Saturday, 22 February 2014

Review - Proverbs of old by Fakira-Wassila Douar

"Qallek : buss l kleb men femmu 7ta teqdi 7djetek mennu"

"Embrasse le chien sur son museau jusqu’à ce que tu ais obtenu ce que tu désires"
"Kiss a dog on his muzzle until you obtain what you want from him"

no. 201

Great way to say 'do what you have to do'! Old proverbs and wisdoms are always so charming and visual, as is this collection of Algerian proberbs in Derja. l-klam fi weqtu dewa.

Lemtoul enta3 'z'men (Proverbs of old) is a small book packed full of Algerian proverbs collected by Fakira-Wassila Douar, a researcher who has concentrated on wisdoms that are, or were, used specifically in Algiers.

This 122 pages book was published by Dar El Othmania in 2013, and contains 337 sayings, plus 12 buqalat (بوقالات).  Each proverb is given in the Algerian language, written in latin transcription and in Arabic transcription. The proverb is then translated into French (by M. Amine Mehrez), and many of them are followed by a small explanation of what the saying means (still given in French). Like this:

no. 277 : "I do not fear the ox, but its horns"
Is said of a person who is feared only because of his family, allies, friends or protectors."

The wisdoms collected are fun and witty.  Here are a few examples of what you'll read. Do you use these expressions, I wonder?

no. 72 : They say: bragging doesn't build a home, and poverty is no dishonour.

no. 3: They say: follow the advice of the one who makes you cry, not the one who makes you laugh.

no. 265: They say: trust no one, betray no one.

In the book's introduction Dar El Othmania specifies two things: one, that Mme Douar's concern is to record, and save, part of Algeria's culture, here common sayings and proverbs that made a whole generation think and ponder on their actions. This effort is made for the next generation, for them to find their treasure trove, when the old generation is no longer around to tell them about it or where it might lay. Second, on the back cover, Dar El Othmania adds that this book should be on every library's bookshelves and yes, it should, with others like it.  But I have to be a pest and ask: to whom is this book addressed?  If it is to an Algerian audience, then why is it written in French?

Well, the answer is coming soon...


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Talking with Hafid Benhadriya, co-founder of the online Algerian Dictionary

I used to expect “good things come to those who wait” to mean that should you wait long enough, the thing/s you were waiting for would eventually turn up.  Then an epiphany crashed on my head and I knew... you can wait all you want and what you’re waiting for might never come, but along the way during the wait you’ll encounter some things positive, like something-good and something-close.

And so it is that along the way, I sort of encountered Hafid Benhadriya.

Hafid Benhadriya is an Algerian language researcher, teacher and writer based in Wahran, who is very active in promoting Derja. He is behind several projects such as Jazayriya and Derja at school. He blogs in Derja at Felmdina and accompanies his posts with an audio that matches the text, a great initiative to reach the blind. He is also working on translating The Little Prince by Saint Exupéry, in Algerian. These are the few projects of his I know and I suspect he works and helps out on many others.

One such which caught my attention while searching for a dictionary-of-the-Algerian-language-written-in-Algerian is, a project he co-founded with equally energetic and passionate researchers who, it would seem might just succeed in what hasn't happened in Algerian lexicography as of yet: producing a fully fledged dictionary of the Algerian language, written in the Algerian language, for an Algerian audience, compiled by native Algerian speakers.

This tremendous project going by the name of Wiki Jazayriya will eventually contain a grammar of Algerian together with several other tools to record, safeguard and generally promote the language. It so far contains 3 pages of 200 words each, and is growing every day.  

Because I was curious as to where this dictionary came from and where it is heading, I asked Hafid:

You’re very active promoting Derja. You have initiated, and are part of, several projects. What motivated you to start Wiki Jazayriya ( and work on an Algerian dictionary?

H.B.: Jazayriya wiki is the idea of the members of Jazayriya and the platform is managed by Nassim and Emin. From my side, I try to provide Darija-written material as much as I can. As a group, we know now, after many years of working together, our strength and weakness points. For this, we try to encourage ourselves and help each other.

The dictionary is important: 1. to show that Darija can be written and adapted to information technology 2. to keep track of our vocabulary and also preserving our memory and culture from death (a language death is a culture death). 3. to enlarge the culture/education field and - for all people and not only to the elite. 4. to provide Algerian content in the Algerian language for Algerians outside the country and also for foreigners. 5. to show that the Algerian language can be the language of culture, knowledge, science and the arts.

Your Wiki dictionary it would seem is the only Algerian dictionary actually written in Derja and that addresses itself to its readers in Derja, so why are you giving the translation of words in French rather than their definitions in Derja?

H.B.: The recent form of the dictionary is a mix of many dictionaries, compiled during many years by Esma, Said, Nassim, Mekkiya, Emin and me. On Glosbe, Said is in charge of managing the dictionary. We are trying to capitalise on our experience and learning, all the time, new stuff, techniques and new ways of doing things in order to enhance the Darija experience. At the moment, we can't yet provide Darija definitions as it is a huge amount of work but this is part of our project and we'll begin to do it as soon we can. We are running many projects at the same time, on the Internet and in real life.  We are trying to reconquer our identity and mother tongues by learning, via discussions and through reading. To reach this, we try to write and communicate in Darija.  

The most urgent, now, is to collect all the words we can, from the different towns of Algeria. In our philosophy, every Darija word is a synonym of another. So all Darija words are welcome in our projects. For many reasons, many words are already dead. A dictionary will be a good way to make them alive again. The version of the dictionary that I'm still working on is a multilingual one (Algerian, French, Spanish, English, Russian, German, Arabic, Turkish and Maltese "with different progress percentage") where we also find the different forms of a given word (Verb, Noun, adjective, expressions). 

For instance: verb: Qra - Qerra - tneqra / Noun: Qraya Adjective: Qar-i, -ya / Expressions: Tɛellem w nta tqerri! Meɛna: El qraya, f el-Darija, ɛendha zuj mɛani: 1. Rahu yeqra fi ktab (He is reading a book) 2. Rahu yeqra f el jamiɛa ntaɛ Wahran (He is studying at Wahran University).

The next step for the dictionary will be: - providing explanations in Darija, - providing expressions, as much as possible, and providing Smartphone applications.

Would you want to have it published in paper format?

H.B.: I have plans to launch a publishing house. One of my main projects is to publish a paper dictionary. For this, I'm all the time taking trainings in different fields in order to make the experience more professional. Thanks to Oran associations who provide me with several trainings for free (Communication, debating, citizenship, human rights, nature guide, storytelling...)

When you publish a post on your blog, you also post its audio equivalent, do you have any plans to publish audio-books in Derja?

H.B.: One of my projects is to provide audiobooks. I hope the first one will be Sliṭen (The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) as soon as I finish the translation. Meanwhile, I'll have to master the audio-making process and have to get trainings. I'm always getting feedback from my network. This feedback is so precious in order to make the Darija revitalization process stronger. 

Well, this is all rather exciting, isn't it!  

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review - the Dictionary of the Algerian Language by Mehdi Berrashed

The Dictionary of the Algerian Dialect (Algiers’ variety) in a clear Algerian tongue* was compiled by Mehdi Berrashed and published by Vescera editions, in 2013 (393 pages, 800DA).

Berrached wrote his dictionary in modern Arabic, giving Algerian words in bold and in quotes (written using the Arabic script). Words are listed following the Arabic alphabetical order, plus insertions of letters representing the specific sounds of Algerian such as G.

Berrashed gathered his data from 'popular' poetry and 'popular' songs among other sources, which he quotes to place words in their context and to attest to their use. This dictionary is dedicated to the words used in Algiers pre 1970s-80s. Apparently, an Algerian linguist is working on the Algerian language post 1990 to analyse how a decade of war may have altered the previous stage of the language (more on this in a later blog post).

This dictionary opens with a question: what if Ibn Manẓum (the great North African lexicographer) hadn’t applied himself to recording language (the Arabic language)? I’d reply just to be cheeky that we’d still have Kitab el-3ayn (the Book of the Letter 3ayn), by the genius lexicographer of the Arabic tradition al-Xalil (d. 791) and al-Jawhary (d. 1007)’s  Taj al-lugha (the Language’s Crown).

The reply to Berrashed's question is not mine of course, but is that Arabic speakers would be facing the kind of mess Algerian speakers are facing today: oblivion.  This is where Aziri and Berrashed come in, re-kick-starting the lexicography of the Algerian language, a field untouched it would seem since the 50s with Bencheneb’s dictionary (still published today as if it were Beaussier’s dictionary, a great injustice that should one day be corrected).

The 16 pages of the introduction are very informative, you'll find a discussion on what makes Algiers’ language particular, why it is different to the rest of Algeria. Berrashed lists Algiers' specificities such as the pronunciation of the letter qaf as Q not G, its preference for diminutives. He also notes the Algerian language’s preference for intensive noun forms such as sarraq, qattal as opposed to active participles sariq, qatil used elsewhere, as well as features shared all over Algeria like the use of zuj for two, the negative form built on ma-verb-sh and wlaw (والو). Among other subjects, Berrached also challenges the myth that French was/is widely spoken by Algerians in the capital, an interesting reassessment of the question. 

After a short list of bibliographical material, the ‘keys to the dictionary’ are given to you open the great door that will lead you to Derja. In translation.


See how it's set. The explanation given are by way of an expression said to be typically from Algiers or to be generally Algerian.


Is entered twice: under waw and under 3ayn.  It's beautiful to give quotes from poetry.

In this second entry, you can see that Berrashed explains 3lesh as a contraction of  على + أي + شيء . I have the same reservations as previously noted and still wonder if ش isn't a question marker, something I'll never investigate I should say. 


Yes, plate. And note here Berrashed's remark on Algiers' preference for diminutives. It would be a lot of fun if it turned out that the Algerian topsy is from the English topsy-turvy, and that in turn the English expression had earlier come from Algeria. No?


Because tomorrow is 14 Feb and some care. The heart is where the home is, not the reverse, and more specifically, it's at the house's water-well, in case you lost yours.


Enough. I'll stop peeling the pages here but will certainly continue at home.

This my friends, is where Algerian lexicography has officially been reborn. Overstating?

* the title is معجم العامية الدزيرية بلسان جزائري مبين 
and I'm having problems translating it, see ddzayr is the capital, Algiers and l-Jaza'ir is Algeria, if the title is to be understood as I gave it, i.e. the Dictionary of Algiers' dialect in a clear Algerian tongue, then we have a problem. Definitions are not given in Algerian although they record Algiers' variety of the language. I must say this is a huge disappointment for me (the only one) as I was initially so excited about it, thinking it was written wholly in Derja. The best remedy obviously is to stop being so excited.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Review - The dictionary of Algerian locutions by Mohamed Nazim Aziri

When you need to look up a word in a new dictionary, in what part of the dictionary do you look? Do you go straight to the letter concerned? Do you first browse through the pages, perhaps stop at a word that catches your attention before looking for what you set out to? Do you only look at illustrations? You'd google?

If you were an early Arabic grammarian trained between the 8th to 10th century, you’d be so stressed out about authenticity of reported speech and whether you can rely on an entry in any dictionary, you’d walk straight into a pillar while thinking about it and instantly die (this is how the first, genius, lexicographer of the Arabic tradition, Al-Xalil reportedly died).  So you’re not from 8th century Iraq, and you’re probably not thinking of the Algerian so deeply but you should, and Mohammed Nazim Aziri clearly is. 

When Le Dictionnaire des locutions de l’arabe dialectal algerien by Mohamed Nazim Aziri got into my hands at Algiers' ANEP bookshop (1,070DA, 484 pages), I did what I like to do most with books: I opened it from the back.

This took me, not to an Index, but to the Bibliography which contains great pointers to understand the development of the Algerian dictionary. It is succinct (3 pages, 31 references) and this briefness is explained in the very informative Introduction (5 pages) in which Aziri explicitly situates his dictionary: his is a work that directly follows in the footsteps of Beaussier and Bencheneb's dictionary (re-edited by Lentinm see previous blog post). Aziri republishes, and refreshes, all the locutions of Beaussier/Bencheneb's dictionary, and adds many more taken from the other dictionaries given in the Bibliography among other data. This work of revision and addition is a very interesting instinct, as this is exactly how dictionaries were made in the Arabic tradition, by revising the previous compilations and adding to them, thereby giving birth to an incredible body of work.

At this point, you and I should note: where did Bencheneb’s edition go? As Aziri told me later when I met him, it didn't go anywhere, it is here before our eyes (well when you have a copy) but it was published under Beaussier's name. Bencheneb, the first Phd graduate of Algeria, had been asked to revise Beaussier's dictionary. He did and also added a great amount of material to it, thereby turning it into a new dictionary, as noted by Lentin in his recent edition. Both efforts were welded as one and no one as yet has worked on separating what belonged to Beaussier and to Bencheneb. A great idea for a Phd if ever there was one. 

So let's look up inside. Words are listed alphabetically (following the Arabic alphabet order, they are written using the Arabic script). When a Derja word is given, a list of Algerian expressions that contain that word follows (written with the Arabic script), and then each expression is translated into French (in the Latin script, just in case you wondered, it could happen in another script, this is Algerian scholarship).


I guess that the reason واش is followed by no expression including واش, is because it is a compound made of the Arabic conjunction واو and the ending ش (please see MnarviDZ comment below who is quite right to point out this compound is analysed as the combination of و+ أي +  شي  and further read a quick but to the point analysis given by the linguist Dr Lameen Souag; but, I keep my unsubstantiated comment as I wonder if the suffix ending sheen is not the marker of questions rather than the contraction of  شيء. I've removed my mention of a 'turkish' ending as I forgot where I got it from).

So really this is an entry about و. I haven't heard واشن used so far (Aziri told me at a later date that this is used in Tunisia, remember Beaussier's locutions recorded both words used in Algeria and Tunisia). In Algeria, I've encountered شنو (what) mostly, and the very pretty شونِّ heard in Msila.


When I first heard it, it was here in Algiers, I was told that is it typical Algerois (you agree?). Wasn't told it's 'juste juste' though, but 'exactly'.


Ah, memories, one of the oh-so-few words of Derja I knew as a child.


This is the full entry on كان , one of THE words that locate the Algerian language for me.  The first expression am not sure qualifies as a typical Algerian one (it is typical Modern Standard Arabic, I do not mean Aziri is wrong, just curious about what made him record it). As regards the third entry, I've been taught it as 'kesh' (kesh jdid?!) not 'kan-she'. The third before last entry, 'if', I've been taught as لوكان.

So it goes on for another 480 pages or so, what do you think of it? If this is, as I suspect, one of the rare locution-in-Derja list published in the last 50 years, in addition to it being one of the rare words published after the 90s, well, this is totally brilliant, and we might just be heading for clear happy skies (provided a lot of work and a strong methodology comes into play because on this front Algerian lexicography is not yet strong).

Don't know if you'll need it, nor if you'll use it, nor if you just want it, I do recommend it, w d'br rasskom :)

The story of the Derja dictionary - Part 1

The story of “the Algerian language dictionary” should be tracked and told in English somewhere, and while we wait for someone to do it in a rightful manner, we might as well make a start here. This beginning will need to be oriented (by you, if you feel like it), amended (by me, when I feel like it) and added to (by us when info springs to light).

And so, a long, long, long, long time ago…

After the French invaded Algeria, their linguists began to compile bi-lingual (Algerian-French) lexica, dictionaries and glossaries of the Algerian language, then referred to as “Algerian Arabic”, or the tongue-twister “Algerian-Arabic-dialect”. If you’re confused about what the difference is between a lexicon, a dictionary and a glossary, I am too. You could get further confused by reading this or you could just hang on to the only strength to be found in language studies: etymology. Lexicon, of Greek origin, means a word-book; a dictionary, of Latin origin, means a collection of words and phrases; and glossary, of Latin origin, references a collection of rarer words, foreign words or words no longer in use.
Where this division applies for what has been published on and in Derja isn’t clear, but the production of word-books starts early after the French invasion. As early as 1834 in fact.

That year, Delaporte publishes in Algiers the Principes de l’idiome arabe en usage à Alger (the principles of the Arabic language in use in Algiers). In 1868, Auguste Cherbonneau publishes his observations on the Arabic dialect of Algeria (“Obvervation sur le dialecte arabe de l’algérie”) in the Revue Africaine. 

In 1878, a fully-fledged dictionary of Derja comes out. Marcelin Beaussier produces his Dictionnaire pratique arabe-français contenant tous les mots employés dans l’arabe parlé en Algérie et Tunisie (Bouyer ed., Algiers) which purports to do just what the title says: to record all the words used in the spoken Arabic of Algeria and Tunisia. You’ve got to love 19th century scholarship. This dictionary contains over 30,000 words according to reviews with, in addition, locutions and expressions to explain the terms it records.  To put this number into perspective, but not to belittle Beaussier, the French Larousse pocket dictionary contains 68,000 definitions and the Lisan al-3arab by the great North African lexicographer Ibn Mandhur contains 80,000 roots (and under each root related nouns and verbs with their derivations are given).

More dictionaries of Derja follow. In 1910, Roland de Bussy publishes the Petit dictionnaire français-arabe et arabe-français de la langue parlée en Algérie (the little dictionary of French-Arabic and Arabic-French of the spoken language in Algeria). Louis-Jacques Bresnier, in 1915 (date of the second edition) produces a practical course on the Arabic language that includes a treatise on the different Arabic dialects in Algeria.  

Then Mohamed Bencheneb’s work comes. A great Algerian scholar and linguist, Bencheneb goes back to Beaussier’s dictionary, revises it and adds plenty of new material to it.  Bencheneb’s edition was published in 1931 (ed. Jules Carbonel), and in 1958.  His version can still be found all be it in an updated form, as the scholar Jérôme Lentin revised it, the result of which has been published in 2006, Ibis Press (extract here).  

From the onset and up to today, dictionaries have sought to record Derja either understood in its largest sense as the language of Algeria, or to record one of its varieties (Jewish Algerian), that of specific cities (Tlemcen, Jijel, Wahran, Constantine, Algiers), or of a specific region (the Ouest for example).

What gets published after 1958? Well, there’s a gap. Then there’s 2013. Ok, not really.

The space between the Gap and 2013 I’ll have to fill in as I research, there must be at least one scholar who has compiled a Derja word-book in English. In the meantime, I am a little dumbfounded to not have found one single dictionary of the Algerian language produced in the Algerian language. I do hope this might turn out to be false, and that a proper Derja dictionary is around somewhere, but so far I’ve heard of none. Perhaps if you have you could let me know. It would also appear that few bi-lingual Derja dictionaries (whether Fr/Alg or Ar/Alg) have been published in Algeria in recent decades but I'm working on ascertaining that.   

I have come across two in 2013, a year that welcomed the bilingual Algerian-French dictionary Le dictionnaire des locutions de l’Arabe dialectal algérien [the dictionary of locutions in the Algerian-Arabic dialect] by Mohamed Nazim Aziri (ANEP ed.)

and the bilingual Algerian-Modern Arabic dictionary by Mehdi Bourashed
 معجم العامية الدزيرية بلسان جزائري مبين  
(the dictionary of the Algerian dialect produced in a clear Algerian language) (Viscera ed.).

Let us have a look at each Aziri's and Bourashed's and rejoice about all this in subsequent blog posts, .


Pssst: can someone find me a Tamazight-Derja dictionary, or a Kabyle-Derja dictionary, or even a Chaouia-Derja or Tumzabt-Derja dictionary, or you could also write it.

While we talk on the Tamazight side of the mirror, Khadija Saad just published a Chaouia-Modern Arabic dictionary, and presented it in Batna last year.