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.


Asako said...

Thank you for your good information.
The dictionary is available only inside Algeria?

Nadia Ghanem said...

Hello Asako! Yes it is only available in Algeria, I believe only in Algiers at the moment.

Asako said...

Thank you Nadia! I will try to ask my friend in Algeria to get one.. ye3tik sa7a!

Nadia Ghanem said...

Yissalmek Assako :) Let me know if you can't find it, I can try and post it to you (from Europe when I visit). Ibqa 3al xir !

Anonymous said...

السلام عليكم إخوتي. ارسلت لمن اعرفهم في مدينة الوادي لكي يشترو لي هذا المعجم ولكن لم يجدوه للآسف. ولايوجد لدي احد في العاصمة. أمل ان توفره مدونتكم هنا. سيساعد الكثيرين . خاصة وانا احاول تعريف العرب على الجزائر.. وتعليمهم اللهجة الجزائرية من خلال صفحة في تويتر.. لاقت نجاحا كبيرا. لكن اردت هذا المعجم بشدة لأني لا اعرف كثيرا في اللهجة الجزائرية .. لأني سعودية من أصول جزائرية.. واردت عمل شيء جميل و مشرف لبلدي الاصل الجزائر.. لاني اعرف ان العرب يجهلون عنها الكثير. فأتمنى بشدة توفير الكتاب لاني تعبت من البحث عنه. هذا حساب حسابي في تويتر المختص بالجزائر إسمه "الجزائر لهجة وجمال" .. .... ودائما اضعدروس اللهجة في هاشتاق #الدارجة_الجزائرية