Shilha Language - Literature


Shilha, like other varieties of Berber, has an extensive body of oral literature in a wide variety of genres. Fables and animal stories often revolve around the character of the jackal (uššn); other genres include legends, imam/taleb stories, riddles, and tongue-twisters.

Less well known is the existence of a distinct literary tradition which can be traced back at least to the early sixteenth century. For at least four centuries, Sous Berber has been written by local scholars in a Magribic variant of the Arabic script. The most prolific writer of this tradition was Muḥammad Awzal (ca. 1680-1749); the longest extant text in Shilha however is a commentary on al-Ḥawḍ entitled 'the pasture' (al-Mandja) from the hand of al-Ḥasan b. Mubarak al-Tamudizti (d. 1899). Important collections of Shilha manuscripts can be found in Aix-en-Provence (the fonds Arsène Roux) and Leiden. Virtually all manuscripts are of religious nature, and their main purpose was to instruct the illiterate common people. Many of the texts are in versified form to facilitate memorisation and recitation.

The written language differs in some aspects from normal spoken Shilha. For example, it is common for the manuscript texts to contain a mix of dialectal variants not found in a single dialect. The language of the manuscripts also contains a higher number of Arabic words than the spoken form, a phenomenon that has been called arabisme poétique. Other characteristics of the written language include use of a plural form instead of the singular; plural formation by use of the prefix ida; use of stopgaps like daɣ 'again', hann and hatinn 'lo!' to fill the metre of the verse; and the use of archaisms.

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