The Berber language of Ghadames | لهجة غدامس الامازيغية

Ghadames. Image by George Steinmetz, National Geographic.

The historic city of Ghadames in the far west of Libya is well-known for its beautiful vernacular architecture. It is also is home to a unique variety of the Berber language. Like in Awjila, fieldwork in Ghadames was primarily done before the regime came to power and both research and mention of Berbers were restricted. Much material was collected primarily by a French linguist named Jacques Lanfry, who stayed in the oasis in the 1940s. Prior to that, linguistic material from Ghadames had not been published since 1904. Lanfry’s material has now been analysed by Maarten Kossmann, who works on a wide variety of languages in North Africa including several Berber varieties, and published as A Grammatical Sketch of Ghadames Berber (Libya). Rüdiger Köppe Verlag: Cologne (2013, Berber Studies 40). The publisher’s website states:

“Ghadames constitutes a Berber language on its own, which has followed different historical paths from all other languages. It preserves a number of phonological features that are not commonly found else­where and in its morphology, Ghadames also has a number of highly unusual features. While much of its syntax follows general Berber patterns, a number of outstanding features occur. Ghadames Berber lexi­con has undergone relatively low influence from Arabic; thus in a count of loanwords in traditional narrative texts, Ghadames has 18% loanwords from Arabic, whereas languages such as Tashelhiyt and Figuig have twice as much. Furthermore there are a number of recognizable loans from Tuareg and Hausa.

In spite of the importance of Lanfry’s materials, in Berber studies the language of Ghadames has not yet been given the place it deserves. This may be due to the fact that anfry’s studies are difficult to obtain, and that Lanfry’s notations prove somewhat difficult to interpret for a superficial reader. Moreover, while Lanfry provides a detailed description of verbal morphology, other subjects remain under­represented, such as syntax. This is the reason the author decided to write this short grammatical sketch, based on Lanfry’s materials.”

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The Berber language of Awjila | لهجة اوجلة الامازيغية

Here at the Silphium Gatherer we are going to close out this month with a focus on recent studies about the various Berber groups of Libya. [1]

Academic work on the Berbers of Libya has been primarily linguistic, but of course, as we often say here, all aspects of these groups are understudied. By sharing the main recent publications here, I hope to at least give an impression of what has been done and possibilities for future research. The first two works highlighted here are both based on linguistic data collected during the pre-regime period, as little fieldwork has been possible in the past several decades.

The most recent publication is my friend and colleague Marijn van Putten‘s overview of the grammar of the Berber variety spoken in the oasis of Awjila in eastern Libya: A Grammar of Awjila Berber (Libya), Rüdiger Köppe Verlag, Cologne, 2014 (Berber Studies 41). The material for this was collected in the 1960s by a very able linguist named Umberto Paradisi, whose tragic death in an accident in Benghazi prevented him from finishing his work. Marijn van Putten has now turned his work into a detailed and readable grammatical description which also includes all the material in Awjila Berber recorded by earlier scholars, including a number of fairy tales and songs.

On a Berber-language-related blog that Marijn and I started a while ago, you can also find some discussion of Awjila Berber (note that it is oriented primarily at those with some linguistic knowledge of Berber languages). Over at Marijn’s academia.edu page those interested will also find a number of further articles about the Berber variety of Awjila.


1 The term ‘Berber’ is usually used in scholarly works, but is sometimes considered pejorative—however, we’ll continue to use ‘Berber’ here in order to refer to publications without confusion.

Sketch Magazine | مجلة سكتش

A new electronic magazine has just been launched out of Benghazi, and two issues are already online. Sketch Magazine is a digital periodical focusing on architecture and design (in Arabic). Furthermore, it is produced by two young women, Aisha Abdelhaqq and Fatoum al-Fallah.

sketch1

sketch2

The first issue includes pieces, with plenty of photographs, about Benghazi’s architectural heritage, including buildings such as the baladiyya (town hall) and the cathedral, as well as a presentation of projects by university architecture students and a selection of creative works. The second issue has a feature on the traditional mud architecture of the Awjila oasis in eastern Libya. Both are worth your reading time!

Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya

Anyone who wants to get a feel for what Libya looked like during the height of the colonial period should read Brian McLaren’s beautifully-illustrated study Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya (Washington University Press, 2006). Though somewhat hard-to-find and a little pricey, it is absolutely worth the purchase.

To be a tourist in Libya during the period of Italian colonization was to experience a complex negotiation of cultures. Against a sturdy backdrop of indigenous culture and architecture, modern metropolitan culture brought its systems of transportation and accommodation, as well as new hierarchies of political and social control. Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya shows how Italian authorities used the contradictory forces of tradition and modernity to both legitimize their colonial enterprise and construct a vital tourist industry. Although most tourists sought to escape the trappings of the metropole in favor of experiencing “difference,” that difference was almost always framed, contained, and even defined by Western culture.” (From the publisher’s website).

There are academic reviews here and here.

Quaderni di Archeologia della Libia

Quaderni di Archeologia della Libia is a journal going back to the 1950s which publishes the results of various types of archeological fieldwork and research concerning places now in Libya. Most articles are in Italian, but some are in English and other languages. As it does not seem to have its own website, I have taken the liberty of posting a link to a list of contents online.

Table of Contents (Issues 1-18) in text format.

Furthermore, most issues (they are not cheap!) can be purchased at the website of the publisher, L’Erma di Bretschneider.

A historical work on Ottoman Tripoli | دراسة تاريخية في مدينة طرابلس العثمانية

A landmark contribution to the study of North African urban history, the history of Tripoli, and the history of Ottoman Libya is “A North African City between ancien regime and Ottoman reforms: the birth of municipal institutions in Tripoli 1795-1911” [مدينة في المغرب بين العهد القديم و التنظيمات العثمانية: تكوين المؤسسات البلدية في طرابلس الغرب] by Nora Lafi (academia page), a scholar now based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin:

Lafi, Nora. 2002. Une ville du Maghreb entre ancien régime et réformes ottomanes: genèse des institutions municipales à Tripoli de Barbarie (1795-1911). Paris: L’Harmattan, Tunis: Institut de recherche sur le Maghreb contemporain (IRMC), 305p.

From a review on H-Net: “Lafi’s … is the first work of western scholarship to be thoroughly grounded in documents held in Tripoli’s Municipal Archives. (Studies on Tripoli usually make use of Italian, French, and British archives and published sources in many languages, including Arabic.) These are supplemented by sources in the Ottoman archives and diplomatic papers in both France and Italy… At the heart of the book is its demonstration that the city was managed by an assembly (the jama’a(t) al-bilad), headed by the mayor-like “chief of the city” (shaykh al-bilad), a notable elected by the other members of the jama’a. This contradicts the impression conveyed by many historical works, that Arab cities did not generate stable civic institutions of this sort, and have instead followed amorphous, enigmatic, and/or disordered civic trajectories under their reign from above by Ottoman delegates or puppets. In Lafi’s analysis, instead, we find urban and civic self-management at the middle levels. As early as the eighteenth century, long before the Ottoman reforms (tanzimat) of the following century, or subsequent European incursions, Tripoli’s municipal organization operated on a well-functioning, autonomous system of its own making.”