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Approaches to the history of berber

Approches pour l’histoire de la langue berbère

Perspectives on a language through the ages

Mise en perspective d’une langue à travers les âges

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Published on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 by Elsa Zotian

Summary

Berber, a living language spoken throughout North Africa, has been the subject of significant linguistic research. However, relative to present-day Berber, earlier states of the language have received much less attention, and a global approach to its history has yet to be synthesized. In order to rebalance the situation and help fill in this gap, we propose to organize two international scientific meetings which will make it possible to draw up a survey of the available resources and to fix analytical priorities regarding documentary sources and historical linguistics, while creating a context for fruitful debate among researchers. We hope that this alliance of archaeologists, population geneticists, philologists, anthropologists, historians and linguists (descriptive, comparative, etc.) will be able to attain some of the goals identified.

Announcement

Argument

Berber, a living language spoken throughout North Africa, has been the subject of significant linguistic research. However, relative to present-day Berber, earlier states of the language have received much less attention, and a global approach to its history has yet to be synthesized. In order to rebalance the situation and help fill in this gap, we propose to organize two international scientific meetings in 2020 and 2021, bringing together researchers from several fields: historical linguistics, classics, medieval studies, history, archaeology, anthropology, population genetics. This year’s meeting (2020) will take place in the Paris area; next year’s, in a university or research centre outside of France. This will make it possible to draw up a survey of the available resources and to fix analytical priorities regarding documentary sources and historical linguistics, while creating a context for fruitful debate among researchers. We hope that this alliance of archaeologists, population geneticists, philologists, anthropologists, historians and linguists (descriptive, comparative, etc.) will be able to attain some of the goals identified.

Not long ago, researchers in Berber studies could rarely devote their full energies to studying the history of the Berber language from any perspective. Today, this particular theme has begun to attract more interest again. Year after year, ancient and medieval historians shed new light on the understanding of certain phenomena in North Africa, such as Latinization and Christianization in antiquity, Islamisation and Arabization in the medieval period, notably in cases where sources are lacking or difficult to interpret. Other investigations in recent years, focusing on medieval sources in Arabic, have made it possible better to document some aspects of the history of Berber.

One issue to be posed goes beyond the question of language origins: how has Berber, with all its varieties, been able to maintain its continuity in Northwest Africa (the Maghreb and Sahara) over centuries and millennia? Its earliest attestations go back to ancient times, arguably as far back as the Egyptian New Kingdom, among populations from west of the Nile who ended up moving to the Nile Valley – a group traditionally designated by Egyptologists as “Libyans”. Later attestations, from documents in Greek, Punic, Neo-Punic, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, are rich in relevant data. Since the 19th century, scientists’ discovery of relevant documents has brought Berber and Arab-Berber original texts from many eras back to our attention.

There are numerous sources to teach us about earlier states of the language, in texts of a variety of different types: epigraphic materials, classical works, North African manuscripts transmitting Berber content… When working on an ancient language and seeking to account for the evolution of a linguistic phenomenon, attested utterances are of course indispensable. Corpora and texts thus assume particular importance.

In order to deepen historical understanding of the language, three types of approach may be envisioned, simultaneously or independently:

  1. Making use of sources providing sociolinguistic testimony and direct data on the language and its varieties, whether regarding onomastics, toponymy, anthroponymy, everyday vocabulary, phrases, or even texts of some length. In this regard one may appeal to epigraphy, historical and geographical literature (Greek, Latin, Arabic…) whether ancient or more recent, not to mention texts written in Berber and produced since the Middle Ages by first-language speakers.

  2. Genetic or typological approaches, but also historical linguistics, notably the comparative method and internal reconstruction, which allow certain aspects of an ancient language to be deduced from its descendant languages and varieties. The combination of these methods with the study of language contact makes it possible to identify the traces left by a language on its neighbours, and to analyse the cultural context in which given words were borrowed, in the Wörter und Sachen tradition.

  3. The use of auxiliary sciences such as archaeology, anthropology, and population genetics.

While the latter approach constitutes an indispensable indirect method, the first two go to the heart of the problem insofar as they address linguistic data directly. All of these points are reflected in the axes listed below. The world of higher education and research is invited to submit proposals relating to the following eleven research axes:

  1. The ancient Libyans and their language as reflected in Egyptian documents: monumental texts, private inscriptions, papyri.

  2. The Libyco-Berber of antiquity as reflected in diverse sources: classical texts, Libyco-Berber, Punic, Greek, and Latin epigraphy…

  3. Medieval and precolonial Berber, to the extent that it has been transmitted, as reflected in Arabic-language literature: geographical, historical, judicial, hagiographic, and didactic texts, funerary inscriptions, graffiti…

  4. Berber from the Middle Ages to the 19th century as reflected in Berber-language writings, notably the manuscripts in Arabic characters that are more and more frequently discovered, and the premodern Saharan inscriptions that constitute an insufficiently studied link between the ancient Libyan tradition and Tifinagh as used by present-day Tuaregs.

  5. Berber from the 14th to the 19th century as reflected in European travellers’ works. In this respect, Guanche in the Canary Islands constitutes a textbook case.

  6. The relations of Berber with its neighbours and relatives over the course of this long history: its genetic and typological affiliations; the effects of lexical and structural contact; the Afroasiatic hypothesis and the position of Berber within this family; its possible substrata (“Mediterranean”, “Euro-Saharan”, etc.)

  7. Language and society – their interrelations and all the questions that arise when language is considered as a social fact; anthropological and sociolinguistic approaches to language use.

  8. Diachronic linguistics, including different methods of reconstruction (the historical comparative method, interdialectal comparison, etc.). This makes it possible to improve our understanding of phenomena such as homogeneity and stability or evolution and variation in Berber. Not least among the tasks it leads us to address is the reconstruction of proto-Berber, along with the arguments against its existence…

  9. North African onomastic studies as a means of shedding light on certain linguistic facts.

  10. Epigraphy: Libyco-Berber inscriptions in all their forms (Libyan monumental and funerary inscriptions, rock inscriptions in the Maghreb and Sahara, Canary Islands inscriptions…)

  11. Berber at the intersection of ancient history, archaeology, anthropology and population genetics.

Proposals at the intersection of multiple axes are not excluded. All are welcome, whether exploring empirical data or relying on theoretical approaches to rethink and reanalyse linguistic changes. Likewise, studies revealing previously unpublished facts or proposing new approaches to known phenomena are much appreciated.

In parallel to this thematic colloquium and right at the end, two or three workshops dedicated to contemporary Berber language and discourse are envisioned.

Submission guidelines

Proposals are to be sent to the organizers:

  • Ouahmi Ould-Braham (ouahmi.ould-braham@mshparisnord.fr);
  • Mehdi Ghouirgate (mehdi.ghouirgate@gmail.com);
  • and Lameen Souag (lameen@gmail.com).

by 5 October 2020, starting now

Proposals must fall within at least one of the eleven axes defined above. They must include: the axis; the author’s name, institution, position, and contact details; the title of the paper proposed; an abstract (less than 10 lines); and four keywords.

Each proposal will be evaluated, and the results communicated to authors starting 12 October 2020.

Each presentation will be 20 minutes long. The text (maximum length 25,000 characters) must reach the organizers before 15 November 2020 to be included in the conference proceedings. They must be accompanied by an abstract of less than 1,000 characters, in French or in English.

Key dates

  • 5 October 2020: Submission deadline for proposals (abstract and CV).

  • 12 October 2020: Start of author notifications and return of evaluations.
  • 15 November 2020: Deadline for the submission of definitive final versions of accepted texts.
  • 20 November 2020: Deadline for conference registration (at least one author must register).
  • 17/18/19 December : conference

Scientific committee

  • Abdelaziz Allati (Université de Tétouan-Tanger, Maroc).
  • Gabriel Bergounioux (Université d’Orléans, France).
  • Fatima Boukhris (Université Mohamed V, Rabat, Maroc).
  • Ahmed Boukous (Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe, Rabat, Maroc).
  • Pascal Buresi (École des Hautes Études en Sciences sociales, Paris, France).
  • Frédéric Colin (Université de Strasbourg, Institut d’Égyptologie, France).
  • Anna Maria Di Tolla (Université « Orientale » de Naples, Italie).
  • Elizabeth Fentress (University College London, Royaume-Uni).
  • Mansour Ghaki (Institut National du Patrimoine, Tunis, Tunisie).
  • Malika Hachid (CNRPAH, Parc national du Tassili, Djanet, Algérie).
  • Jean-Marie Hombert (CNRS, équipe HELAN « Histoire et écologie du langage et des langues », France).
  • Farid Kherbouche (Centre National de Recherches Préhistoriques, Anthropologiques et Historiques, Alger, Algérie).
  • Bernard Laks (Paris 10-Nanterre et Observatoire des pratiques linguistiques, DGLFLF, France).
  • Alexander Militarev (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moskow, Fédération de Russie).

Organising committee

  • Ramdane Boukherrouf (Université Mouloud Mammeri, Tizi-Ouzou, Algérie).
  • Mehdi Ghouirgate (Bordeaux 3 Michel Montaigne, France).
  • Nadia Kaaouas (Université Hassan II, Casablanca, Maroc).
  • Ouahmi Ould-braham (MSH Paris Nord, La Plaine Saint-Denis, France).
  • Valentina Schiattarella (ʿL’Orientaleʾ, Università degli studi di Napoli, Italie).
  • Lameen Souag (Lacito, UMR 7107 : CNRS / Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle / Inalco, France).

Places

  • 4eme étage - MSH Paris Nord, 20 Avenue George Sand
    Saint-Denis, France (93)

Date(s)

  • Monday, October 05, 2020

Keywords

  • linguistique historique, langue berbère, sciences auxiliaires, textes, corpus

Contact(s)

  • Ouahmi Ould-Braham
    courriel : ouahmi [dot] ould-braham [at] mshparisnord [dot] fr
  • Valentina Schiattarella
    courriel : vale [dot] schiattarella [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Lameen Souag
    courriel : lameen [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Ouahmi Ould-Braham
    courriel : ouahmi [dot] ould-braham [at] mshparisnord [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Approaches to the history of berber », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, August 19, 2020, https://calenda.org/794721

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