Thursday, November 29, 2007

...and a tongue

A thousand and one tongues shall be the name of this polyglot blog (though most of the writing will be in English, I hope to have snippets from numerous languages), and this tithe of the myriad manners of expression upon the earth shall consist of lesser-known languages, dialects, creoles, “extinct” and contact languages. My personal contributions will gravitate toward languages from majority arabophone countries, though I invite the contributions of others from spheres and climes beyond my reach and ken.

What better place to start than the linguistically rich medieval Iberian peninsula, thanks to the inspiration of a former professor of mine Luis Girón-Negrón, who can warm us up with an in inquisitorial debate about the biblical Hebrew term tsammah צמה in Song of Solomon… not only does he pack Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic (among other languages) into this paper entitled “Your Dove-eyes among your Hairlocks,” but he shows how the natural contact of these languages in Medieval Spain led to a re-interpretation of a Biblical term according to a humanist source-critical standard, rather than a dogmatically authoritarian one.

"There was a rich humanist tradition of Christian Hebraism in sixteenth-century Spain. It was pioneered by biblical scholars of Jewish descent [who were] recent converts to Christianity with an expertise on the Jewish exegetical and philological tradition, which they had ostensibly acquired in the Hispano-Jewish aljamas." (1211)

Looking at this in terms of the larger scope of linguistic contact and trends, it seems as though an intellectual (theological) tradition that was mired in misunderstanding (this one word is but a representative example) because of its myopic reliance on western interpretations (the Latin and Greek of the Vulgate and the Septuagint), through an interesting convivência came to recover a meaning which was closer to the roots of the religious text.

But this is a relatively tame and uninteresting situation of languages coming into contact with each other, particularly in light of the centuries of dazzling muwaššahāt, aljamiado writings, and Judeo-Portuguese (to name a few) which preceded it.
Tomes could be written about this period, but perhaps a brief overview with a few highlights will entertain the indulgent reader more than an exhaustive treatment. To avoid tedium, I will gloss over the historical aspects of the convivência and skip straight to the juicy linguistic bits.
Judeo-Portuguese, according to Devon Strolovitch in his Cornell dissertation on the subject, represents a significant enough representation of the Portuguese language that it should not be seen as an aberrant and inconsistent temporary substitute, but a standardized and widely accepted form of early usage. Thus, Judeo-Portuguese is somewhat unique among the many languages over the years that Jewish minorities have rendered with Hebrew script in that it reflects a more sophisticated and precise rendering of phonological realities which the Roman script was ill-equipped to reflect (because of letter/sound distributions):

Thus unlike Jews in some regions of what would become Spain, the Jews in
Portugal lived amidst a firmly Latin culture. But the Roman script was not
merely the "dominant" script of the literary milieu; it was a form of writing
that Jewish Portuguese writers were at the very least acquainted with, and at
best willing and able to exploit in adapting Hebrew script to write Portuguese.
Beyond the categorical adoption of vowel letters (cf. § 2.1.1), the clearest way
in which their adaptation was informed by Roman-letter writing is the use of
Hebrew letters to preserve distinctions, usually etymological but often
phonological, in Romance vocabulary items that were not necessarily
maintained in speech nor, curiously enough, in the contemporary Romanletter
spelling of Portuguese. (99)

Among the specific instances of poor roman-letter representations of Portuguese were the Arabic borrowings, of which there are not a few, and which Hebrew is obviously much better equipped to reflect:

As Jewish writers in a Latin-literate culture it was inevitable that the
biliterate writers of Hebraicized Portuguese would draw on some Roman letter
conventions in their writing system. Yet they also borrowed
conventions from Semitic writing beyond Hebrew that enable both
etymological and quasi-etymological spellings not captured (or even
capturable) by the conventional Roman-letter orthographies.
The Hebrew alphabet allows the Judeo-Portuguese writers to maintain
etymological distinctions between Arabic phonemes that have merged in their
borrowed Portuguese form, e.g. Ar. z/ç ‡ Pg. z:
(23) אלמופאריץ almofaris ModPg. almofariz < المحرص al-mihras 'mortar' אזוכי azoge ModPg. azogue < الزاؤق az-zā’uq 'mercury' Using different letters could, as always, suggest nothing more than the mere fact of distinct pronunciations intended or perceived by the Jewish writer, who may be more apt to do so with these Semitic loanwords than a non-Jew. What should be noted above all, however, is that the transfer of spelling convention is made especially feasible and perhaps even expected because the Hebrew letters ז and צ are in a real and practical sense cognate with and historically related to the Arabic lettersﺯ zay and ﺺ sad. (108) Turning our attention now to Aljamiados or romance texts written with Arabic script, we look at the same issues, but with a much broader base of texts, and a linguistic tradition which enjoys greater continuity than the Judeo-Portuguese tradition, since Strolovitch informs us again: "No modern-day lusophone population has descended from the Portuguese-speaking Jewish community, which shifted to co-territorial languages such as Spanish, Dutch, and English by the nineteenth century. In fact many of the émigrés from Portugal were Spanish speakers expelled from Castille-Aragon a few years prior to the Portuguese edicts of 1496-97. The Portuguese speakers who left the peninsula to settle in Italy, the Balkans, and Turkey assimilated to the Spanish-speaking majority, thus beginning the long-term language shift that eliminated Portuguese from the Sephardic repertoire. With a relative shortage of material there have consequently been very few linguistic studies of Jewish Portuguese, apart from those focused on written records from specific cities where Jews settled, such as Amsterdam (Teensma 1991) and Livorno (Tavani 1988). Judeo-Spanish, the only Judeo-Ibero-Romance language still spoken today, certainly boasts a richer documentary history from both the Iberian Peninsula and the resettled communities of the Ottoman Empire and North Africa. Yet its existence prior to the expulsions remains a vexed question (cf. Marcus 1962, Wexler 1982). The question of a distinct Judeo-Portuguese may at first blush seem less "vexed" simply because, given the small extant corpus and absence of a modern speech community, the field is less ploughed. Moreover, the prospects for discovering the expression of a distinct (spoken) dialect amidst the short ritual prescriptions and non-Judaic scientific discourse in the Hebraicized Portuguese corpus may well be discouraging. " (p. 87) Thus aljamiado writing is less standardized, though it does share some conventions with Hebrew renderings of Portuguese, including ambiguity towards sibilants (‘s’ vs. ‘sh’), which tend to be rendered ‘sh’ though not exclusively, nor consistently, it seems, as we can see in this text (with transliteration and an attempt at rendering in standard Spanish orthography…forgive my “creative vocabulary”):

Dal wa-lardun da lush shabyush
(del gualardon de los sabios)

Dishu un rakuntadur kiyan damandara burr kaminu ikra
(Diso un racontador quien demandara por camino y carre-[ra])
-ra bbara abbarandar sansiyya y shbidorya adarasul
(-ra para aperender sensilla y sabedoria ate ar-Rasool)
Diosh adakaltal a un kaminu da losh kaminush dal
(Dios edaqueltal? a un camino de los caminos del)
Baraishu i los anjalush ashtiandan shush alash alosh
(paraiso y los angeles extiendan sus alas a los)
Abrandiantas y damandantas dal shubar bbor akuntan
(Apprendientes y demandantes del saber por aconten)
Tasiun dal ka fazan i al dafandanta ibbarandian
(Tension del que fazen y el defendante iperendien)
Ta dal shabar damandan bbardon bbural lush anjalash
(-te del saber demandan perdon por el los angeles)
I tudush lush kashtan analsialu i lush ka a
(y todos los que estan en el cielo y los que e-
Shtan ‘an latiarra i los bbasash da lush marash
(stan en la tierra y los pasas de los mares)
I todosh lash coshash ka shon dantro ‘analawa I losh…
(Y todas las cosas que son dentro en el agua y los)

It seems to be a religious text (actually quite disappointingly formulaic, according to Qur’anic conventions) with the general sense of “whoever is looking for guidance and the way to heaven should consult the prophet [Mohammed] and he will gain wisdom and gain forgiveness from the angels and all who are on earth…"

And to top things off, the muwaššahāt are Andalusian Arabic poems which deviate drastically from the accepted classical Arabic form, in that they contain hemistich’s of variable length, usually much shorter, for the sake of facilitating endless internal rhymes (which _______ sees as a heightening of the Arabic tradition rather than an appropriation of a Romance tradition). Whether the form is primarily romance or the logical extension (/exaggeration) of Arabic poetical forms belies the fact that the most salient feature of these poems is that they combine a classical Arabic register with a mixed romance/colloquial Arabic (or even Hebrew) kharja at the end.
The distribution of usage of these languages and registers in Andalusia explains why this is so brilliant of a literary device and the power of its rhetorical effect. David Hanlon details the social aspects here, but in brief, high Arabic became the standard literary and poetic ideal of the elite conquerors:
"In al-Andalus there was probably little diglossia among the Arabic-speaking
population at the time of the invasion and the period of settlement that immediately
followed it; there was no Arabo-Islamic infrastructure through which
tuition in Classical Arabic was possible, and a knowledge of Classical Arabic
was probably rare among the rank and file of the invading forces. However,
subsequent to the process of imitation of Eastern cultural models in the ninth
and tenth centuries, all members of the Arabic-speaking population with a
modicum of education were diglossic in varying degrees. The cultivation of a
genre which censured the numerous phonological, syntactic and lexico-semantic
features of spoken usage not codified by classical grammarians, the lahn
al-'iimma literature, is concrete evidence of diglossia in this period. Its first
Andalusian exponent, al-Zubaydi (316-79 A.H./A.D9.2 8-89), undertook to contribute
to this body of writing when he noticed that his predecessors in the
Eastern Islamic world had failed to comment on features peculiar to al-Andalus:
...then I scrutinized the spoken usage of our time and country and found
sentences that Abu Hatim [al-Sijistani] and other linguists had failed to
mention among the [examples] they cite, of language which our populace
had corrupted, changed its form (ahalu lafzahii) or altered its meaning
(wada'ahu ghayra mawdi'ihi).
Outside the muwashshah, Romance was committed to writing either in
contexts which are consciously colloquial (the zajal), or as glosses for technical
terms (botanical dictionaries). Otherwise it must be assumed that it was used
only for informal spoken purposes, and was therefore a L(ow) variety in
common with spoken Arabic, and in contrast to the H(igh) variety, Classical
Arabic. All speech communities have strong attitudes towards varieties of their
own language and the languages of other speech communities." (p. 40)

These soldiers would often have taken wives or mistresses from the local populace whose native language(s) were romance, or an arab-romance mix. This social dynamics of this diglossia explains how the culmination of the love poem reflects the intimacy of a slip to a more familiar register. It creates quite a jarring verbal effect whose significance is locked in time to that specific environment of diglossia, which Hanlon posits as more socially keyed to register than to linguistic family:

"The sociolinguistic framework I employ necessarily attaches greater importance
to the fact that a change in linguistic variety in the muwashshah represents
a shift from H to L, rather than a switch from Arabic, in a generic sense, to an
unrelated language such as Romance. The 135 poems in the Arabic corpus that
employ vernacular Arabic exclusively are, from this point of view, typologically
equivalent to the 42 that use Romance (or an admixture of Romance and
Arabic). I shall therefore examine three poems by way of example: the first
employs vernacular Arabic in its kharja; the second and third employ predominantly
Romance on the basis of all textual reconstructions attempted thus far.
Thematically and stylistically, 'Bi-ab 'ilqu bi-'I-nafsi 'aliq' by 'Ubada is a
rather conventional piece characteristic of the amatory muwashshah which
makes it useful for the purposes of illustration. Within the framework adopted
here. the first four stanzas constitute the mu'rab. the kharia constitutes the
hazl, and the point at which the transition from mu'rab to hazl is made occurs
in the final aghsiin of the fifth stanza.38 The mu'rab is devoted almost entirely
to a description of the love object which relies heavily on the ghazal cliche to
the extent that it may be considered a catalogue of its stock elements. The
beloved has a round and shining face like a moon:
I have fallen in love with a crescent moon ...
A full moon that shines with well-proportioned beauty.
A full moon that triumphs with shining magic.
When he appeared [like a full moon], dragging the trains of beauty behind
him ...
His cheeks glow with red and white floral hues:
Lily-of-the-valley besieges a well-protected rose,
A curl of hair like a scorpion's tail upon jasmin.
His glances are like arrows that pierce the lover's heart:
Armies of beauty [dwell] on his eyes,
And the glance plumed with licit magic.
His saliva, like wine, intoxicates the lover:
His mouth is a wine jar made to be kissed.
His teeth are white and symmetrical like a string of pearls:
His teeth mock the pearl necklace [surpassing it in beauty].
References to the physical attributes of the love object are invariably cloaked
in metaphor, mentioned in succession, and little regard is shown for establishing
a syntactic relationship between them. The description is not mimetic, and relies
for its internal coherence not on any logical structure expressed through conjunction
and coordination, but on the juxtaposition of elements and the understood
background of a literary cliche. The beloved is an archetype, of which a small
number of elements are selected for representation in a collage, whose abstraction
is best articulated by the poet himself in the second stanza: 'there appeared to
me a being created for love' ('anna li khalqu bi-'l-'ishqi khaliq). The aghsiin of
the final stanza mark a change in tone and style:
After he had clothed himself in the garb of beauty,
I desired to kiss his delicious, dark red lips,
But he refused, quoting a verse,
And leant over coquettishly
With the sweetest of diction:
Ana qul ququ lis bi-llah tadhuqu.
انا قول قوقو ليس بالله تذوقو
' I say, [here's] a tidbit, by God you will not taste it.'
This literal translation belies a dramatic change in register which is marked
by common features of Andalusian spoken Arabic: ana qul, an approximation
of the Western Neo-Arabic first person singular of the incomplete tense, vs.
Classical aqulu; the negative lis vs. Classical la; the object pronoun -u vs.
Classical -hu; and finally ququ (' tidbit '), a word of unknown origin but whose
duplicated CV syllable identifies it as a creation of child language. The
thematic shift that accompanies the fall in register (from H to L) is appropriately
downward (from amatory to bawdy).

Unfortunately it is quite difficult to find Arabic texts of complete muwaššahāt (here are a couple on JSTOR) online (unless some kind reader knows of a great repository lurking somewhere), though kharjas abound (mostly without the Arabic original, only an ambiguous transliteration):

49 (Stern), 49 (Heger), XXXVII (García Gómez)
k(u)and mio sîdî yâ qawmu
ker(r)a bi-llâh
suo al-asî me dar-lo

¿cuándo mi señor, oh amigos,
querrá, por Dios,
darme su medicina?

tell me:
When will m'lord, oh friends
want to, by God,
give me his medicine?

38b,a (Stern), 38b,a (Heger), XXIb,a (García Gómez)
yâ mamma mio al-habîbi
bay-sê e no me tornade
gar ke fareyo ÿâ mamma
in no mio 'ina' lesade

¡Oh madre, mi amigo
se va y no vuelve!
Dime qué haré, madre,
si mi pena no afloja.

Oh mother, my love
has gone and won't return!
Tell me what I should do, Mother,
if I should not drown in my sorrow.

53 (Heger), 22 (García Gómez)
um(m)î qi qâl li-ahûb
'aql al-nisâ qaq(q)â
non sabet mio qawlî
hubbî li-man yabqâ

Madre mía, quien dijo al amigo,
'la constancia de las mujeres (es) caca,'
no sabe (que) mi máxima
(es que) mi amor es para quien persiste.

My Mother, the one who told my love
"the dependability of women is 'caca'"
did not know that my mantra
is that my love is for the one who persists.

What is most interesting about this is that the general concept of a poem or saying in a more standard register culminating with a disorienting colloquialism (which Hanlon attributes to the device of hazl or "ironic, disarming humor") has a lot of mileage as a literary device, particularly in the Arabic world, because of the widespread prevalence of diglossia. I noticed this in my growing collection of local proverbs, in which I saw a pattern - I could understand everything except for the last word:

المويه حر ولا لعب ﮔﻌوﭴﺞ/ﮔﻌوﻧﺞ

Al-mweya harr wa la li3b gu3uñj

The water hot and not play frog = frogs don’t play in hot water ~ play with fire and you’ll get burnt

This is very interesting because, I just realized, ‘harr’ is almost never used here – sukhun is the preferred term for hot, and the standard local way of negating a verb would be ‘ma’ rather than ‘la’ regardless of tense.

And for our second proverb, which I particularly love because it reminds me of my favorite Mauritanian proverb (التاي بلا نعناع كيف الكلام بلا معنى - tea without mint is like words without meaning):

الشاي بنعناع خيرٌ من
المَرة بسبعة ﭤاﭤا

Al-shai bi-na’na’ khayr-un min
Al-mara’ bi-sab’a nganga (ŋaŋa)

Tea with mint is better than
A woman with seven children

This one is really interesting because the construction (khayr-un min) mimics the 4 am fajr prayer call in which the mu’ezzin often says al-salatu kheirun min al-nawm (الصلاة خير من النوم) prayer is better than sleep! But your average Sudanese would never use that formal of a register in a non-religious setting, but it sets up so perfectly this word (ŋaŋa) which is so local and obscure that it can’t even be properly written with the existing extended Arabic unicode (well maybe that is not saying too much ;). Any news on additions to the Arabic Unicode for non-standard letters or extended sounds? A friend of mine submitted a proposal a couple years ago, but I never heard what happened to that and I am only in intermittent contact with him.