Lameen Souag, of Jabal al-Lughat, doesn’t post often, but when he does it’s always worth reading. His latest post is about the “Kouriya” language spoken near Timimoun, Algeria, described in Rachid Bouchemit’s 1951 article “Le Kouriya du Gourara”:

“Kouriya”, it turns out, was the general-purpose name given locally to any Black African language – “L’unité du terme cache la pluralité des idiomes: Haoussa, Bambra, Foullan, Mouchi, Songhai, Bornou, Boubou, Gouroungou, Minka, Sarnou, Nourma, Kanembou, Karkawi, etc…”, in particular as spoken by ex-slaves in the region. Following the abolition of slavery, these languages, no longer reinforced by the arrival of new slaves, rapidly fell into disuse; the new generation learned Arabic and Taznatit instead. By 1951, the author could find only seven or eight speakers of a “Kouriya” in Timimoun, and only two of them spoke the same language, namely Bambara.

John A. Holm’s Pidgins and Creoles: Volume 2, Reference Survey (Cambridge University Press, 1989) has a brief mention on p. 554: “Hancock (1977b: 387-389) points out some mixed African languages about which little is known except for their (former) existence and location. These include Kouriya, ‘a variety of mongrel Sudanese dialects . . . spoken by slaves and their descendants at Gourara near Touat.'” Lameen suggests it might derive from Songhay koyra ‘town, village’; other possibilities are mentioned in the comments.


  1. Charles Perry says

    Hmm. So koyra means “village.” Looks a quite a bit like the Arabic qarya.

  2. قرية
    Arabic guereeya “village” or depending how you pronounce qaf, qereeya

  3. Or Hebrew qiriyah
    Cf Carthage, “New City”: Hebrew “qiriyah hadasha” Canaanite: Qart-hadašt
    Technical note (Internet Explorer and Firefox): I am able to insert Hebrew and Arabic characters when composing the comment, but when I preview the post they become gibberish. Same result when copying from Word. Solution anyone?

  4. able to insert Hebrew and Arabic characters when composing the comment, but when I preview the post they become gibberish
    I don’t have any problem with Arabic characters, whether copy & paste from the character map, from Google translate, or typed directly with “Arabic (Jordan)” enabled on either XP/Firefox or Vista/Firefox. Maybe the beast this is happening on is a Mac? Might try an external keyboard as a temporary workaround: http://www.arabic-keyboard.org/

  5. Paul, the non-Latin characters get converted to Unicode on preview, but then display normally when posted, look at the top when previewing, they should look ok, at least that’s what happens to me when I insert Cyrillic characters (I use Firefox on PC).

  6. Charles Perry says

    Nijma — I think from qarya, rather than a diminutive such as qurayya. Then koyra by simple metathesis.

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