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19th Century Libyan Wolves

4 April 2011

Giuseppe Haimann’s Cirenaica (Tripolitania) published in 1886 is mostly a travel account, with extensive lists of eastern Libyan flora and fauna given in Latin without their Arabic equivalents, but may otherwise leave a clue about the Arabic dialect of the time:

Fra gli abitanti delle città ed i beduini non esiste troppa simpatia ; i cittadini temono i nomadi, che considerano come feroci ; El bedaui keif el dib (i beduini sono come il lupo), era il ritornello che ci ripeteva ognuno dal Pascià fino all’ultimo cammelliere.

” Between the inhabitants of the city and the bedouin, there aren’t many good feelings ; the city-dwellers fear the nomads, whom they think fierce ; el bedaui keif el dib (“the bedouin are like the wolf”) was the refrain which we repeated from the Pasha to the last camel-rider. “

Besides the sentiment, the interesting thing about this phrase is whether Haimann is transcribing an actual [d] in the word dib “wolf” ذيب, or simply not indicating a pronunciation [ð] of the letter dhal. Assuming that Haimann heard the phrase from a city-dweller, is this a piece of evidence for the merging of the Arabic interdentals with the dentals by citadin speakers in late 19th-century Benghazi? The transcription of another word, cadi, pronounced today /gāð̣ī/, is equally inconclusive with regard to the ض (but his c probably indicates a qaf).

However, the writer also mentions the pronunciation of a “soft g” in Cyrenaica, but doesn’t indicate whether that includes speakers from the city as well. So no conclusion with regards to the qaf of Benghazi at that time.

And, for some reason, he records “orange” as portugal with [p] …

On another note, of anthropological humor is his account of how the Bedouin greet each other :

È curioso il modo col quale i beduini si salutano. Allorchè incontrano per via o vanno a visitarsi nelle tende, dopo l’indispensabile salem aleikum e l’altrettanto inevitabile risposta : aleikum es salam, si abbracciano e si baciano più volte, mettendosi reciprocamente la testa ora a destra ora a sinistra sulle spalle, con un modo cadenzato e regolare ; poi comincia un fuoco incrociato di as’halak (com’è il tuo stato?) as’lonak (com’è il tuo colore, la tua salute?) e ripetono questa interrogazioni molte e molte volte, senza aspettare la risposta.

Of interest is the way the Bedouin greet each other. When they meet  on the way, or go to visit each other in tents, after the necessary salem aleikum and the equally inevitable answer : aleikum es salam, they embrace and kiss each other several times, putting their heads now to the right now to the left shoulder, in a rhythmic and regular manner ; then begins a cross-fire of as’halak (how are you?) as’lonak (what is your color, your health?)  and they repeat these questions over and over, without waiting for a response.

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From → libya

3 Comments
  1. Interesting quotes, but I think you have to bear in mind that the author’s Italian, and not a linguist. He probably couldn’t even hear the difference between d and ð, and the spelling system doesn’t offer him any way to write it even if he did.

    • Undoubtedly. The few quotes that he leaves behind are only interesting to wonder about. Though, he chose to write š as s’.
      It is too bad he didn’t give the local names for the plants he lists, though.

  2. Interesting piece Adam. Local names for such things are always something that I am interested in, especially historically, particularly for flora. I am always interested in when new species of herbs and edible plants were introduced. We can to some extent glean this information from the loaned pronunciation of a word in the second language. They tend remain pretty static and reflect the pronunciation of the loaning language at the time. Interesting note about his use of portugal.

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