A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, March 9, 2012

. . . And Tamazight Influence on Libyan Colloquial Arabic

While writing my immediately previous post on the Amazigh revival in Tunisia I stumbled across a link that involves several of this blog's odder little side interests: colloquial dialects, minority languages, and language generally: a series on "Amazigh Words in Libyan [Colloquial Arabic] Dialect."  It's written in Arabic and this is actually installment number 12. I had trouble finding earlier examples on that site but an Arabic search (cut and paste ألكلمات الأمازيغية في اللهجة الليبية if you like) shows that it's apparently been appearing on several other websites as well.

UPDATE: As a commenter notes below, the article tends to find Amazigh sources for all sorts of Arabic words, some obviously from Italian. This is the kind of excessive linguistic chauvinism that led Qadhafi to insist Tamazight was just an Arabic dialect, and has led to other Arab nationalists claiming an Arabic origin for Tamazight, only reversed 180 degrees to find Amazigh roots everywhere. Still, it may be of interest.


David Mack said...

When I was the interpreter of the US Ambassador during my three years in Libya, I found that I could understand fairly well all of the 12 members of the Revolutionary Command Council, except for one. Abd al-Salam Julud, who handled most of the economic portfolio, was from the village of Mizda, well south of Tripoli. He was also a chain smoker. The near constant cigarette between his lips and the frequent use of Libyan colloquial words of Tamazight origin sometimes made a jumble of sound. I was not too shy to ask him to repeat a sentence, and he would usually respond in more learned Arabic.

xoussef said...

The article in the link is trying to link words from Arabic to their "true origin" in Amazigh, refuting the Persian origin of some, and denying words in Libyan their Italian origin, again linking them to Amazigh language.
I am no linguist or Historian, but it all seems to me a bit too contrived. Wouldn't words like "Cravate" and "Carrosse", as novelties, derive a name from the language of whomever introduced them rather than coin a local term, loosely related to their function and which coincidently happen to resemble the foreign name?!
Also it makes sense for Libyan, and the whole Maghrebi continuum, to be infused with loan words from Amazigh languages, but as much as the notion of a pervasive Amazigh influence in Arabic might be appealing to my chauvinism as a Moroccan, it seems incongruous. The Maghreb has been even more in the past than today at the edges of Arab consciousness. That the names of everyday items would be loans from Persian and go mainstream is much more plausible.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Indeed, this is just the flip side of Qadhafi insisting Tamazight was just a dialect of Arabic. It's excessive linguistic nationalism, finding Amazigh roots everywhere, not just where they're really there. Thanks for noting the issue.