Monday, September 21, 2015

Berber substratum nouns in Beni-Tamer (Adrar, Algeria)

In most of the Arabic dialects of the Algerian Sahara that I've encountered, Berber influence is rather inconspicuous. Loanwords exist, of course, but they are so well adapted to Arabic structure that they tend to be difficult to spot; who would guess, for instance, that šəṛšmala "skink" came from Zenati Berber *a-sərm-šal (cf. attested Tashelhiyt asrmkal?)

In a few areas, however, Berber loans retain the Berber nominal prefixes a- and ta-, and hence stick out like a sore thumb. In such cases, they often keep Berber-style plurals as well, reproducing a Berber subsystem within the otherwise Arabic domain of the dialect's nominal morphology. The only major Saharan dialect that consistently does this, as far as I know, is Hassaniya in Mauritania and the Western Sahara. However, during fieldwork some years ago, I came across another case well outside of Hassaniya. The area around Adrar (medieval Touat), in southwestern Algeria, seems to have shifted from Berber to Arabic relatively recently, and the process is not complete even today. At least one village, Beni-Tamer just outside Adrar, accordingly borrows many Berber nouns with Berber nominal prefixes, including ones unfamiliar to other speakers from near Adrar that I met. I only spent a short time with the one speaker from Beni-Tamer that I met, but he gave me quite a few examples from his Arabic (he did not speak Berber):

With masculine a-:

  • aždəl "garden near town"
  • ažəlžim “hoe” (Taznatit ažəlžim)
  • afdam “palm fibre” (cf. Hassaniyya fdām)
  • afrag “palm-leaf fence” (Taznatit afrag, cf. Hassaniyya efəṛṛāg)
  • aqənnin / qənnin "palm stump" (Taznatit taqənniħt)
  • agžəm “cellar” (Taznatit ikzəm)
  • amazzər “sloped spot in an irrigation channel”
  • anfif “drainage hole” (Taznatit anfif)
With feminine ta-:
  • tadmayt "garden outside town"
  • tasgat “large basket” (Taznatit tasgawt)
  • taṣəṛbiṭ “skink”
  • tagəmmi “stable”
Most of these are not attested in Hassaniyya, and closely reflect the Taznatit Berber still spoken at Timimoun, confirming that they represent a substratum of Berber words retained by this town's people after they shifted to Arabic. This also fits with their semantic distribution, including a lot of agricultural terminology. At least one of them takes a metathesised Berber plural, originally with the Berber masculine plural suffix -awən: agžəm “cellar”, pl. agəžwamən. Unfortunately I didn't elicit plurals for the rest. I don't think I'll be able to go to Adrar in the near future, but it would be interesting to look at this dialect more...

Have you seen anything similar in a dialect you're familiar with?

References: Hassaniyya from Taine-Cheikh, Dictionnaire hassaniyya-français; Taznatit from Boudot-Lamotte 1964, "Notes ethnographiques et linguistiques sur le parler berbère de Timimoun".

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Language anxieties and policies between France and Algeria

I recently finished reading Claude Hagège's Combat pour le français au nom de la diversité des langues et cultures (2006). For any Algerian reader, it's a rather ironic experience to read his strangely familiar-sounding defense of his national language against an unholy alliance of foreign manipulation and unpatriotic elites, cynically claiming to defend minority languages when their real aim is to weaken the national language. The irony is only heightened when you realise that, had the last 150 years gone differently, the author, born to Jewish parents in Tunisia, might have been writing the same book in Arabic (his last name is a transcription of حجّاج "pilgrim"). But when he discusses political history (pp. 190-196), the parallels go beyond the merely rhetorical to get strikingly specific, and one starts to realise just how unoriginal Algerian language policy is.

Anyone who writes about Algerian language policy is obliged to mention the Arabisation laws of 1991 and 1996, stipulating, among other things, that Arabic must be the language of all domestic administrative or corporate correspondence, of all television and conferences, and (by 2000) all university instruction. Fewer of those writers feel obliged to mention the fact that no attempt has ever been made to put these laws into practice, and that they are flagrantly violated on just about every Algerian street every day. None that I've read mention the obvious parallels in recent French history, to which Hagège devotes some attention:

Au termes de [la loi Bas-Lauriol de 1975], l'emploi du français était rendu obligatoire dans les échanges commerciaux, la publicité et les contrats de travail ; une circulaire d'octobre 1982 étendit ces dispositions aux étrangers exportant en France leurs produits, et un décret de mars 1983 imposait aux établissements d'enseignement et de recherche dépendant de l'Etat l'emploi des terminologies créées par les commissions officielles.
[By the terms of the Bas-Lauriol law of 1975, the use of French was made obligatory in commercial exchanges, advertising and employment contracts; a circular of October 1982 extended this to foreigners exporting their products to France, and a decree of March 1983 imposed on State teaching and research institutions the use of the terminologies created by the official committees.]
However, this law rapidly found itself "en voie d'obsolescence par défaut d'application" [on the way to becoming obsolete for lack of being put into practice]. The government responded in 1994 with the Toubon law:
[E]lle étend à de nouveaux domaines la portée de la loi Bas-Lauriol : codes du travail, examens et concours, marques de fabrique, règlements intérieurs des entreprises [...]) Enfin, elle est assortie de sanctions civiles en cas de transgression : cinq mille francs si les contrevenants sont des personnes physiques et vingt-cinq mille francs si ce sont des personnes morales.
[It extends the scope of the Bas-Lauriol law to new domains: labour codes, exams and competitions, trademarks, business-internal regulations... Moreover, it is furnished with civil penalties in case of violation: 5000 francs if the violator is a physical person, 25000 if it is a legal person.]
Part of this law was understandably struck down by the Constitutional Council as a violation of freedom of expression. The rest remained on the books, but, according to Hagège, continued to be openly violated with near-impunity. To make matters worse:
Les ministres du général de Gaulle redoutaient ses colères contre ceux qui, dans l'exercice de leurs fonctions, s'étaient exprimés en anglais. Les ministres d'aujourd'hui n'ont rien à craindre de tel quand, à l'occasion de conférences de presse, de réunions internationales, de discours dans les universités, ils utilisent l'anglais, soit parce qu'ils se piquent de donner une image de modernité, soit parce qu'ils sont convaincus que l'usage du français ne confère plus de prestige.
[General de Gaulle's ministers feared his wrath against anyone who, in a public capacity, expressed himself in English. The ministers of today have nothing to fear when - in press conferences, in international meetings, in speeches at universities - they use English, whether because they pride themselves on presenting an image of modernity or because they are convinced that the use of French is no longer prestigious.]
Substitute "Boumedienne" for "de Gaulle", "French" for "English", and "Arabic" for "French", and this statement could have been a direct quote from any recent Arabophone Algerian publication.

The comparison isn't perfect, of course: the status of Arabic in Algeria is far more precarious than that of French in France by any measure. Nevertheless, the parallels in attitudes, linguistic ideologies, and proposed responses are striking. I suspect that this is part of the problem: solutions that work well for France should not necessarily be expected to work well in Algeria (and observably don't), given the profound differences between the two countries. For one thing, Algeria has much less of a tradition of regarding the state as a basically benevolent force expressing the popular will, which makes state-centric approaches to language policy less likely to be effective. For another, attempts to regulate oral language use can hardly be effective if they fail to take into account the fact of diglossia, which is fundamental for Arabic but barely exists for French.