Saturday, 8 February 2014

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.


MnarviDZ said...

I feel your next posts are going to be interesting :)

There seems to be a trend about turning Algerian Arabic into an official language or something of the sort... I wonder where it comes from and about its supporters motives (some being "anti-Arabic")...

It's fair to mention the gender of the Chaoui/Arabic dictionary's author but it's best to mention her name, Khadidja Saad :)

Nadia Ghanem said...

Thank you MnarviDZ! I hadn't mentioned Khadija Saad's name as I didn't know it and forgot to insert in my comment I was mentioning gender until I was told who it was! Done, thanks to you and amended :)

If it's the same trend we both mean, then yes, I've seen the call for Algerian to become an official language. I'm not sure either of their motives nor of the consequences of officialising a language.

What I'd like to see eventually is to have certain facts straightened out: French and Modern Arabic are foreign languages, I mean they are not the native languages of Algeria (although of course they have been present in the country/region for centuries). And I'd like to see Algerian recognised as a separate, independent language, the origin of which is not yet known (because it has not been studied/looked into in a cool and collected manner) but the influence of which is plural - just as any other language has been influenced by the grammar and vocabulary of the languages that came into contact with it.

Does that kind of call bother you? And why do you think they are anti-Arabic?

Thanks for dropping by anyways :)

MnarviDZ said...

Well I am obviously no linguist but I don't understand why you say Algerian dardja's origin is unknown. If you consider the dardja spoken in the hauts plateaux and southward, or if you remove the French vocabulary from the dardja travesty that is spoken today in the North's big cities, then most words are Arabic. The extent of vocabulary coming from Amazigh, Turkish or Persian languages depends on geography and history.

I do love dardja but I would in no way support its recognition as Algeria's language. I am busy enough with Tamazight :)

As to anti-Arabic, I didn't mean all those who support dardja. But some of them have always been against Arabic sayins it wasn't evolved enough, not suitable for today's challenges... and now you find them defending a dialect which is not even fit to handle a discussion alone.

Nadia Ghanem said...

I'm probably expressing myself badly, you don't need to be a linguist and in fact, I'm not a linguist :) what I mean by origin is: what is Derja's root and what is its skeleton (as you say once loan words from Fr/Turkish/Spanish, etc are put to the side, what do we see: Arabic and Tamazight).

A language is a grammatical structure + vocabulary. Clearly Algerian is made in great part of ancient and modern Arabic vocabulary (we'd have to define what Arabic we're talking about also) but Algerian isn't Arabic in the sense that, before Arabic came to Algeria, there was already a language or there were several that morphed as they incorporated Arabic.

That's what I mean by we don't know Derja's origin/root. To my knowledge, vocabulary in Derja is studied (etymologies and all that) but Derja's structure is understudied.

Haha, well couldn't people work on both being made official :) It would be terribly unfair to see Derja official but not Tamazight, or the reverse.

Oh, I see the people you mean but haven't encountered any in the flesh so far. Would make interesting debates though.

That's no doubt what's needed, open debates and debunking myths.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Nice post. There is a Moroccan Arabic-English dictionary published by Georgetown, and a Tunisian Arabic-English one by the Peace Corps, but not one for Algerian Arabic as far as I know.

The origin of Darja is really quite well understood, notwithstanding the efforts of people like Abdou Elimam to re-mystify it. The structure and the vocabulary are both mostly Arabic, with varying amounts of influence from the two main languages of pre-Islamic North Africa – Berber and Romance (Vulgar Latin) – but no demonstrable influence from Punic, even though Punic may have survived into the Islamic period in parts of Libya. (And it's not for want of looking - Punic influence on Berber was successfully demonstrated decades ago, after all.) The most important structural differences between Darja and Fusha – no case marking, no dual agreement, no feminine plural agreement, preference for subject-verb-object order – are shared with many or all Middle Eastern 3ammiyyas, and the Persian, Aramaic, and Coptic loans in Darja bear witness to the language's path westward. The previous languages of Algeria didn't gradually morph into Darja, much as we might like them to have done so; they were replaced by Darja.

Ed McAllister said...

There was also a long history of teaching Darja to nuns/priests during the colonial era, as a vehicle for their "social work". This expertise was turned into a new language course - La methode Kamel - after independence in the early-70s, used to teach Darja to European cooperants coming to work in Algeria. The same course is still taught to foreigners, complete with amazing original 70s drawings for the dialogues, at the Centre Diocesain Les Glycines in Algiers, which is where I learned Darja. The teachers, with are a veritable lifetime of experience, are an amazing source of information. No dictionary though.

Cyril said...

I love this answer. This is exactly how I feel. Sometimes I don't understand how people don't realize this fact. We attempted to get rid of one language (french) only to adopt another foreign language (arabic) while ignoring our own language. It's absurd to me.