Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Sunday, March 26, 2017
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
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
ʘʘʘʘʘʘʘ: follow me!
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
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
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
- 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
- aɛenɛen s'asseoir : n-aɛenɛen la planche transversale d'un chariot sur laquelle on s'asseoit
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
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
- 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
فل اسيسى فل نشنى نمل لا جندولI 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.
fəl a Sisi fəl • nišni nəṃṃəl la ga-nədwəl
Go, Sisi, go! • We have said we won't go back
Monday, July 01, 2013
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.
- 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
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
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
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
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
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
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
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
كان تازمرت تجبد تينيOr in Latin Berber orthography:
كان تفكت تعمار تازيري
كان اتغت تيرو اغي
كان امان نلبحورا يسقلبن اخي
كان الغم ينسخط ايزي
بردو شك غوري (غالي)
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
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
* 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)