Preliminary Notes on the Arabic Dialect of the Chiadma (North of Essaouira)

Felipe Benjamin Francisco


This paper aims at presenting a general description of the linguistic features of the Arabic variety spoken in the Chiadma tribe territory, in the rural area north of Essaouira. Since there are scarce publications on the linguistic reality of this part of the Atlantic strip, not to mention on the Chiadma tribe themselves, we share here some data collected in a brief one day stay in a fishermen village by the Bḥǝybǝḥ beach (Akermoud), which took place during our fieldwork in the city of Essaouira, in 2016. The linguistic traits described here seem indeed to belong to a ʕṛūbi or Central-type variety (Heath 2002), as we can attest in other localities nearby, such as Essaouira and Casablanca.


1The Chiadma’s territory is situated at the Province of Essaouira – in the Region of Marrakesh-Safi. Their lands are limited on the north by the Tensift river, on the south by the Haha (Ihahen) territory; west by the Atlantic Ocean and east by the Al-Haouz Plains (Faḍlillāh 1994:241).

2From the standpoint of the Historical Dialectology of the Maghreb, we suppose that the Arabic of the Chiadma probably contains Bedouin type traits, which are well known to characterize the varieties along the Atlantic plains from Asilah as far as Essaouira (Colin 1938:230). Similarly, Heath (2002) classifies what he calls the “Atlantic strip” varieties as belonging to his Central-type category, just as Boukous (1995) who labels the varieties of this same area as ʕṛūbi. In fact, the latter is the same term, used by the inhabitants of Essaouira, when referring to the variety spoken in the outskirts of the city, inside the Chiadma territory. Despite of that, we still do not have access to the varieties spoken in many parts heading south Casablanca, especially inside the Chiadma territory, except for nearby areas such as Safi and Azemmour (Heath 2002) and the Doukkala region (Premare 1993).

3To this end, this study provides new information about the variety spoken in the Chiadma territory. Firstly, we try to shed the light on the origin and lineage of the Chiadma as a tribe. Then, we explain the method of data collection during our fieldwork in a village (ḍŭwwāṛ) at Bḥǝybǝḥ beach, in Akermoud. Lastly, we propose a brief description of the variety, presenting its linguistic systems: Phonetics, Morphosyntax and Lexicon.

1. The Chiadma tribe

4The origins of the Chiadma are not very clear, even though they are usually considered Arabs since they are an Arabic speaking tribe. Moreover, they identify themselves Arabs in opposition to the Haha, whom they call šlūḥ, and with whom they have been in contact for centuries. And even though, in modern times, the borders between the Chiadma Arabic speaking territory and the Haha (Ihahen) tachelhit speaking territory are very well marked, yet some authors argue the Chiadma are of Berber origin.

Boukous 1995 – Carte linguistique du Maroc. Arabic speaking (orange). Berber speaking (yellow).

Boukous 1995 – Carte linguistique du Maroc. Arabic speaking (orange). Berber speaking (yellow).

5First of all, the etymology of their name is clearly Arabic as in Ibn Manḏ̣ūr: šayḏ̣am (شيظم) and šayḏ̣amī (شيظميّ) with the plural form šayāḏ̣ima (شياظمة), meaning ṭawīl ‘tall’, ǧasīm ‘big, corpulent, great’, and it can be applied to people, but to animals as well, such as horses, camels or lions; for instance: riǧāl šayāḏ̣ima ‘big men’. In the current pronunciation at this region, in the vernacular Arabic, the word lost the diphthong /ay/ and the phoneme /ḏ̣/ [ظ] became /ḍ/ [ض], resulting in šyāḍma [شياضمة], what explains the current romanized version of the name in use “Chiadma”.

6Works written by historians from the 16th century seem to confirm the Arab origins of the Chiadma. As we can notice in the following lines, they used to distinguish between the Haha and the Arab tribes who used to live in their territory, and the Chiadma were among them.

  • 1 Our translation of “Elcherit habitano nelle pianure hi Heli in compagnia di Saidima, & hanno tribut (...)

7The Chiadma are often mentioned as living side by side the Al-Ḥāriṯ of the Banī Hilāl tribe. Leo Africanus mentions the Chiadma in his Descrittione dell’Africa (1528) when talks about the Banī Hilāl: “Elcherit [Al-Ḥāriṯ] dwell upon the Heli plains in the company of the Saidima [Chiadma] and collect tribute from the people of Hea [Haha].They are vile and poor people”1. In the same way, Luis del Mármol in his Descripción general de África (1573), strongly based on the latter, also mentions the Chiadma when describes the Pueblo de Hilela - the Banī Hilāl:

  • 2 Our translation of “El noueuo es llaman Uled el Querid [Al-Ḥāriṯ], y viuen en los llanos de Helin [ (...)

The ninth is called Vled el Querid [Al-Ḥāriṯ] and they dwell upon the Helin plains in the province of the Heha [Haha], which is located in the Kingdom of Morocco, in the company of Vled Saydima [Chiadma]. Although they were used to collect tribute from the Berber of that province, they were a vile and poorly armed people2.

8On the other hand, in the Kitāb al-ʕibar, Ibn Khaldoun states that the Kilābiyya tribes were in the Haha territory with the Al-Ḥāriṯ and not the Chiadma as we saw above, what could make us think of the possibility of the Chiadma, being related to the Kilābiyya at some point, as we see below:

La tribu de Sofyan était établie à demeure fixe: elle occupait les bords de la province de Temsna, du côtè d’Anfa ; les Kholt leur ayant enlevé la possession des vastes plaines de cette contrée. De toutes leurs familles il n’y a que les Hareth et les Kelabïa qui ont continué à parcourir, avec leurs troupeaux, le territoire du Sous et le désert qui en dépend; ils fréquentent les plaines du pays des Hèha, branche des Masmouda […] . (Histoire des Berbères, pp 63-64).

  • 3 Our translation of “Do rio Daguz contra ho Sul, & meo dia eftá ha terra de xiatima, em q ha muitos (...)

9The most evident anyway is that the Chiadma were not considered Haha. Damião de Góis in his Chronica do felicissimo rei Dom Manuel (1566-67) on the Portuguese Empire in Morocco, distinguishes clearly between the two groups, denominating the Chiadma “Arabes” (Arabs), as opposed to the “barbaros” (Berber) (Fol.88-89). He also mentions the “Xiatima” – the Chiadma - several times when referring to the charging of tributes by the Portuguese on the tribes established in the area between the Oumm ar-Rbi‘ river and Mogador (Essaouira) (Fol. 30), which corresponds clearly to the current Chiadma territory. Moreover, Góis delimits the specific location of an Arab territory under the control of the Chiadma inside the Province of the Doukkala: “From the river Daguz [Tensift] heading south, midday direction, it is located the land of the xiatima [Chiadma], where there are many Arabs[…]3.

10This Chiadma territory mentioned by Góis in the Doukkala region lead authors like Michaux-Bellaire to claim that the Chiadma were arabized Berbers who turned to speak Arabic: « Les Chtouka et les Chiadma, Berbères arabisés, ont perdu l’usage de la langue tamazight et parlent l’arabe. » (1937:187). He argues that they are ethnically Berber because of their use of “mots berbères”, such as: sārūt < tāsārūt ‘key’; mūka <tāmūkt ‘owl’; mūš < āmšīš ‘cat’ (ibid.). However, these words are very common borrowings to most of the Moroccan Arabic varieties, what might invalidate his statement, except for original Berber words he cites such as: tāġūlālt ‘little snail’; tārānīmt ‘reed’; and tāfōtna ‘Turkish bath’. In this case, we could also doubt of his statement since these words could have resulted from the contact of the Chiadma with the neighboring Berber tribes, like the Chtouka themselves, in the Doukkala Region specifically, not being very representative of the whole Chiadma territory.

11More recently, Moroccan contemporary authors reaffirm the Arab origins of the Chiadma. Besides the linguistic differentiation between the two groups, Al-Kānūnī (1932:34) and Ar-Regrāgī (1935:88) claim that the Chiadma are Arabs and have among them Maʕqil Arabs and even a few Berber origin tribes, like the Regraga and the Meskala.

12Finally, we consider that although the Chiadma have been in contact with the Haha for a long period until the current times, the historical sources above highlight the distinction between the two groups and do not mention a Berber origin for the Chiadma.

2. Fieldwork and data collection

13Our linguistic fieldwork has taken place at a ḍŭwwāṛ by the Bḥǝybǝḥ beach which is located approximately 48 Km north from the city of Essaouira. The Bḥǝybǝḥ beach is under the jurisdiction of the city of Akermoud inside the Province of Essaouira, in Chiadma territory. Its dwellers live mainly on fishing and agriculture.

14We recorded about four hours of speech in a one-day visit to the ḍŭwwāṛ during our fieldwork at the city of Essaouira in 2016. Most of the data was obtained by oral text collection and free speech recording (Payne, 1997; Vaux & Cooper, 2003), as well as elicitation in a lesser extent.

15The informants are represented mostly by women (5) whose ages varied between 30 and 60 years old. We also recorded three men, one of them around sixty years old and two around thirty years old.

16The oral texts and conversations were collected during visits to four different houses, at the same day, to the family of our female main informant, from Essaouira. The context of the recordings are gatherings which have taken place with men, women and children together, sitting on the floor of a room and talking, while drinking tea or eating lunch. The informants are literate even though they seem not to have completed the secondary school and they do not speak other foreign languages. Women are housewives and men work in agriculture and fishing.

17Concerning the dialectologist’s role in the interaction with the informants, while recording their speech and collecting oral texts, we played the roles of auditor – ratified as a participant in the conversation- and overhearer – present but an unratified participant in it- as conceived by Bell (1984:172). We consider these types of audience role played by us to have influenced positively in obtaining spontaneous speech data while facing the observer’s paradox (Labov, 1972).

18The interaction with the informants was exclusively in Moroccan Arabic, even though we are aware that we resorted to standard Arabic forms and let them notice Levantine Arabic traits in our speech and thus we received a feedback from the elder male informant on our speech itself as sounding “Lebanese”. Despite of that, we did not notice a clear linguistic accommodation to our speech, as we see in Arabic cross-dialectal interactions between Arabic speakers from the Maghreb and the Levant, such as introducing standard forms or resorting to Levantine or Egyptian Arabic words. And we evaluate that positively concerning the quality of the data collected.

3. Description

3.1. Phonetics

3.1.1. Consonants

19*qāf: realized as [q] and [g]. Differently from what we have been told by Essaouira informants previously about the ʕṛūbi variety spoken around the city, the [q] realization predominates abundantly in the speech of all informants: qāsḥa “fresh, hard (pea)”, qbǝl “before”, qṣīṛ “short”, qṛīb “next”, mǝqṭūʕ “cutted”, nfīqu “we wake up”, ʕqǝl “to remember”, sūq “market”. For [g] we have: ʕăgṛǝb “scorpion”; lǝ-ḥrīga “the burnt”, bǝgṛa “cow”; gǝbḍa “knife handle”. We also find the usual [g] realization, in this part of the country, in words such as ygūl “he says” and gāʕ “all”.

20*/ǧ/: realized predominantly as [ž]: šǝžra “tree”, žǝlbāna “pea”, ǝr-rǝžrāža “the Regraga tribe”, usually pronounced also as r-rəgrāga; ḥāža “thing”; ʕžūza or ʕzūza – resulted from sibilant-harmony- “old woman” and the realization [g] in ʕgūza “mother-in-law”.

21*/ḍ/: is realized as [ḍ]: mǝṛḍ “illness”, ḍṛǝb “hit, punch”.

22The interdentals are realized like in the other central-type varieties. */ / has the reflexes [t] or [ţ]: ktīra “much, a lot” (fem.); Kăwtǝr < *Kawṯar (fem. name). */ḏ/: [d] in mǝdra “pitchfork” (<*miḏran/ miḏrāh), dǝbbān “flies” (< *ḏibbān). */ḏ̣/: [ḍ] in ḍfāṛ “animal nails”(<*’aḏ̣fār).

23As in neighboring varieties like in Marrakesh and Casablanca, the diphthongs */aw/ and */ay/ are mostly reduced to /ū/ and /ī/ (Aguadé 2008:292): *al-yawm > l-yūma “today”; *zayt > zīt “oil”; *laymūn> līmūn “orange”, but in emphatic contexts: ḅăyḍ “eggs”, ḍəw “light, electricity”; bu ḅṛəyṣ “gecko”, xwḍăyṛa “green (dim.)”.

24The labialization occurs in: ṃṃwi “my mother” and ṃṃwk “your mother”.

3.1.2. Vowels

25Morphological changes caused by the suffix addition to nouns and verbs result in the elision or inversion of the short vowel /ə/ in the word: ṛāžli < ṛāžǝl + -i “my husband”; kāyna < kāyǝn + -a “existencial (f.)”; ka-yfǝlu < ka-yǝflǝḥ + u “they cultivate (the land)”.

3.2. Morphology and Syntax

261. The verbal prefix for the imperfective is ka- and Ø: ka-ydwi “he speaks”; ka-tṣāybu ātāy “you prepare/make tea” (; ka-yākŭl “he eats”, nʕəṃṃəṛ ātāy “I prepare the tea”; nʕāwdu “we repeat”, tʕəṛfu? “do you know it?”. Differently from Essaouira and Marrakesh, the ka- prefix predominates like in the Doukkala region. The absence of the prefix could be verified in the elderly speech and can be explained as a Bedouin variant of the Saharan type.

272. The future particle is ġādi: ġādi nsǝlḫa “I’m going to punish her (remove her skin)”.

283. The possessive is marked by the particle dyāl- : ǝt-tǝllīs dyāl ǝž-žmǝl “camel saddle bag”, lǝ-qyās dyāl ātāy “the quantity (measurement) of tea”; hdīk ka-ngūlu līha l-mǝdra, dyālt ǝl-ḥdīd “that one, we call it pitchfork, the iron one”. For referring to relatives, they use the construct state: žǝddi “my grandfather”, ʕǝmmi “my paternal uncle”, ʕəmmha “her partenal uncle”; mṛātu “his wife”; but also in kāsǝk “your glass”.

294. The agreement occurs in number despite of the gender of the word: ʕādāt zwīnīn “nice habits/tradition”; but in the speech of the elder male informant the plural word flūs “money” agreed with the adjective in the feminine singular: ʕǝndu flūs ktīra “he has a lot of money”.

305. Some of the interrogative particles are: āšnu “What?”: hāda āšnu hŭwwa? “This, what is it?”; fīn “Where?”; ki dāyra? “How are you doing? (f.)”; škūn? “Who?”; šḥāl ʕǝndha? “How old is she?”; wāš for yes/no questions.

316. Adverbs: hnāya ~ hna “here”; tǝmmāya ~tǝmma “there”; wālu “nothing”; ḍṛūk(a), dāba “now” both frequent in the Atlantic Coast (Aguadé 2008:297). For “little”, we find šwāy ~ šwi ~ šwĭyya: ka-tḥăṭṭ šwāy dyāl ǝn-nǝʕnǝʕ “you put a bit of mint”.

327. The indefinite article is wāḥǝd l-: ka-ngūlūha b-wāḥǝd ǝṭ-ṭrīqa ŭḫra “we say it in another way”. There is also the indetermination quantifier ši: bqāw mʕāna ši sīmāna “stay ( with us over a week”; ši smĭyyāt “some names”.

338. The negation is formed with ma-…-š for verb, noun and prepositional phrase respectively: ma-tǝnsāy-š “Do not forget” (2.p.f.); ma nʕəmmṛū-š bəzzāf “we do not make a lot of it (tea)”; l-qǝhwa ma ḫāybā-š “The coffee is not bad”; ma ʕǝndū-š ḫǝmsīn “He is not even fifty years old”;

349. The imperative form of the verb “to come” is tʕāla (s.m.), tʕāli (s.f.) or āži.

3510. The verb “to want” occurs in the form ba/ybi in the speech of an elderly woman along with bġa/ybġi: bīti atāy? “do you want tea (f.)?”.

3.3. Lexicon

36The lexicon of this variety does not differ significantly from the other southern Atlantic Strip varieties (Premare 1993; Heath 2002; Behnstedt & Woidich 2014). We present bellow some curious examples recorded in Bḥəybəḥ.

37For animals, we highlight: qǝždǝṛ “gecko”, also said bu ḅṛīṣ~bu bṛəyṣ, confirmed until now exclusively in Essaouira; bu ržīla ~ bu ržīlāt “centipede”, composed of bu “the one with” + the diminutive of ržǝl “foot”, also said ʔŭmm l-ʔǝṛbʕa u-ʔǝṛbʕīn (Cl.Ar.); ṭāḷǝb ʕli “fox” or “Ali’s student”, probably a pun for tǝʕlǝb> *ṯaʕlab, which is also attested in the area; bu ʕya (pl. -āt) a general name for insects used in child talk by adults to scare them; lbūya “chameleon”, very common in other parts of the country, being the word tāta completely unknown by our informants. Many other names are the same as in other parts of the country, such as: sǝrrāq z-zīt “cockroach”, bəgṛa “cow”, ḥmāṛ “donkey”, džāža “a hen”, ʔĭrnəb “hare”, gənfūd “hedgehog”, fəkṛūn “turtle”.

38For the vegetables and fruits we have: ḍḷăf “the Indian fig cactus” (Opuntia ficus-indica); žəlbāna ḫwḍăyṛa “green pea”, ḫŭss “lettuce”, təffāḥ “apple”, līmūn “orange”, ḥāməḍ “lemon”, baṭāṭa “potato”, bĭšna “corn”, ləft “turnip”, šʕīr “barley”, bĭṣla “an onion”.

39Some borrowings from European languages appear among the lexicon, such as: gīrra “war” (<esp.guerra), nīgro “tea bag sachet”, mōṭōr dyāl l-flūka “boat engine”, though we could not attest any borrowings from tachelhit.

40We also came across the word kōma used in the expression ʕəndu kōma “he has a big amount of money”, but whose origin is not clear.

Final considerations

41To conclude, the features described here seem to confirm the Arab identity of the Chiadma, since their speech does not show a relevant contact with the tachelhit, despite their historical relation with the Haha for many centuries. As we see above the data presented here indicate that the Arabic dialect spoken by the Chiadma in Bḥəybəḥ share many features with the hilalian Moroccan dialects of the Central-type, or ʕṛūbi, in the Atlantic strip.


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1 Our translation of “Elcherit habitano nelle pianure hi Heli in compagnia di Saidima, & hanno tributo dal popolo di Hea. fono huomini vili, & male agiati.” (Ramusio, Fol. I. 4f).

2 Our translation of “El noueuo es llaman Uled el Querid [Al-Ḥāriṯ], y viuen en los llanos de Helin [Haha], en la prouincia de Heha [Haha], que es enel reyno de Marruecos, en compañía de Uled Saydima [Chiadma], y aunque folian coger tributo de los bereberes de aquella prouincia, fon gente vil y mal armada…” (Fol.38).

3 Our translation of “Do rio Daguz contra ho Sul, & meo dia eftá ha terra de xiatima, em q ha muitos Arabes […]” (Fol.89)


Felipe Benjamin Francisco

Universidade de São Paulo,