grammar:
Azidi dilla g adrar, itessu aman. Tizmert ttella adday. Azidi yeṃṃ-as: “Itta xeḅḅecṭ-i aman nnew?” Tizmert teṃṃ-as: “Aman dillan g ɛali, iteggezen i gda!” Yeṃṃ-as: “Ɛam-nuwwel nic uṭnaxa, cemm edduqqaṭ ṭaren nnem!” Teṃṃ-as: “Nic n aseggasa!” Yeṃṃ-as: “Namma eṃṃa nnem namma axxa nnem!” Baɛdin yečč-ét.

There was a jackal on a mountain, drinking water. A ewe was below. The jackal said to her: “Why have you muddied my water?” The ewe said: “The water is above, and goes down to here!” He said: “The year before last when I was ill, you stamped your feet (disturbing him with the noise)!” She said: “I’m from (I was born in) this year!” He said “Or (it was) your mother, or your aunt!” Then he ate her.

Only seven words (out of 44) have no cognates in Kabyle as far as I know – in three cases, this is because one language or the other has borrowed an Arabic term:

  • azidi “jackal”: in Kabyle this would be uccen.
  • yeṃṃ-as “he told her”: in Kabyle this would be yenn-as.
  • itta “why”: in Kabyle this would be ayɣer. The Siwi form is from i “to, for” and -tta < tanta “what”, a local variant of widespread Berber matta, which Kabyle has replaced with the Arabic loan acu.
  • ɛali “above”, from Arabic: in Kabyle this would be asawen, but the Siwi form is easy to guess from Arabic.
  • iteggezen “they go down”: in Kabyle this would be trusun.
  • ɛam-nuwwel “year before last”, from Arabic: in Kabyle this would be sell-ilindi, but the Siwi form is easy enough to guess if you know Algerian Arabic.
  • namma “or”: the first syllable is cognate to Kabyle neɣ, but the word has changed enough to make guessing difficult.
  • axxa “aunt (mother’s sister)”: in Kabyle this would be xalti, from Arabic.
So in terms of vocabulary, the situation is pretty similar to what we saw between Algerian and Egyptian Arabic. However, as with the previous example, there are many more subtle differences – and those differences are of a more significant kind. If we look at grammatical differences alone and ignore phonetic or semantic ones, we notice that:
  • g adrar “in the mountain”: in Kabyle this would be g wedrar; Siwi has no “état d’annexion”.
  • dilla, ttella: “he is at, she is at”: Kabyle yella, tella, with no d- prefix. adday “below”: Kabyle does have a noun adda “below”, but it can only be used in combination with certain prepositions, not on its own as here.
  • xebbecṭ-i: Siwi marks the 2nd person singular (“you”) with just -(a)ṭ; Kabyle uses t-...-ḍ.
  • nnew “my”, nnem “your (f.)”: in Kabyle this would be inu, inem.
  • iteggezen: Siwi marks the 3rd person plural (“they”) with y-...-en; Kabyle, like all other Berber languages, uses -en alone.
  • i gda: in Kabyle, i is usually used just for the dative, but in Siwi it’s used for destinations in general; the g- in gda was originally the preposition “in”, but in Siwi it became part of the word for “here”.
  • uṭnaxa “I am/was ill”: the -a suffix is a Siwi verbal form marking the perfect, frequently used in subordinate clauses to mean “while”. Kabyle doesn’t have such an ending, and would just use uḍnaɣ.

This contrasts with what we saw between Algerian and Egyptian Arabic, where very few of the textual differences were strictly grammatical. Of course, a longer text would have revealed more grammatical differences between Algerian and Egyptian, for example in the formation of comparatives – and would reveal many more between Kabyle and Siwi. This makes sense; for many centuries, Siwi has been much more isolated from Kabyle than Algerian Arabic has been from Egyptian Arabic, and the expansion of Berber happened earlier than that of Arabic, so they’ve had longer to develop separately.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Les déictiques en berbère oriental

Thanks to some filming at a recent conference, you can now listen to me butcher the French language while discussing the demonstrative systems of eastern Berber, in particular Siwi: Les déictiques en berbère oriental. It's not just Berber studies, although it has a good deal of Berber data. You see, it turns out that Siwi, like Qur'anic Arabic, has a typologically unusual feature called addressee agreement; so I attempt here to place this phenomenon within a wider typology of allocutivity, a phenomenon found in languages like Basque and Maithili too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

LACITO move; Siwi text online

First, a big update I should have posted a month ago: I'm working as a researcher at the CNRS now, in Paris; the lab is LACITO. It's a great research atmosphere, and a much easier commute!

Second: Every time I pass through Alexandria, I try to photocopy as much of Gen. Rif'at al-Jawhari's book "Garden of the Sahara" (1964) as the Library of Alexandria will let me - which is generally not much, since they take copyright very seriously. This important - and hard to obtain - resource for Siwi is now viewable free online in its entirety: جنة الصحراء سيوه أو واحة آمون (Garden of the Desert: Siwa, or the Oasis of Amon). It includes a rather long vocabulary at the end (starting on p. 131) along with a few poems (starting on p. 208). The main text itself is of some interest for its description of Siwi customs, although the author's attitudes are sometimes a bit patronising.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Siwi semantics

I recently arrived in Siwa – a pleasant experience as always, quite unaffected by the political turbulence of Cairo – and since getting here, I've repeatedly been learning the meanings of words I thought I already knew. Siwi has turart and adrar, whose cognates throughout Berber mean “hill” and “mountain” respectively. But a turart can hardly be called a hill – some are rock outcrops not much taller than a man – and the flat-topped layered “mountains” of Siwa that they call adrar would in English usually be considered hills, though the term can be used for larger ones too. ləbħaṛ can obviously mean “sea”, as in Arabic; but in fact, in a Siwi context it primarily refers not to the sea but to the two large lakes of the oasis. lašqəṛ is familiar from Arabic – Ibn Hazm notes, for example, that the Umayyad dynasty of al-Andalus were all blond ('ašqar), thanks to their seemingly heritable marital preferences – but it doesn't actually mean “blond” in Siwi, though that's an associated symptom; it means “albino” (albinism is fairly common in Siwa for some reason; it must be hard having no melanin in a place which hardly ever sees a cloud, but they seem to manage.) iləm is “skin”, as elsewhere in Berber; but the thick skin or hide of a sheep, which Siwis cook on special occasions, is not iləm, it's the Arabic loan əjjəld. Semantic elicitation is trickier than it might seem! Another etymologically interesting item of vocabulary I've learned is agbez “cowrie shell”, used in decoration. The word must be related somehow to Kwarandzyey (Korandje) tsyagmʷəš, but the correspondences are fairly funky. I wonder what it's called in Libyan Berber...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Berber in Libya and Egypt

I am glad to announce a new collaborative blog, in which I will be participating along with Marijn van Putten, Adam Benkato, and possibly others: Oriental Berber, on the Berber languages of Libya and Egypt. Not much there yet, but keep an eye out... The subject seems timely, with Berber having started to be used in Libyan media.

In other news, my Dardja etymology blog now features posts on the origins of zṛudiyya / sfənnariyya / xizzu (carrot), čina (orange), njəm (a kind of grass), jṛana (frog), and ʕətrus (billy-goat.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meaningless morphemes from Malta to Matrouh

A while back, Bulbul pointed out to me that in Maltese (the Arabic-derived language spoken in the EU member state of Malta) the plural of "guru" (guru) is "guruwijiet" (where "j"=y.) Obviously, the stem is "guru". The plural suffix is -iet, which is one of the commonest Maltese plurals, and derives from Arabic -āt; compare saltn-a "kingdom" > saltn-iet. But in that case what is the -ij- (ie -iyy-) doing there, and in other cases like omm "mother" > omm-ij-iet? On the face of it it looks like a morpheme without a function.

Oddly enough, as I discussed in my PhD thesis, you get the same phenomenon in Siwi Berber. It happens with Arabic external plurals, eg lə-kdew-a "squash" > lə-kdew-iyy-at, but also with Berber ones, eg ta-ngugəs-t "wagtail bird" > ti-ngugs-iyy-en, baṭaṭəs "potatoes" > baṭaṭs-iyy-ən (the usual plural suffixes are feminine -en and masculine -ən.) You seem to get it occasionally in western Libyan Arabic too (eg žnarāl "general" > žnarāl-iyy-a.)

In both Maltese and Siwi, it appears to be used mainly on nouns whose form is unusual - ones with syllable structures and vowel patterns that are unusual for nouns in the language. The -iyy- suffix looks just like the suffix used to derive nouns indicating origin from a place (eg Sīwi(yy) < Sīw-a); most plural markers in Arabic are specific to nouns of a particular shape, but this suffix can be attached to nouns of any shape. In a sense, it serves as a bridge to reformat the input (the singular) into a form acceptable to the plural function. It thus has a functional value within the context of the morphology. However, it fairly clearly has no meaning at all - which seems fairly remarkable to me. I suppose you could compare the -iss- that shows up in some forms of French -ir verbs (fin-ir "to finish" > nous fin-iss-ons "we finish"), but historically that seems to be part of the stem rather than just an originally meaningless add-on as here.

Can you think of another morpheme (suffix/prefix/whatever) that has to be there in some contexts, but that has no meaning?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Siwi and Nafusi, mutually comprehensible

The Libyan conflict which currently appears to be winding down has had some interesting side effects. One of the more linguistically interesting ones is the emergence of something completely taboo to Qaddafi: broadcasts in Libyan Berber - specifically, in the language of the Nafusa Mountains near the Tunisian border, whose people have played an important role in taking Tripoli. For a long time Berber languages have been mainly oral - visible or essential in particular regions scattered across North Africa, but not used in the national stage defined by major cities, schooling, and the mass media (apart from radio.) Since the 1990s this has changed somewhat in Algeria and Morocco, but in Libya this remains a very novel step.

For Siwis, the Berber-speaking people of Siwa in western Egypt, this is of some interest. They have occasionally been tuning into Moroccan or Algerian Berber-language satellite broadcasting ever since it started, without understanding more than occasional words here and there. But they tell me that in the Libyan broadcasts they can understand practically everything - the first time they've seen TV broadcasts in something approximating their own language, and the first time most of them have heard Libyan Berber at all.

I'm not surprised that Moroccan and Algerian Berber should be incomprehensible to Siwis - but I do find it remarkable that Libyan (Nafusi) Berber, spoken more than a a thousand kilometres away from Siwa, should be so easy for them to understand. It further confirms a longstanding observation that I've tried to back up recently by identifying shared innovations: that Siwi seems most like the Berber languages of western Libya, not of eastern Libya (where Berber is still barely spoken at the oasis of Awjila), contrary to what common sense and geography would initially suggest.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Berber words in Roman times, and Ghomara Berber material

A couple of goodies for readers interested in North Africa / contact / the classical Mediterranean (if you fall into the first category, incidentally, you should also be following the major recent events in Algeria and Tunisia.):

Jamal El Hannouche, having finished his MA at Leiden, has recently put up Ghomara Berber: A Brief Grammatical Survey and Arabic Influence in Ghomara Berber. These are important reading for Berber philologists: despite its location in northern Morocco near the Rif, Ghomara Berber is not at all closely related to Tarifit, and shows some unusual features such as a feminine plural in -an. (The name of nearby Tétouan thus represents Ghomara Tiṭṭiwan, not Tiṭṭawin as other Berber-speakers might assume.) However, they are of even greater interest for contact phenomena: Ghomara Berber is one of very few languages (along with Agia Varvara Romani) to borrow fully conjugated verbs, from Arabic in this case. The only previous work on Ghomara Berber was a brief article in 1929 (and the Ethnologue has for some time been spreading the misconception that it is extinct); this is the first grammatical sketch of the language.

Carles Múrcia has recently completed his PhD at Barcelona, and put it up online: La llengua amaziga a l’antiguitat a partir de les fonts gregues i llatines. I'm afraid it's in Catalan, but if you can read French or Spanish you shouldn't have much difficulty (although it would be nice if he had translated more of the Greek quotations.) So far I've read the parts about Egypt and Cyrenaica. For Egypt, he points out there is no linguistic evidence that the Lebu / Libyans or Meshwesh, or any of the other Western Desert tribes recorded before the Mazices of the Byzantine era, spoke Berber, nor even that Siwa spoke Berber before the Byzantine era. This fits with my own observations that Siwi is simply too much like Western Libyan Berber to be the survival of an ancient Berber language of the Western Desert - although the activists who urge Imazighen to date their calendar from the "Amazigh" conquest of Egypt by the Libyans may not be happy with this cautious conclusion! For Cyrenaica, on the other hand, he shows that a number of words recorded in classical sources have convincing Berber etymologies, suggesting that Awjila may represent the continuation of a very early Berber-speaking population.

Interestingly, the words with Berber etymologies generally lack the characteristic Berber nominal prefix a-/ta-, which must still have been a separable word at that stage. For example, one Berber root that brought back memories of the Sahara is gelela, recorded by Cassius Felix as "coloquintidis interioris carnis" - the flesh of the inside of the colocynth, a bitter melon that grows wild in the Sahara and is commonly fed to goats. This corresponds to modern Tuareg tagăllăt, and to Kwarandzyey tsigərrəts, both meaning "colocynth" - but in those forms, the feminine prefix ta- (or ti-) has been added.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Siwi Scarborough Fair

Over the dinner mentioned in the last post I was also shown a Siwi poem sent as a text message - it's a rather below average example of the genre, but interesting as an representative illustration of Siwis' orthographic preferences.
كان تازمرت تجبد تيني
كان تفكت تعمار تازيري
كان اتغت تيرو اغي
كان امان نلبحورا يسقلبن اخي
كان الغم ينسخط ايزي
بردو شك غوري (غالي)
Or in Latin Berber orthography:
Kan tazemmurt tejbed tayni
Kan tfukt teɛmaṛ taziri
Kan tγatt tiṛew aγi,
Kan aman n lebḥuṛa yesqelben axi,
Kan alγem yensxeṭ izi,
Beṛdu cek γuṛi "γali".

So I decided to render it into English, taking a few liberties to reproduce the rhyme (for added faithfulness, change "flea" to "fly", and eliminate "someday" and "or three"):

If dates can come from an olive tree,
If the sun someday a moon shall be,
If a goat gives birth to a calf or three,
If milk fills the waters of every sea,
If a camel can turn itself into a flea -
Then only will you be dear to me.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Siwi and Kabyle: same language family, but not same language

Just back from a nice evening with the Siwi community of Qatar. A Kabyle friend came along (hello if you're reading this!), giving me a chance to see first-hand to what extent Siwi and Kabyle are mutually comprehensible. The answer is: very little indeed. Looking through basic vocabulary it's not hard to find cognates; but when it comes to even short sentences, mystified expressions on both sides were the order of the day. The Berber languages of Algeria and Morocco may shade into one another to some extent, even across sub-family boundaries - there seem to be dialects for which it is difficult to decide whether they should be called Kabyle or Chaoui, for example. But by the time you get to Siwa, it's quite clear that you're dealing with a different language, even by Arabic speakers' rather generous standards. Further confirmation, if any was needed, that Berber is a language family, not a language.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eastern Berber vocabularies on Google Books

Some digitised Eastern Berber vocabularies from the first half of the 18th 19th century for your perusal, if you're into that sort of thing. I was particularly impressed to find a Sokna vocabulary - I haven't yet read any other source on that language, though admittedly I haven't looked that hard.

* Lyon's vocabulary of the Berber of Sokna, from 1820
* Hornemann's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1798 (at my homepage)
* Caillaud's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1826
* Minutoli's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1827
* Koenig's vocabulary of Siwi, from 1839 (lots of other vocabularies in here - Somali, for example, and Nubian and even Fur)