A BBC News story tells the story of a mysterious non-English-speaking burglar (an earlier story said “the authorities have no idea of his name, age, nationality, or even his language”) who turned out to be Hassan Ibrahimi, from “a remote village in the Moroccan mountains.” What particularly struck me (and the correspondent who sent me the story—thanks, Jim!) was this bit: “Having lost everything, he decided to try and leave Morocco and come to France because the Berber language is similar to French.” Berber similar to French? As I told my correspondent, it’s hard to know whether it represents a misunderstanding on the part of a reporter, a translator, or Ibrahimi himself—people do believe some odd things about language!


  1. Berber presumably has loans from French from the colonial period. I wonder if Ibrahimi thinks that Berber is like French because he is aware of these loans? I have heard Carrier people in British Columbia comment on the the alleged similarity of Carrier to French on the basis of loans, even though the percentage of loans in the lexicon is not that large and mutual comprehensibility is zero.

  2. A Turkish informant reveals to me that Greek and Turkish are pretty much the same language. His evidence amounts to a few items of vocabulary.

  3. I would also like to know about “the Berber currency”.

  4. Eskandar Jabbari says

    Only after a translator saw news reports about the case was it established that he lived in a remote village in the Moroccan mountains and spoke the Berber dialect.
    The Berber dialect of…what? French, I presume, as Berber is evidently so similar to French. Anyone have any information on the Berber dialect of French? But seriously, I’m so tired of every lesser-known language being referred to as a “dialect” by the media. It really gets under my skin.

  5. There is no “Berber currency.” Sometimes they refer back to the old French “rials,” but that’s it. As for any of the three main Berber languages of Morocco resembling French in the LEAST – no. Argh.
    As for poor Hassan, apparently he left Morocco because his village had been destroyed in an earthquake – that would probably put him in the North, speaking Riffi.

  6. Similarly, in my experience many people think that Tagalog is somehow related to Spanish — even many people in the Philippines think this! It has lots of loan words, sure, but if you take one look at a linguistics article about Tagalog you’ll see the dramatic difference. And when in Senegal, I was told that Wolof is somehow similar to English and that makes Senegalese people good English speakers. Well, IF they are good English speakers or learners (and how would you measure that?), it probably has more to do with their widespread use of French in urban areas even among the less educated. (It’s often “street French”, but French nonetheless.)
    As for this Berber, it’s also possible that he already knew some French, at least passively, from TV if nothing else.

  7. Siganus Sutor says

    Posted by: 癌症 at November 8, 2006 04:16 AM
    A spam in Chinese? There’s some beauty to it.
    Does it come from Feizhou? (You know, the desperate appeals by these poor widows of former dictators, and the like…)

  8. Siganus Sutor says

    In a way this story sounds similar to what happened to the “mysterious” Piano Man found soaking wet — and wordless — on an English beach.
    From the BBC article: he (…) spoke the Berber dialect
    First of all, why “dialect”? And then, if dialect, why “the dialect”?
    Maybe Berber is closer to German then to French, isn’t it? I remember that years ago I was wondering whether Berber was the language spoken by the descendants of the Germanic tribes that went down through Spain to North Africa, and even back up across the Mediterranean Sea to vandalise Rome…..
    * * * * * * *
    (Incidentally, fresh from the BBC website:
    It’s Hinglish, innit?
    Hinglish – a hybrid of English and south Asian languages, used both in Asia and the UK – now has its own dictionary. Is it really a pukka way to speak?

    > Another nascent dialect, “that will conquer the world”…)

  9. Siganus Sutor says

    Noetica: A Turkish informant reveals to me that Greek and Turkish are pretty much the same language.
    I’m afraid your informant is not very well informed, since Turkish, too, is a dialect of French. Isn’t it obvious?
    ► restoran, omlet, garson, apartιman, factura, pantolon, televizyon, tirbuşon (tire-bouchon), sendika, gişe (guichet), bilet, traktör, endüstri, üniversite, baraj, büro, etc.

  10. And many of those words look hauntingly familiar to an English-speaker… Why, English is a dialect of French, too!

  11. Don’t be ridiculous, Hat! Everyone knows that it’s the other way around.

  12. Siganus Sutor says

    At least that’s what some Frenchmen are so afraid of — those who are often in favour of an utterly ridiculous law.

  13. He probably said that because it was the first thing he thought of, and probably sounds better than “I was desperate and needed to leave my pitiful existence to go to a rich country that other people from my country go to get work.”

  14. Siganus Sutor: Surely you mean a dialect spoken by Germanic berberians?

  15. Germanic? You mean Armenian!

  16. Sounds like time to point out that Berber, like Basque and Finnish, is part of the Dravidian Diaspora.

  17. Siganus Sutor says

    Yesterday I was wondering whether Berber could be related to Basque — and it is confirmed the next day. Thanks John.

  18. Siganus Sutor says

    Fragano Ledgister: Surely you mean a dialect spoken by Germanic berberians?
    Ultimately (and shamefully), isn’t it the same thing? (Well, it’s not absolutely certain that ‘barbarian’ and ‘Berber’ are related to each other, or is it?)
    The big question, however, remains this one: did they bring the runic script to North Africa too before it evolved there? :o)
    Some old reading memories: a book by Frison-Roche — or was it L’Atlantide? —, full of the sands and the rocks of the Sahara, and adorned with cave paintings and Tifinagh writings.
    Who knows if this Berber script is still in use, even amongst the Tuareg?

  19. Warning: some of this will go into the next edition of Essentialist Explanations.
    A Russian once asked me, “Greek is written in Cyrillic alphabet, yes?” “More or less,” I replied weakly.

  20. marie-lucie says

    (Bill: Carrier is related to French …, etc)
    When living among the Nisqa’a (neighbours of Carrier in northern British Columbia, Canada) I was told by some of them that their language was “familiar with French and German” – the latter probably because it had the two sounds written ch in “ich” and “ach” – and a Dutch man who lived there asked me if Nisqa’a could be related to Dutch since they both had the sound in “ach”. I have no idea where the French came in, unless some people thought that my ability to learn their language must mean that my own was similar. Too bad there were no Welsh speakers around, as Nisqa’a and Welsh share the sound written ll in Welsh .
    Of course, no one ever puts such claims to the test by asking even the simplest question using the language(s) in question. Instead, if any attempt is made, it is something like “how do you say X?” – “X”. – “Oh, yes, our languages must be related.” (All this in English).

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