Mutual Intelligibility of Benghazi Arabic, Tunis Arabic, and Maltese

Last year, I participated in a research project led by my good friend and colleague Slavomír “bulbul” Čéplö which focused on testing how well speakers of Arabic from different places could understand each other’s dialects.

To do this, and get more than just impressionistic results, Slavomír first adapted a method that was previously used to test the mutual intelligibility (meaning how well speakers can understand each other) of Chinese varieties. The test had three parts: words, sentences, and stories. People taking the test listen to each part spoken in dialects other than their own, and attempt to answer questions about what they’ve heard. Based on their answers, we try to figure out 1) roughly how much of those other dialects they can understand, and 2) what are the specific problems that they encounter when they can’t understand something.

These three dialects were chosen for the pilot study because they are all North African, and therefore have a number of similarities. Plus, they were the easiest to field-test: I could do the testing in Benghazi, Slavomír in Malta, and Christophe Pereira in Tunis.

For those who simply want somewhat scientific, but uncomplicated, results to share with their friends, I can say this: 1) speakers of Benghazi Arabic can understand about 44% of Maltese and 73% of Tunis Arabic, 2) speakers of Tunis Arabic understand slightly more of both, about 80% of Benghazi Arabic and 45% of Maltese, and 3) speakers of Maltese understand about 38% of both Benghazi and Tunis Arabic.

If you want the real details, especially with regard to what particular factors affect how well those speaking one dialect can understand those speaking another (such as changes in sounds, the use of different words, and changes in grammar), then you should read our description of the whole thing. If you’re interested in the results, you can read a draft of our article (which has been accepted for publication in Folia Linguistica). Feel free to come back with questions!

The testing procedure was actually pretty simple. Particpants simply sat down with an iPad and a pair of headphones, and spent about 30 minutes listening and and responding via the touch screen. (Of course, making the software itself was much more complicated, and accomplished by Slavomír and his colleagues over at Sonic Studio). If you’re interested in the details, you can read a description of the application used for testing.

Here you can get a glimpse of how the actual app looks. The left-hand sideshows the word test, while the right-hand side shows the sentence test.

mutual-intel-test-sample-image

*Note: more pictures coming soon!

Human Geography and Colonial Libya |الجغرافية البشرية، الاستعمارية و ليبيا

We turn to the colonial period to bring to light a series of studies regarding human geography and the fascist project in Libya. The scholar David Atkinson (University of Hull, UK) describes his work as follows:

نرجع الى عصر الاحتلال الايطالي لتسليط الضوء على سلسلة دراسات موضوعها الجغرافية البشرية و المشروع الفاشستي في ليبيا. مؤلّفها الاستاذ داڤيداتكِنسُن بجامعة هُل ببريطانيا يصف بحوثَه كالتالي

“[This] interest revolves around the geographies of Italian colonialism. Work here reflects broader postcolonial initiatives but focuses particularly upon the constitution of colonial space through the spatial practices of exploration, geographical survey and other forms of knowledge production. I also explore the construction of colonial bodies through geographical and anthropological survey and mapping, and the connected demonisation, spatial disciplining and persecution of nomadic subjects by Italian colonial discourse and policies. Finally, this research also explores theoretical attempts to engage desert landscapes, and also critiques the stuttering progress of colonial memory in postcolonial Italy.”

Atkinson, David. 1996. “The Politics of Geography and the Italian Occupation of Libya.” Libyan Studies 27, pp. 71-84.

Atkinson, David. 1999. “Nomadic Strategies and Colonial Governance: domination and resistance in Cyrenaica, 1923-1932.” In The Entanglement of Power: Geographies of Domination / Resistance, eds. J. Sharp et al. London: Routledge, pp. 93-121.

Atkinson, David. 2003. “Geographical knowledge and scientific survey in the construction of Italian Libya.” Modern Italy 8/1, pp. 9-29.

Atkinson, David. 2005. “Myths of the desert of empty space: enduring European imaginaries of North Africa and the challenges of material geographies.” In Libia Oggi, ed. P. Gandolfi. Bologna: Il Ponte, pp. 107-122.

Atkinson, David. 2007. “Embodied resistance, Italian anxieties, and the place of the nomad in colonial Cyrenaica.” In In Corpore: Bodies in Post-Unification Italy, eds. L. Polezzi & C. Ross. Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, pp. 56-79.

Atkinson, David. 2012. “Encountering Bare Life in Italian Libya and colonial amnesia in Agamben.” In  Agamben and Colonialism, eds. M. Svirsky & S. Bignall. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 155-177.

Publications of the Italian-Libyan Academic Collaboration

A number of years ago, the Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente (المعهد الايطالي لافريقيا و الشرق) and the Libyan Studies Centre in Tripoli collaborated to publish a series entitled Fonti e Studi per la Storia della Libia (مصادر و دراسات لتاريخ ليبيا). Three volumes appeared in print:

  • Modern and Contemporary Libya: Sources and Historiographies. (Fonti e Studi per la Storia della Libia 1). Edited by Anna Baldinetti. Rome: IsIAO 2003.
  • La Libia nei manuali scolastici italiani (1911-2001). (Fonti e Studi per la Storia della Libia 2). Edited by Nicola Labanca. Rome: IsIAO 2003.
  • Tripoli bel suol d’amore. Testomonianze sulla guerra italo-libica. (Fonti e Studi per la Storia della Libia 3). Salvatore Bono. Rome: IsIAO 2005.

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Unfortunately the collaboration seems to have not continued, at least in published form. But all three books are very worthwhile collections for those looking for thoughtful and unique perspectives on the colonial period in Libya.

The Melting Pots: an exhibition of Libyan Art

NOON_Arts-the_melting_pots-FlyerNoon Arts, a collective of Libyan artists, will present an exhibition from July 14–23, 2015 at the Arab British Centre in London.

The Melting Pots “will showcase a mix of artwork that considers the open concept of a city in relation to both Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya. It will present the subjective interpretations of each artist as he or she depicts a deep relationship with either one of these two ancient metropolises.” The exhibition flyer continues:

With colorful paintings, intelligent photography and questioning installation art, every piece is a form of creative contemplation upon the history, the present and the future of these sister capitals as well as the realization that neither one can be easily defined. Both have gone through difficult phases and both have proved to be equally defiant, strong, resilient, embracing, deceitful, chaotic, glorious, alluring, haggard, tired, old and frail. And much more than that…

Despite all the odds both of these cities are still standing today and have become major works in progress that prove to be precious to the artists involved in this exhibition. Finally taking into account the recent witnessing of the oppression that lasted 42 years, these two dear Libyan melting pots – one that graces the West and the other that graces the East – will continue to simmer for many more years and decades to come.

The artists whose work will be in the exhibition are:

  • Najla Shawket Fitouri
  • Hadia Gana
  • Ibrahim Tawati
  • Adam Styp-Rekowski
  • Nawal Gebreel
  • Muftah Abudajaja
  • Hasan Dhaimish

Support Libyan art and artists and go see the exhibition if you’re in London! Here’s another image from the Arab British Centre’s website:

Libyan Artists at Shubbak Festival (London)

The Shubbak Festival is a celebration that happens every two years in London, describing itself as a “window onto contemporary Arab culture” (نافذة على الثقافة العربية المعاصرة). At this year’s festival (July 11–26), two Libyan artists will participate, on the first and last days, respectively:

Elbohly (Aymen Ajhani) will create new works of calligraffiti live on the afternoon of July 11 at Chelsea Theatre. To learn more about his art both in Libya and abroad, read Nahla Ink’s interview with him.

Asia Alfasi will participate in a discussion about Arab comics and graphic novels. The event will take place at 11am on July 26 at the British Library.

 

Conference: Libyan and Tunisian Arabic (Vienna)

It is a good summer for the study of Arabic dialects in Libya.

In May, at the 11th conference of AIDA (Association internationale de la dialectologie arabe) in Bucharest, was the first panel devoted to Libyan Arabic in the twenty-year history of the organization. Five different scholars presented papers about Arabic dialects in Tripoli, Benghazi, and the Fezzan. Some of those papers will be published in the proceedings of that conference, and will be announced here accordingly.

This month a workshop on Tunisian and Libyan Arabic dialects will occur in Vienna, hosted by the Universität Wien and the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Its title is Tunisian and Libyan Arabic dialects: Common trends, recent developments, diachronic aspects, and the following papers specifically dealing with Libyan Arabic will be presented:

  • Adam Benkato – “Investigating Bedouin Arabic in Libya: A closer look at the phonology of Benghazi Arabic” (تحقيق العربي البدوي في ليبيا: منظر اقرب على فونولوجية لهجة بنغازي العربية).
  • Maciej Klimiuk – “Pronouns in the Arabic dialect of Msallāta (Libya)” (الضمائر في لهجة مسلاتة العربية).
  • Christophe Pereira & Najah Benmoftah – “Preliminary remarks on the Arabic spoken in Khoms (Libya)” (ملاحظات تمهيدية على العربية المحكية في مدينة الخمس الليبية).
  • Dominique Caubet – “A tentative description of aspect, mood, and modality in the Fezzan via William & Philippe Marçais’ texts (1943-1953)” (وصف تجريبي على بعض الخواص النحوي في الفزان من خلال نصوص الاساتذة مارسي).

A number of other papers will touch on aspects of dialectology relevant to Libyan Arabic as well.