Sociolinguistics: sources of Arabic dialects

Sociolinguistics: sources of Arabic dialects

In comparison to the Middle East or Egypt, historical sources for North Africa are not only scarce but also very often late, and give us little direct information concerning the Arab settlement and urban development of the region. Data about the early linguistic situation in the Maghreb are conspicuous by their absence, and in the case of the first centuries of Islamic Morocco, we know next to nothing.

Geographical sources such as Al-Yaˁqūbī,⁶ Al-Bakrī,⁷, and Al-ˀIdrīsī⁸ occasionally give us some information concerning the settlement of Arab tribes and the languages spoken in Maghrebi towns. The majority of the European sources (mainly in French, Spanish, English, and Portuguese) in which we can find some data concerning North African dialects, were written quite late—after the sixteenth century—and are of very different types and value, since they include accounts of captives, narratives of travelers, as well as reports from diplomats or clerics sent to the Maghreb to rescue Christian prisoners.

The most important European source is the Descrittione dell’Africa (‘Description of Africa’) written in the sixteenth century by the Moroccan (of Andalusian origin) al-Ḥasan Ben Muḥammad al-Wazzānī, better known as Leo Africanus. Data contained in his book are of special relevance since its author traveled across North Africa on various diplomatic missions and visited southern Morocco, Timbuktu, Algeria, Tunis, Libya, and Egypt.

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Concerning the description and history of North Africa, Leo Africanus is one of the sources for the Spanish captive Luis del Mármol, who wrote Descripción general de África. In this volume, the author provides detailed information about the manners and customs of the Moroccans and also includes transcriptions of certain words.⁹ The Frenchman Germain Moüette spent eleven years as a captive, mainly in the town of Meknes. In his Relation, he also transcribes some Moroccan words and phrases and includes at the end an interesting French–Moroccan glossary.

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  • ⁵ Cf. According to the census, a percentage of spoke Berber (distributed as follows: Tashelhit ̣ , Tamazight, Tarifit .%, in a population of . million).
  • ⁶ Geographer born in Baghdad. He wrote his Kitāb al-Buldān in Egypt in AD .
  • ⁷ The Andalusian geographer Abū ˁUbayd al-Bakrī (d. ), author of the Kitāb al-Masālik was-l Mamālik.
  • ⁸ Known as ash-Sharīf al-ˀIdrīsī (a native of Ceuta, d. probably). He is the author of the Nuzhat alMushtāq, a geographical work written for the Norman king of Sicily, Roger II.
  • ⁹ Mármol spent almost nine years in Morocco. He engaged in some important travels with the entourage of the sultan.

Sociolinguistics: sources of Arabic dialects

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