John Emerson alerted me to the YouTube video for Mdou Moctar’s song “Taliat,” about which Jon Blistein writes for Rolling Stone:

“Taliat” is centered around Moctar’s billowing guitar lines, which twist around steady percussion as the musician sings about love and heartbreak in Tamasheq. In a statement, Moctar said, “‘Taliat’ means woman. In our community, women are queens, they have a lot of power, that’s why I use the term taliat to talk about them. A woman in the Tuareg community has to be protected, but she also has to be treated as equal.”

The track is accompanied by a video that features the song’s lyrics translated into English, as well as footage of Moctar driving around Niamey, Niger, with some additional footage of the musician and his band laid on top.

Yes, there are English subtitles, but what they don’t tell you — and the reason JE sent me the link — is that there are also subtitles in Tifinagh script! Now if only I could get a transcription and explanation of the Tamasheq lyrics; there are only a few of them…


  1. Surely that has something to do with the Aramaic ṭalītā ‘young girl’, as in Mark 5:41? What’s an Aramaic word doing in Tamasheq? Or maybe it doesn’t, the Aramaic deriving from a root meaning specifically ‘young’?

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    Pending Lameen’s definitive pronouncement on the issue, and far from my own books at present, I provisionally presume that the initial t- of taliat is actually the feminine singular prefix (Tamasheq being fond of circumfixing such things, as indeed in the very language name itself) rather than part of the stem.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    Circumfision is performed on feminine nouns ?

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    Tălyaṭ is “daughter” according to the “Tamashek Basic Phrases” app I just found in the Google Play Store …

    Unfortunately it doesn’t give the plural, but I’m fairly sure the t- must be flexional.

  5. I provisionally presume that the initial t- of taliat is actually the feminine singular prefix

    That was my guess as well (that being one of the very few things I know about Berber languages).

  6. Sudlow’s The Tamasheq of North-East Burkina Faso: Notes on Grammar and Syntax including a Key Vocabulary gives alyaḍ and talyaṭṭ as the m and f of ‘noble (i.e. not slave) child’.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Interestingly, the word actually seems not to mean “woman”, as Blistein reports Mdou Moctar as saying. Perhaps the noble-not-slave feature is what he’s on about with all this stuff about “queens.”

    I know very little about Tuareg culture, but I think it really is the case that (noble) women have relatively high status. IIRC Jeffrey Heath remarks that Islam has not made much difference to many traditional aspects of their society.

    (The one Tuareg woman I recall from my time in West Africa took no crap from anybody, but it is perhaps unwise to generalise on the basis of this relatively small sample …)

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Talking of Tuaregs, I just discovered a few days ago that Charles de Foucauld is now (since May) an actual saint:


    Not bad going for a missionary linguist. SIL need to up their game …

  9. Goodness, an actual saint indeed — and here I thought this was going to turn out to be a Cao Dai thing.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    Recognizing missionary linguists as Official Saints is hardly a brand-new thing as of 2022, unless one has some sort of tunnel-vision whereby the Vatican and/or Cao Dai authorities are the only ones paid attention to.


    Another missionary-linguist-saint in 19th-century Alaska was St. Jacob Netsvetov, who had the arguable advantage of being the child of a father who was an L1 Russian-speaker and a mother who was an L1 Aleut-speaker but still had to start anew when he was sent off to evangelize Yupik-speakers w/o access to any real prior work in the description or transcription of their language.

  11. David Eddyshaw says

    It was the recency that struck me as notable, in fact. We filioque-merchants also have Jerome and Francis Xavier, and others; after all, successful missionaries have often needed to be linguists. Bartolomé de las Casas is a work in progress (he got up the noses of Spanish colonialists too thoroughly for rapid promotion to sainthood …)

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Did St. Jerome actually evangelize any non-Christians (as opposed to getting into theological-etc. flame wars w/ others who were already Christian)?

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    I was thinking “linguist” more than “evangelist” with Jerome.

    Las Casas (though worth the plug on first principles) is a bad example too, though I say so myself: more of an ethnographer if anything. I think I was subconsciously conflating him with the very different Bernardino de Sahagún, whose sanctificatability the hierarchy has AFAIK yet to appreciate.

    Perhaps something to discuss at the Ecumenical conferences … (“Look, these guys are way ahead of us on Linguist Saints.”)

  14. I expected this. If you asked me if he’s a saint, my answer would be “I don’t remember, why?”

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    The English word “lady” started off with a very class-marked sense but has more recently become much more generic, so it would not be surprising if the same sort of thing happened in other languages?

  16. Obviously “In our community, women are queens” made me think about the community of English speakers.

    (also the subsequent discussion reminded me about Swahili-speaking queens who all a Mwana for a reason still unknown to me)

  17. Lars Mathiesen says

    generic — confer all the languages where polite address uses a deictic pronoun originally referring to Your Excellency or Mercy or the like. (Or the corresponding verb forms in PRO-drop languages).

  18. I recently found that lyrics of some other band (my freind once asked me for their lyrics and translation) are available, and there are also videos with Tifinagh and English on Youtube. Both that band and Moctar are promoted by this site https://sahelsounds.com/?s=mdou&post_type=post

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    Now returned from pilgrimage to Geneva, I was able to look at my copy of Heath’s Tamashek grammar: he glosses tɑlyɑṭṭ (sic) as “girl” (feminine of ɑlyɑḍ “boy.”) He says that the words for “boy” and “girl” vary a lot by dialect.

  20. Now if only I could get a transcription and explanation of the Tamasheq lyrics

    It sounds to me as though the Tifinagh transcription doesn’t quite reflect the same words as the song, but here goes – quick imperfect effort. (My dictionary-aided attempts to translate it are probably less reliable than theirs.)

    “I appeal to you Lord, you the almighty”
    kăy năk əɣre-ɣ Yăḷḷah
    you I call.Pf-1Sg God
    “You I invoke, God”

    “Preserve me from unrequited love and contempt”
    way ilan tərna, agəẓ-i dax tărha (Tifinagh)
    wa i-la-n tərna, agəz-i dax ăška (audio)
    RelMSg MPtcp-have-MPtcp power, protect-1Sg Loc love/?
    “Oh possessor of power, protect me from love/?”

    “Oh poor girl”:
    hay t-amăḍrăy-t t-alyaṭ-t
    hey F-little-FSg F-girl-FSg
    “Oh, young girl”

    “She gave him her heart and he broke it”:
    təsəknen tărha, əxšad-ăn-as iman. (Tifinagh)
    tə-səkn-en tăra, agg-ən-as iman. (sound)
    3FSg-show.Pf-3PlAcc love, destroy/dominate-3Pl-3SgDat soul/self
    “She showed them love, they destroyed/dominated her soul”

  21. Wow, thanks very much indeed!

  22. Thanks, Lameen! I was hoping you’d drop by.

    There was also a discussion on the sebiro thread which I hoped you’d have an opinion on.

  23. How do you pronounce ṭ-t? As /ṭṭ/, or is there really an emphatic-unemphatic cluster?

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    Heath writes it as /ṭṭ/; I think Lameen was just using a more abstract orthography to clarify the word structure, where the feminine noun has both initial and final (underlying) /t/.

    It could be worse: the final /qq/ of the language name Tamasheq(q) itself is derived from /ɣt/ (compare “Tamazight”, essentially the same word.) Heath explains that /q/, though very common in the language, is actually marginal, in the sense that it simply represents geminate /ɣ/.

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