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.

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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.