A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A New Blog on Eastern Berber Languages

For those of you interested in the Berber (Tamazight) languages, there's a new blog concentrating on those spoken in Libya and Egypt (Siwi in the Siwa Oasis, the only Berber language spoken in Egypt). The author calls it Oriental Berber, (I can see the name may raise questions, since "Oriental" carries a lot of baggage when "Eastern" might have done fine, and "Berber" may annoy some activists. It's a collaborative blog by three authors, one of them Lameen Souag of the Jabal al-Lughat and more recently the blog on Algerian Dardja etymology, الأصول التاريخية للدارجة الجزائرية, which I introduced here recently. Souag's post about the new blog is here. His other collaborators are Marijn van Putten of Phoenix's Blog, and Adam Benkato.

They helpfully describe the Berber languages they plan to cover:
We will finish off with a short overview of some of the languages to be discussed on this blog:
  • Aujila Berber (Aujili) is spoken in the oasis of Aujila, Libya. From a historical point of view, it is a fascinating language, as it is one of the few that retains Proto-Berber (as v). Other languages that have retained this consonant are the Tuareg languages (as h) and Ghadamès (as β). Syntactically and morphologically Aujila is an interesting language, as it has lost much of the typically Berber features such as ‘state’, clitic fronting and has quite a different verbal system from other Berber languages.
  • The only Berber language that is spoken in Egypt is Siwa Berber (Siwi), in the oasis of Siwa in the western desert. Like Aujila, it has undergone intensive restructuring of the grammatical system, and fascinatingly, seems to share several of these grammatical features with Aujila.
  • Ghadamès, an oasis in western  Libya on the border with Tunisia, is the home of Ghadamès Berber (Ghadamsi), the other Libyan language that retains the Proto-Berber Ghadamès is a fascinating language for historical linguists as it also shows some traces of the long lost Proto-Berber consonant . Patterns in the oriental Berber languages are the lack of ‘state’ marking, and a radically different verbal system than the more familiar Berber languages of western North-Africa. The verbal system of Ghadamès may just be the most exotic reconfiguration of all the languages of this region.
  • North of Ghadamès, still in western Libya, we find the Nefusa Berber (Nefusi) languages spoken around the Nefusa mountains, in the cities of Nalut, Jadu, Kabaw, and Yefren (to name a few). These languages have received quite substantial academic attention, from the perspective of oriental Berber. Nevertheless, further research, especially into its linguistic history, will be well worth it.
  • High up north on the coast of Libya, we find Zuara, where the Zuara Berber language is spoken. This language has received quite considerable attention due to the recent publication of Mitchell’s work, edited by Harry Stroomer and Stanley Oomen (Mitchell et al. 2009). The Zuara language is not generally considered to be part of the Eastern Berber languages, and is sooner associated with the Northern Berber languages, similar to Tunisian Berber. Nevertheless, this language could use more attention, and maybe in the future of this blog we will focus on it.
  • Sokna Berber (Sokni) was (or is still) spoken in the oasis of Sokna in west-central Libya. Our only record of Sokni comes from 1924, when only a few dozen people were reported to still speak the language. Though distinct from Fogaha Berber, there is some historical relationship between the two.
  • El-Fogaha Berber, traditionally considered to be the same language as Sokna Berber, seems to be lexically quite divergent. A more in-depth study of this language, will definitely give a clearer indication of the underlying relations between these two languages.

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