12 pp. Roman, 200 pp.
numerous tables and charts
Text language: English
The oasis of Ghadames lies on the Libyan side of the place where Algeria, Tunisia and Libya meet. Its present population ranges to about 10,000 people, not all of whom are natives of the oasis. Traditionally, its inhabitants live from date palm cultivation and long-distance trade, especially to sub-Saharan Africa. Nowadays, the old town of Ghadames, albeit a Unesco World Heritage site since 1986, is being abandoned by its inhabitants, who move to modern housing nearby.
The traditional language of the oasis is Berber and has been studied by two scholars. The first one was Adolphe de Calassanti Motylinski, who published his Le dialecte berbere de R’edames in 1904. The second scholar who worked seriously on Ghadames was the White Father Jacques Lanfry. During his stay from 1944 to 1945 he collected an important amount of materials, which he started to publish in the late 1960s. Since Lanfry left Ghadames, no linguists have worked on the spot any more, and all studies concerning Ghadames Berber are based on previous works.
Ghadames constitutes a Berber language on its own, which has followed different historical paths from all other languages. It preserves a number of phonological features that are not commonly found elsewhere and in its morphology, Ghadames also has a number of highly unusual features. While much of its syntax follows general Berber patterns, a number of outstanding features occur. Ghadames Berber lexicon has undergone relatively low influence from Arabic. Thus, in a count of loanwords in traditional narrative texts, Ghadames has 18% loanwords from Arabic, whereas languages such as Tashelhiyt and Figuig have twice as much. Furthermore, there are a number of recognizable loans from Tuareg and Hausa.
In spite of the importance of Lanfry’s materials, in Berber studies the language of Ghadames has not yet been given the place it deserves. This may be due to the fact that Lanfry’s studies are difficult to obtain, and that Lanfry’s notations prove somewhat difficult to interpret for a superficial reader. Moreover, while Lanfry provides a detailed description of verbal morphology, other subjects remain underrepresented, such as syntax. This is the reason for the author’s decision to write this short grammatical sketch, based on Lanfry’s materials.