Lameen Reviews Haji.

Last month I welcomed Lameen’s return to Blogovia; now I present the start of his latest post, a review of Abderrahmane Haji’s Zenati-Arabic Arabic-Zenati Lexicon. It doesn’t sound like a very good book, but there’s some interesting material in the review:

I got my hands on a copy of a recent dictionary of the Berber variety of Ouargla: Muʕjam al-mufradāt zanātī-ʕarabī ʕarabī-zanātī : Warqalah, Ngūsah, Tmāsint, Baldat ʕumar, ɣumrah, Maqrīn, Timīmūn wa-ḍawāḥīhā معجم المفردات زناتي-عربي عربي-زناتي : ورقلة، نڨوسة، تماسنت، بلدة عمر، غمرة، مقرين، تميمون وضواحيها, by Abderrahmane Haji, published 2019 with Afrmād in Algeria. The variety of Ouargla, Təggargərənt, is relatively well-documented thanks primarily to the texts and dictionary published by Jean Delheure. Delheure’s work, however, was based on fieldwork between 1941 and 1976, and as such represents the speech of several generations ago. The primary merit of Haji (2019) is in presenting an up-to-date picture of Ouargla Berber as currently spoken and seen by a first-language speaker; it is also of sociolinguistic interest for presenting a heartfelt argument for linguistic diversity and “dialect” preservation from an essentially populist nationalist-conservative perspective. Unfortunately, however, apart from an understandable lack of linguistic training, the book is marred by an astonishing number of typographical errors (the Arabic text of the introduction gives the impression of never having been proof-read at all) and an orthography which fails to distinguish /ə/ from /a/; the author notes that he had to rapidly reconstruct the work from scratch after losing his original manuscript file.

The introduction starts by noting the constitutional position of “the Amazigh language” in Algeria and objecting that the variation across Berber is far higher than such a phrase might seem to imply, with only 2.4% (?) of vocabulary common across all varieties. He claims to be able to understand only 35% of Kabyle and 65% of Tuareg as against 80% of Chaouia, 95% of Tumzabt, and 95% of Timimoun; more surprisingly (typo?), he reports understanding only 40% of the rather similar varieties of Tiout, Boussemghoun, and Beni Ounif. A brief overview of Amazigh/Berber/Algerian history includes an original etymology of “Amazigh”: he derives it from am jjiɣ, “as I left (it)”, an idea made possible by Ouargli’s tendency to merge š/ž with s/z, explaining his eccentric spelling of it as أمزيغ rather than أمازيغ. He then presents his objections to standardisation: “The attempt to create an Amazigh language in the laboratory, without immersion in its principles and the depths of its components spread across the nation is in itself self-destructive, and may find no one to feed it or protect it, being rootless and inauthentic and asocial… How can 17 dialects be reduced to one dialect which no one has deemed the source or the original? As Algerians say: ‘When the crow tried to imitate the partridge, it forgot how to walk’.” For good measure he takes such efforts to reflect “this savage project known as globalisation, which since 1945… has imposed what it (globalisation and pragmatism) considers appropriate for its ambitions and desires to let loose and satisfy the instincts and consumption in all its forms, and release blind freedoms and illusory democracy.” Specifically, “dialectal diversity is a strong fortress and effective tool [against this project] which must not be reduced or destroyed for nothing.”

I got all indignant at “an astonishing number of typographical errors” and “an orthography which fails to distinguish /ə/ from /a/” (!), but then I got to “he had to rapidly reconstruct the work from scratch after losing his original manuscript file” and my heart went out to poor Haji. And his objections to standardization reminded me of the similar arguments about the Irish language. I deprecate his attitude towards “blind freedoms,” but I’m with him on dialectal diversity! (And don’t bother lecturing me on the needs of the modern state, about which I care not a fig.)


  1. Glad you liked it! I found a copy on the only trip to Algiers that I made this holiday, and figured I should write something up, given that the book is unlikely to be widely reported in any other country. It really isn’t a good book, but it’s better than nothing, and nothing is exactly what I would have expected to find on Ouargli a priori – it’s one of the least widely spoken Berber varieties.

  2. By the way, should I stress Amazigh on the second or third syllable? It always perplexes me.

  3. This start to the Wiki article on Ouargli

    >Ouargli, or Teggargrent (also Twargrit, Təggəngusit), is a Zenati Berber language. It is spoken in the oases of Ouargla (Wargrən)

    …has me wondering — is Təggargərənt derived from Ouargli/a? Initially they just seem to have a few of the same consonants, but the variants seem closer.

  4. Yes, reconstructing a dictionary from scratch is horrible.

    “an orthography which fails to distinguish /ə/ from /a/” – modern Western dictionaries have (1) orthography (2) transcription. Speakers can tell whether an orthography is convenient or not (that must also depend on its purpose), others rely on the transcription.
    Arabic script empoys diacritics for transcription, but the resulting transcription is not terribly narrow (even for recitation of Quran, what to say about dialectal vowels).

    I assume, his orthography is based on Arabic script and a/ə is ⟨ َ ⟩? Sorry, haven’t seen the book:(
    The range of solutions would be introducing a letter (and altering orthogrpahy), introducing a new vowel diacritic (how helpful is Unicode in that?), adding IPA?

  5. Not sure if attacking consumption etc. is a part of some ideology or philosophy, but I know that ideologised people often bash consumption etc.

    I don’t know whether he himself shares one of such ideologies, or his country does and this is just blah-blah-blah an attempt to attach importance of dialects to the official rhetorics and presently fashionable political blah-blah-blah.
    In the former case, likely my political views are different, because even if I can’t identify the ideology in question, consumption etc. is not what I normally bash.

    In the latter case there is nothing to discuss, but it’s a common practice, found in all ideologised countries:)

  6. should I stress Amazigh on the second or third syllable?

    In the largest varieties, it’s stressed on the third; but in more easterly and southerly ones, it’s stressed on the second, so really you’re not wrong either way.

    is Təggargərənt derived from Ouargli/a?

    Təggargərənt is t-…-t (feminine singular) plus u-/əg- ‘son of’ plus Wargrən “Ouargla”. The Arabic name is not directly derived from the current Berber one, which reflects assimilation of something like *Warglən.

    I assume, his orthography is based on Arabic script and a/ə is ⟨ َ ⟩? \

    Yep. The best solution would have been to write a as ا and schwa as َ, since Ouargli has no length distinctions as such, but for some reason he eschews long vowels.

    I don’t know whether he himself shares one of such ideologies, or his country does

    Hard to say. Much of the ideology expressed in the introduction is standard-issue Algerian mainstream (though you’d never know it looking at French-language publications). But it’s being used to defend the much less mainstream cause of “dialect” diversity. The specific focus on globalisation as the big baddie also seems a little eccentric (and why since 1945 specifically?)

  7. u-/əg- ‘son of’

    There was a publication by al-Jazeera where they (in the manner of The 13th warrior (“Ibn”)) choose to call the guy they interviewed “Ag”: “Finally, the day came when Ag could not handle it any more. He and his neighbours in the rural hinterlands of Timbuktu region in northern Mali had heard the stories from survivors passing through their town….

  8. David Marjanović says

    The specific focus on globalisation as the big baddie also seems a little eccentric (and why since 1945 specifically?)

    He’s just a bit ahead of the curve. Look who just arrived in Algeria to fight the globalists!

  9. Wait, “globalists” is code for NATO now? So hard to keep track.

    (I assume that bit of news relates to regional negotiations around Niger’s coup…)

  10. David Marjanović says

    The world’s isolationists are mostly on Russia’s side, so the other is “globalist”.

    That’s the charitable interpretation.

  11. @Lameen, thank you!
    (sorry, it seems I did not sent the second part of my comment two days ago:/)

    1945… Well, consequences of the war – that is obvious, but particularly maybe the Marshal plan…

  12. @DM, actually I can’t guess who you mean by isolationists. Korea is the obvious example, but apart of Korea I’m not sure.
    Iran is clearly an isolated country but not an isolationist country.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    China, probably not the first country that comes to mind as part of a grand coalition of globalists, is currently leading the way in deliberate state-imposed eradication not merely of dialect diversity but of language diversity.

    However, despite the politics and the rhetoric, China actually is from a purely economic point of view pretty “globalist.”

    AH’s stuff about “pragmatism” suggests that it is particularly the economics that he’s blaming, and I think he’s got something of a point: economic factors have probably done a lot more damage to minority languages overall than deliberate government suppression (certainly so in Wales, anyhow.)
    (It’s not a straightforward issue, either: parents often feel that the chance for their children to escape poverty is much more important than traditional culture, and the children often agree: it’s easy enough for a comfortably-off foreign linguist to deplore this, but then they don’t have to live with the consequences of such choices for themselves.)

    Not that the politics and the economics can be disentangled:

    The first country in the world to make that momentous break with the past—away from socialism and extreme state capitalism toward more market-oriented structures and policies—was not Deng Xiaoping’s China or Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in the late 1970s, Ronald Reagan’s United States in 1981, or any other country in Latin America or elsewhere. It was Pinochet’s Chile in 1975.

    Making the world safe for the Chicago school …

  14. @drasvi: apart of

    “apart from“. I suspect you’ve been visually confusing “apart of” (incorrect English) with “a part of” = часть. Nonetheless, “apart from” does not mean “a part of”.

  15. @Stu, I picked it somewhere, possibly from someone who’s not a native speaker.
    From Russian both look natural…
    Thank you!

  16. David Marjanović says

    It may also be that you saw a native speaker write apart instead of a part because… apparently a lot of spellcheckers assume that if two words can ever be written solid, they must always be. A while is practically extinct in Internet comments, even though correctly used awhile is a very rare word.

    actually I can’t guess who you mean by isolationists

    Individual people who don’t care what happens outside their countries and don’t want to get involved. Not entire countries, sorry – foreign policies are rarely consistently isolationist, even when they claim to be.

  17. Classical isolationism is a very American preoccupation – the luxury of a country powerful enough to assume that the rest of the world will leave it alone if it doesn’t get involved. The Algerian pseudo-equivalent – the guiding ideology behind much of Algerian foreign policy, at least where nothing more serious is at stake – might be called sovereignism: the belief that no country has any business intervening within the rightful territory of any other country under almost any circumstances, and that such interventions are bound to be figleaves for (neo)colonialism.

  18. David Marjanović says

    As far as I understand, it’s much older than great-power status in the US; the luxury was instead made possible by the Atlantic Ocean, and the assumption was that the great powers (of Europe) wouldn’t bother sending a fleet if not pestered really hard. The Monroe Doctrine was isolationism toward Europe (I don’t think Asia was a concern yet), but very much not within the Americas.

  19. Modern “isolationism” is not so much an ideology of retraction as of not making compromises, and of forging bilateral agreements that are less even-handed than what multilateral agreements normally are. That’s why it’s mainly a game for the supreme powers. For a counterpoint, see Brexit. For a successful counterpoint, keep looking.

  20. A while is practically extinct in Internet comments, even though correctly used awhile is a very rare word.

    The OED says s.v. while that as a noun phrase a while ‘a short time’ is erroneous for awhile while allowing it as an adverb phrase; however, s.v. awhile we find (there are only a few quotations) 1725 “Sailing a while to the Southward.” D. Defoe, A New Voyage round the World. It seems to me that either spelling can be associated with eiither meaning ‘a short time’ and ‘for a short time’.

  21. David Marjanović says


    For a while does have 575 megaghits.

  22. For a while seems to me (retired English professor) the only “correct” way to write it.

  23. Same for me (retired copyeditor).

  24. The closed compound “awhile”‘ reads to me now like “awaile,” from Servants of the Wankh by Jack Vance, as the deranged mental state in which the people of Cath try to kill everyone around them to avenge an accumulation of slights. (A similar suicidal murder impulse among the folk of another planet was the best part of Vance’s later Night Lamp.)

  25. @DM, thanks! i thought you are’re speaking about countries, and I thought it must be more general isolationism than political, because it is difficult to be [politically] “isolationist” and “on Russia’s side” at once:) Thus Korea.

    (a-in awhile functions differently from a- in awry…)

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