Article: “Sokna re-examined”

A new article discussing some old materials about the Berber (Amazigh) language of Sokna, an oasis in central Libya:

Souag, Lameen, “Sokna re-examined: Two unedited Sokna Berber vocabularies from 1850”. Quaderni di Studi Berberi e Libico-Berberi 4 : La lingua nella vita e la vita della lingua. Itinerari e percorsi degli studi berberi. Naples: UNIOR, pp. 179-206, 2015 [actually appeared 2016].

Abstract: “The Berber variety of Sokna, in west-central Libya, is rather unusual and not very well described. In 1915 it already had only five fluent speakers, and today only the old still remember a few words. The two vocabularies gathered by the English traveller James Richardson in 1850, previously unpublished, are thus important for the study of this variety, and by extension for the study of Libyan Berber more broadly. This article presents them for the first time, with transcription, commentary, and comparisons with the few previously published materials.”

(Anyone interested in a copy of the article, please contact the author)

An annotated bibliography of Arabic and Berber in Libya

A new article, “An annotated bibliography of Arabic and Berber in Libya” by Adam Benkato and Christophe Pereira, is now available online (at this link) and will be published in print in the next issue of the journal Libyan Studies, to appear this Fall. Though the final online version is available only to subscribers, the a draft version is available here for any interested readers.

Abstract:

The Libyan varieties of both Arabic and Berber are among the least researched in their respective fields. In order to facilitate the study of these varieties, we present an annotated bibliography of all relevant research that could be identified up until the middle of 2016. With this, we aim to identify both the gaps in current and the possibilities for future research. Studies are grouped into Arabic and Berber sections, and subgrouped according to region. For Arabic, dialects of Tripoli and western regions, Benghazi and eastern regions, Fezzan and southern regions, as well as Jewish dialects, are treated. For Berber, varieties of Zwara, the Nafusa mountains, Sokna and El-Foqaha, and Awjila, and Tuareg are treated. Short introductions highlighting the most important studies precede bibliographic references and brief comments are given when of interest.

ان اللهجات الليبية العربية والامازيغية هي من المواضيع الاقل دراسة وبحثاً في مجالهما. ومن اجل تسهيل دراسة هذه اللهجات، نحن نقدم فهرساً مذيلاً لكل الابحاث المتعلقة بذلك والتي يمكن تحديدها حتى منتصف عام 2016. بهذا، نحن نهفد الى تحديد الفجوات في الدراسة الحالية وبحث امكانية دراسات مستقبلية. جميع الدراسات مصنفة تحت بابي العرب والامازيغ ومن ثم مصنفة حسب المنطقة. بالنسبة للعربية فقد تم تناول لهجات طرابلس والمناطق الغربية، وبنغازي والمناطق الشرقية، وفزان والمناطق الجنوبية، اللهجات اليهودية ايضاً. اما بالنسبة للامازيغية فقد تم دراسة اللهجات من زوارة، وجبل نفوسة، والسوكنة والفقها واوجلة، ولهجة الطوارق . كما ادرجنا مقدمات قصيرة تسلط الضوء على اهم الدراسات تسبق المراجع الببلوغرافية وتعليقات مختصرة كلما دعت الحاجة لذلك .

Attrition and revival in Awjila Berber

Marijn van Putten & Lameen Souag, “Attrition and revival in Awjila Berber”, Corpus 14 (2015), pp. 23-58.

Abstract: Awjila Berber is a highly endangered Berber variety spoken in the East of Libya. Only minimal material is available on the language. This is unfortunate, as that material reveals that the language is in some respects very archaic and in others grammatically unique, and as such is of particular comparative and historical interest. Fieldwork has been impossible for decades due to the political situation, leading to uncertainty about whether the language was even still spoken. With the rising popularity of Facebook, however, more and more Berber speakers are taking to Facebook to converse in their own language. Several inhabitants of Awjila have accordingly set up a Facebook page Ašal=ənnax “our village” where they communicate with one another in the Awjila language. The authors have collected a corpus of the conversations on this Facebook page, which have been transcribed and translated. Analysis of this corpus adds substantially to our knowledge of Awjili and its situation. The posters’ discussion of their motivations for using the language cast light on the language’s prospects for survival, while the posts themselves yield many previously unattested words. At the same time, the corpus provides a case study in language contact. Examination of the grammatical and lexical features of this “Facebook-Awjili” language reveals that these speakers’ usage is heavily influenced by Arabic, showing extensive language attrition absent from earlier data. The resulting constructions show parallels with other contact-heavy varieties, notably Siwi. In both respects, this study casts light upon the uses and limits of social media as a source of linguistic material.

The article is not yet available online, only in the print version, but we will link to a PDF as soon as one is available.

Oral literature in Ghadamsi Weddings | الادب الشفوي في الاعراس الغدامسية

Room in a Ghadamsi house (Plate 1). © AM Yedder.
Room in a Ghadamsi house (Plate 1). © AM Yedder.

Searching the British Library database recently for Ph.D. theses related to Libya yielded an unexpected gem: The oral literature associated with the traditional wedding ceremony at Ghadames, a 1982 thesis written at SOAS by A.M. Yedder, a native of Ghadames. I first had a look at the physical copy in the SOAS library: a 431-page tome containing dozens and dozens of transcribed and translated texts in the Berber language of Ghadames, not to mention quite a few color photographs hand-pasted into it.

As with any Berber language in Libya, more material is a great boon, and this one contains a rich variety of oral literature used during weddings: 82 wedding songs, 20 ‘ritual utterances’, 3 ‘calls’, and 4 ululations. Many of the texts preserved here may no longer be known in Ghadames–Yedder gives details about each of his 19 informants, for example, several of which were born not long after 1900 and knew texts that were already in the 1970s forgotten by most other informants. A detailed discussion of the town’s social structure, unique house architecture, and the long and complex wedding ceremony itself means that the work is interesting even for those who do not specialize in Berber language.

Ghadamsi wedding jewelry (Plate 30). © AM Yedder.
Ghadamsi wedding jewelry (Plate 30). © AM Yedder.

It strikes me that this thesis may be one of the most detailed descriptions of a North African wedding ceremony ever made. Its wealth of information and uniqueness mean that it should be published, even, or especially, after having lain unconsulted in the SOAS library for thirty years. Thanks to some colleagues who helped allay the costs, I had the BL scan the entire thesis. It can be downloaded from this link (the file is large, > 100mb).

Two articles on Berbers and Revolution

After a brief pause, here are two articles in Italian on Berber and other minority communities in Libya and the Libyan Revolution by Anna Maria di Tolla, a specialist in Berber literature and Ibadism at the University of Naples and Anna Baldinetti, a historian of Libya at the University of Perugia. Since the articles are not easily available online, get in touch if you would like copies.

Anna Maria di Tolla. “I berberi del Gebel Nefusa tra rivoluzione e identità culturale.” in La rivoluzione ai tempi di Internet: Il futuro della democrazia nel Maghreb e nel mondo arabo. Napoli (2012), 73-91.

Anna Baldinetta. “Identità nazionale e riconoscimento delle minoranze in Libia: le richieste della società civile.” in La guerra ai confini d’Europe: Incognite e prospettive mediterranee per l’Italia. Roma (2014), 103-119.

Two books on Zwara Berber | كتابين على لهجة زوارة الامازيغية

Picking up the theme of Berber (Amazigh) languages which we started last month, we move to the area of Zwara in northwest Libya. It has become known a bit better to the outside world, unfortunately, as a point of departure for refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and for related problems with trafficking. So it is with many places in Libya, which hadn’t been heard of until something bad happened. Like Benghazi: before 2011 no one had ever heard of such a place, now everyone has heard of it but still can’t pronounce it correctly. But I’m getting off track—I want to highlight something unique about Zwara: it is one of the places where a Berber language is still spoken in Libya.

The linguist T.F. Mitchell (1919-2007) spent time doing fieldwork in Zwara in the 1940s and 50s, publishing some articles about the language (he also published work on Cyrenaican Arabic). But only recently were some of his copious papers on the Zwara Berber language edited into monographs.

The first is Ferhat: An everyday story of Berber folk in and around Zuara (Libya) (Berber Studies 17, Rüdiger Köppe: Cologne, 2007). Ferhat is the result of Mitchell’s work with his main informant Ramadan Azzabi, who narrated aspects of everyday life in Zwara. It hadn’t been published until Mitchell gave the papers to the editor of the Berber Studies series shortly before his death. The publication of this lengthy material is a valuable contribution for those interested not only in linguistics, but also Libyan/Berber language and culture. There is also an appendix discussing marriage customs in Zwara and a bibliography of work on the language carried out up until that point.

The follow-up to that volume, and posthumously capping T.F. Mitchell’s work is Zuaran Berber (Libya): Grammar and Texts (Berber Studies 26, Rüdiger Köppe: Cologne, 2009). This work consists of a partial grammatical sketch (partial because it concentrates mostly on verb morphology) of the Zwaran language that Mitchell had completed before his death, together with a number of transcribed conversation between Zwarans. Best of all, the audio files are available online at the publishers website (see link above) so that anyone interested can hear some Zwaran Berber.

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.”