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 :)


MnarviDZ said...

A few comments if I may:

Swaswa, which I also use when speaking Kabyle, can mean many things, among which you find juste juste and exactly but also together and simultaneously... It all depends on the context and always related to precision.

I always thought wesh came from Arabic (wa ay shay'). Are you sure about the Turkish origin?

As for Kesh, it is obviously a contraction of kayen shi. We Algerians are not patient so we shorten words, discard vowels, etc.

Nadia Ghanem said...

Morning MnarviDZ! Good to know, thank you for the swa swa pointer.

Yes, you are quite right, wesh is analysed as wa ay shay' by most if not all researchers, here's a link to a discussion of it

I can't remember where I got the Turkish from. I'll have to hunt for it again.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

"I wonder if the suffix ending sheen is not the marker of questions rather than the contraction of شيء."

Interesting suggestion – as it happens, there's some quite recent work that argues for more or less that idea:

I'm not sure I buy his argument, but he definitely raises some important points.