AN OUTLINE OF THE SHILHA (BERBER) VERNACULAR OF DOUIRET (SOUTHERN TUNISIA)
Author: Dr Zouhir Gabsi Date: 2005 Institution: University of Western Sydney, Australia Subject:Linguistics Linguistic Field(s): Language Description
Abstract: The Tunisian Berber (or Shilha) vernaculars are among the least described Afroasiatic (Hamito-Semitic) languages to this day. Although they have been provisionally assigned to the 'North-Berber' group within the Berber branch of Afroasiatic, their immediate affiliation remains an open question. The principal task of the present work will be to describe the phonology, morphology and syntax of Douiret. Less central to the aims of the study is the analysis of the basic wordstores of the three surviving Shilha varieties which include Douiret, Chninni (or Chenini) and Ouirsighen (Jerba).
The Shilha variety of Douiret is chosen for this study because it still retains some fundamental elements of Berber structure which are not very dissimilar to other Berber 'languages' such as Kabyle and Tamazight. The present study shows that Tunisian Berber still survives today, but its future remains uncertain in the face of the forces of urbanisation, economic migration and lack of government support all of which may contribute hypothetically to its likely death.
This study will be pursued with reference to the social and cultural context of the Tunisian Berber vernaculars. Research on the nature of language contact between Tunisian Arabic and Shilha is practically non-existent and will be a secondary concern of this study. The strong influence of the local Arabic superstratum on Shilha in phonology, morphology, syntax and lexis will also be investigated, as well as the presence of Berber elements in the distinctive Arabic dialect of Tunisia.
Finally, as the thesis title suggests, the present study should not be taken as the last word on Berber in Tunisia. The little available data on Berber in Tunisia makes the task harder in establishing a clear picture of its structure and relationship with other Berber languages such as Kabyle and Tamazight.