Thursday, December 27, 2007


On a little break in Khartoum for Christmas, and I was listening to some Gotan project … and “gotan” is tango, in the “vesre” Spanish which the RioPlatense area is most known for, particularly Buenos Aires, where it is incorporated into a very elaborate slang system known as Lunfardo. Tango music and dance is so closely associated with Lunfardo, that one could say that today this is its main function, as new, less localized slang systems come into use among youth, which don’t have much to do with Lunfardo. The onrush of Italian immigrants to Argentina between 1880 and 1900 brought Buenos Aires’ population to around 40% Italian, which inevitably led to a sort of pidgin, which became known (or at least parodied) as cocoliche, supposedly after a certain Antonio Cuccoliccio whose speech was mocked and imitated by comedian Celestino Petray to great applause:

Mi quiamo Franchisque Cocoliche e sono creolio hasta lo güese da la taba e la canilla de lo caracuse, amico.”

Many of these Cocoliche terms came to be incorporated into the general slang, which was developing concurrently with the use of vesre, germanía, jeringonza as well as guaraní and other indigenous languages, and other external influences around the seedy underbelly of the Buenos Aires crime world, which seems to have been the milieu in which tango was most popular. The best place for a lot of glosses on Lunfardo words is the Spanish "gotan glosario". But the Spanish wiki site has much more in-depth descriptions of the formations and etymologies of the words, including this one on cop slang:


Police. Word of unknown origin from Lunfardo of unknown etymology. Could come from the Portuguese “encanado” which is to say: “imprisoned in a jail cell made of canes (sticks).” In fact the term cana is used with identical meaning in Brazil. Before it was very widespread among tango writers in their lyrics, and today it is in frequent use among the whole population. The Lunfardo word cana seems to be abbreviated from canario, a word already used in spain since the 16th c. at least (Cervantes mentions it with the meaning of ‘cantor’ – delegate or confidante of the police), others suggest that the etimology is founding the French word canne (rod, stick, i.e. billy club/nightstick) as a metonymy for the stick which police use.

Other versions indicate that it was because of the mistreatment of retired police because of the small quantity of the same (i.e. sticks?). Upon seeing the color of their skin, the robbers made fun of them saying “canosos” or “canas.”

Order to the “cana” means at the same time “send to prison” and by extension, accuse (or with a certain comic tone) put someone to trial who has made some misstep, for example: “Cacho did some sort of nonsense and Juana accused him (lo mando en cana) in front of everyone.” On the other hand “batir la cana” or “dar la canaveri” could mean omit or leave out an intention or act that one wants to keep secret.

(see also cobani, vesre for abanico)

for more language games do not see Ludwig Wittgenstein. His language-games are not very fun.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

code writing

One of the things which first got me into languages I think, was writing in code as a kid... my friends and I used to make up all sorts of codes for secret communication, and even as I got older I still felt like speaking in a foreign language was some sort of code which allowed me a greater freedom to say anything I wanted. But recently I was trying to come up with a way of writing that would be a more or less private code, utilizing an already existing writing system and a language I already know. Obviously writing any romance language with an Arabic script has a precedent and anything written in a relatively widely used script would not take long to figure out, so I started looking for "mutually exclusive" languages. One of my initial impulses was to try to write Arabic with Hangul script, since there is almost no logical social, political, or economic reason anyone would know both of those languages, but there were just too many sounds that couldn't be represented accurately. My next attempt, which I undertook a bit more seriously, was writing Arabic in Georgian script, because why make up a script when you can use an existing one that looks made up?

Letters Unicode

U+10D0 an

U+10D1 ban

U+10D2 gan

U+10D3 don

U+10D4 en

U+10D5 vin

U+10D6 zen

U+10D7 tan

U+10D8 in

U+10D9 k’an

U+10DA las

U+10DB man

U+10DC nar

U+10DD on

U+10DE par

U+10DF žan

U+10E0 rae

U+10E1 san

U+10E2 t’ar

U+10E3 un

U+10E4 par

U+10E5 kan

U+10E6 ɣan

U+10E7 q’ar

U+10E8 šin

U+10E9 čin

U+10EA can

U+10EB ʒil

U+10EC c’il

U+10ED č’ar

U+10EE xan

U+10EF ǯan

U+10F0 hae


The Georgian alphabet has almost enough parallel sounds to cover all the arabic phonemes:





























as you can see I wasn't quite sure what to do about the 'ayn and the ha, but beyond that was a deeper issue of historical Arabic-Georgian interaction. While most people focus on the translation movement from Greek to Arabic in the 9-12 centuries due to the recent attention by Dimitri Gutas and the like, at roughly the same time Arabic Christian thought was being preserved by Georgian monks:
...from the modern scholarly point of view, one of the most important contributions of Georgian monks in the Judean desert monasteries, particularly in the early Islamic period, was their activity as translators. Numerous texts, originally written in Greek and Arabic, have survived into modern times only because they have been preserved in Georgian translations.
(from Griffith, 1997)
So, that might be one reason why Georgian-Arabic wouldn't be such a great combination for a tough to crack language code, but I imagine most of those Arabic-reading Georgian monks are dead now. Referring to the Linguistic Mystic's manual on cryptorthography I am tempted to throw a little Cyrillic in there, but I think it is too commonly known, and again there are a lot of Arabic sounds that aren't accounted for.
Short of stooping to "extinct" languages like Nubian, or recently invented scripts for languages that have almost never been written, like Zaghawa, I am not out of brilliant ideas. There must be some efficient way of finding the 2 most widely spoken languages with the least number of common speakers... any guesses?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tonal languages of Darfur

I got back from a field trip to a rural area which is predominantly Fur, and close to the heart of the ancient Fur kingdom/Sultanate in Jebel Marra, and I was able to pick up a fair amount of Fur on the trip, but I didn't realize until speaking with some staff members back in El Fasher that Fur is a tonal language!! They showed me 7 words that are very similar and the main distinguishing feature is the tonal difference, or minor consonantal differences which are almost imperceptible to non-native speakers. Here is my loose attempt at reproducing the sounds with the symbols I could find... (the đ is supposed to be an almost emphatic d, not quite as strong as a ض but I couldn't find the d with the dot underneath Unicode character, so I wasn't really sure how else to represent it). Also the superscript l (thunder) is supposed to be a very light afterthought of a sound:

dēj - a lalub tree

déi - male goat

đêj - oil

déĩ - ant (NB Darfuri Arabic = darr)

dëi¹ - thunder

đēwi - tail

đeui - grass

I was surprised that I hadn't perceived it was a tonal language at first, and in fact I had assumed that none of the languages of the area were really tonal, but in fact it seems quite common... it is also part of Masalit, which you would be able to see (if one could paste accurately from PDF files) in this story recorded by John Edgar in a study on Masalit storytelling:

k e l i m b e l l i m b o singeim waka. k e l i k o r n an g s i n g e i odoore.
girls boys-with wood-loc they-went. girls getting-up wood they-collect.
The girls and boys went to the woods. The girls started to collect wood.

kimamba duu a n y a n e l d l t i k e l a koko singm toyoona. anyaneldi
bop self gum-arabic he-saw going wood-loc he-climbed. gum-arabic
One boy saw a gum-arabic tree and went and climbed up it. He tried to

a w u l te ru tend tokomingi koogi tudona.
I-take-shall saying he-did hornbill eye it-plucked-out.
take the tree (as firewood), but a hombill (that was in the tree) plucked out his eye

suru koogi fong ken karaa s a r g i n kar tununga. s i n g e i
descending eye cover doing girl back coming he-stopped. wood
He got down and, covering his eye, came and stopped behind a girl. She was

toniede. s i n g e i t i r t e n a . kimamba ngo tirnanga: a i a i k o o g i
she-chops. w00d splinter it-did. boy thus he-said: ah ah eye
chopping wood. The wood splintered. The boy said thus: 'Ah ah, you put

mbalodaga! h i l l e m wakaamolo baabata t e n d e l a . kibinu
me-you-put-out. village-loc they-came-jfrom father-his he-told. seizing
out my eye!' When they reached the village, he told his father. Taking

karailimbd j i z e h a . kimadAaga. l e i l e t o mucota
girl that-with marriage they-made. child they-hore. day one wife-his
the girl, they married her with that one. They had a child. One day, his wife

kima Auwd ( n i i b i n d ) saamtaka. kambaa g i kimakuld
child giver (seizer) well-loc she-went. husband this child taking
gave him the baby and went to the well. The husband took the child and

t i A j i k a r i g g o t e r E : tokomiggikima andlya,
he-dandles thus he-says: hornbill child me-gave,
dandled it (on his knees) and said thus (singing): 'The hombill gave me a child;

kaa koikindag k o i t o k o m i g g i k i s a r i a . ndokom ndokom!
people all you-exist-if all hornbill you-play-not. dee dunz dee dum!
people, never play with the hombill. Dee dum, dee dum! '

monjokolatd j a a r i i n i y e ( t a g i t a muiljetagiinimolo) a j i
old-woman one neighhour (house-her near house-their-fronz) song
A certain old woman whose house was near to their house heard the song and,

t ~ i n a g akimakarawosaammolotaramolo tordga a j i kambata
she-heard child girl-the wellfronz she-came-fronz she-called song hushar~d-of
when the girl came back from the well, called her and related to her all of the

k o i t e n d e l a . k a r a g i baabata Tendela, k a a g g i i l u
all she-told. girl this father-her she-told. nzan that
husband's song. The girl then told it to her father. They (the community)

divorced them.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Ever since I lived in Golden Gate park at the end of Haight St. in SF for a week, I have been interested in what people call police officers as slang, and what that says about their relationship with them. One of my fellow inhabitants in the park had the words "F*CK PIGS" tattooed on his knuckles. I also frequently heard "six-up" shouted right before people scrambled to hide their illegal possessions, followed by a police car cruising by to pick anyone up. "Six-up," I was told referred to the six lights in the siren on the top of the car. Then of course, there is "five-oh" which is originally a police radio code, which came into common parlance because of the TV program "Hawaii 50 [five-oh]." There are probably dozens more English terms for police (maybe hundreds if you count local variations from around the world) but I am more interested in what they are in other languages.
In French, the only two slang words I know of for this are "flic" and "cochon," which should be "cilf" and "chonco" in verlan (the french equivalent of pig latin, perhaps appropriately more sophisticated and complex). Instead "flic" becomes "keuf" which is apparently a parallel reconstruction to match the sounds of "meuf" for "femme," "teupo" for "pote," and "beur" for "arabe." I have heard plenty of examples of "cochon," but I don't remember any particularly of the verlan version, though unless it was in La Haine, a great french movie which goes into the banlieues of Paris to look at the climate of French race relations, which seem to be as much a powderkeg today as they were then. It is hard to say whether "cochon" is simply a calque of english "pig," picked up through TV, or if the idea that police officers are swine is just part of universal human consciousness. As for "flic," this is quite a common term, and may not even be considered slang. I wish I could tell the reader what it comes from... but I haven't heard of anything.
I am really interested in the Arabic slang terms though, as this has been a little more inaccessible socially. People either consciously self-censor candid terms around me about the authorities since I am so obviously an outsider, and they may not be sure which "side" I am on; or it could be a sub-conscious avoidance of more familiar register. So I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to some relevant terms today:

[bomba] "cops" roughly - بمبا
emprison?, round up - خبس
- الابيضspecial police intelligence forces

the scenario being described was like so:

شماشة 1 الى شماشة 2: تفقفق يا زول البمبا خبس
شماشة 2 الى شماشة 1:كيف! المراة ذي كان مع الابيض انا قت لك
شماشة 2 الى زول تاني: انت فرد والناس منقرد

shamasha 1 ila shamasha 2: tafugfug ya zul, al-bumba khabas!
shamasha 2 ila shamasha 1: kayf! al-marra dhi kan ma' al-abyadh ana gutt lek

shamasha 2 ila zul tani : anta farda wa-'n-nas mangarda

hoodlum 1 to hoodlum 2 : scram! the police are on the prowl!
hoodlum 2 to hoodlum 1 : How!? That woman must have been a spy!
... (running away)
hoodlum 2 to another dude: oh buddy, you are the only friend I can count on!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nubian text


lpmiouogocmptniu paipet


????satanho. nt?ujoocyiteihe

n?mpemeoomatwradmi je





Han auopmina,ocyeigggg[[(pp)dm

Nooyjoywq(p) apeboit(gg) pa,wni

Pezooun ticuoiaicy nou?cou

Denjoco ntokhep de[poty


impicounfnadua ammniowc

mni,iond nefpomoeeit

wlih li,mpgmnnnempate i


pocetyn auhmoocdee

petronoc e ggi do nei

pezetyros e ty o

okly ?ne

n??tepo oniamppsu te

?lp miou ogosmptniu paipet


shatankho. nt?édzoosniteiHe

n?mpe meo omatô radmi dze

tisou kaHek(is) naiso tiso nepisaH

ntei HeHitmi ehiseteusis eahm

toniomo onoipen Hosiôtato o-

neiôta insoupepis isopo o-

Hanau opmina khosneitshdm

nooé dzoé ôhpa pebong pakhôni

pezooun tisuoi aisn nou?sou

deédzoso ntokHep detshpoté

mptnpnriei? eTnaun anapausis

impisou nfnadua ammniôs

mnikhiond nefpompeeit

ôliH likhmg mnnnempate i-

dzint khirod oniantmn? iepisr-

posetén auHmoosdee

petronos e ngi do nei

pezetérosh e té o

oklé ?ne

Here is my first attempt at deciphering this inscription, and I thought I would be able to make some sense of it between the greek and some of the local stuff, but I think I am going to need a lexicon of some sort, and unless there is one online, I am up a crick without a paddle... or in an isolated place without a dictionary, as the case may be.

more speculation about the content upcoming...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Nubian text

This is an old Nubian text I came across at the local museum (actually the former palace of Sultan Ali Dinar). It is almost certainly from somewhere closer to the Nile Valley, but it is interesting that they would have that in a local museum, marked "Sandstone with Greek Inscription" no less! When I can get a font for Nubian script, I will transcribe it and make my best guess at a translation...

Saturday, December 1, 2007


In addition to the wonderfully rich Sudanese Arabic colloquialisms that wrapped up the last post, I have the pleasure of access to half a dozen other languages about which relatively little research has been done. Of all these none happens to be more interesting and more accessible than Midob, or Tidd-náal, as they call themselves. One of my closest neighbors is tiddi, and I came upon a locally-published monograph on everything Midob entitled Qabilat al-Midob: taht mijhar al-bahth “The Tribe of the Midob: under the microscope of research,” by al-Hajj Adam ‘Abdallah Hassan. While most of the work is based on collective memory of the recent past, and it does quote some western historians about the more distant past (including “English historian Makmaykel”), the author does valorize oral history:

الجزء المدون من تاريخ الميدوب قليل ونادر واغلبها تعتمد على الروايات الشفوية فاجداد الميدوب يقولون انهم اتو من دنقلا ويدعي ال(كارقوى شلكوتا( بانهم من المحس (سكوت) ومنه اشتقوا لفظ شلكوتا ورواية اخرى تقول ان (الاورتى) هم المحس اما الكارقدى من الدناقلة. (8)

“The recorded part of the history of the Midob is few and far between, and seizing it depends on oral stories, so the grandfathers of the Midob say that they came from Dongola because our language and calls the Karqawi Shelkout because they are from the Muhiss (sukut) and from it they broke away from the remarks of the Shelkouta, and another story which says that the Aourti were the Muhiss as far as the Karqaday [Karqawi?] from Dongola.”

(forgive the translation)

Though we aren’t so lucky as to get any of this oral history written down verbatim (in Arabic or Midob) from the author, he does mention the names of some of his sources (two of whom live in my town), so maybe I will track them down or maybe just the author himself.

Besides just being quite accessible, Midob is of particular interest because it is related to Old Nubian reputedly, though it is the furthest linguistically and geographically from its purported medieval Nubian ancestor.

Roland Werner’s 1993 book on this branch of “Darfur Nubian” is reviewed below:

Roland Werner, Tidn-aal: a study of Midob (Darfur-Nubian). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1993, 169 pp., DM68, ISBN 3 496 02507 7

The Midob are often referred to as ‘Meidob’: an erroneous spelling which does not reflect pronunciation and which goes back to a MacMichael 1918 article. Although the people have grown to accept the xenonym ‘Midob’, their self-name is tiddi (sg.) and their linguistic self-name is as in the title of this book , meaning ‘Tid (pl.) language’. The people live around Dar Midob, about 500 miles west of Khartoum. Werner says (p.13) the administrative area comprises 24,000 square miles. There are about 45,000 to 50,000 Midob, who are mixed pastoralists (goats, sheep, camels).

The introduction (pp. 13-18) takes up the name, location, tribe, place of Midob in Nubian, dialects and sub-groups, history of Midob linguistic research, methods, scope, and aim of the study.

The Midob are neither ‘Nile’ nor ‘Hill’ Nubians. According to the work of Becchauss-Gerst, Nubian consists of Nobiin (Mahas-Fadicca) as against four other languages, of which Midob is the most divergent. Midob was unknown to Western scholarship till MacMichael’s first published vocabulary list about 1912. Among the fifty bibliography items listed by Werner (pp. 167-9) there is no substantial grammar or dictionary of Midob, so that this book is the first such. A list of abbreviations is given on p. 166.

It contains an extensive Midob-English vocabulary of about 2,000 items (pp. 75-143) with Arabic loans identified and an English-Midob index (144-165). I obtained a copy just as I was in need of some Midob lexicon for a project but was surprised to discover that the English index does not list many basic terms such as ‘blood’ (although it is used on p. 25), ‘belly’, ‘claw’, ‘earth’, ‘feather’, ‘good’, ‘mouth’, ‘new’, ‘other’, ‘path’, ‘person’, ‘plant’, ‘road’, ‘seed’, or ‘smoke’. ‘See’ is given as kəl – on p. 159 but as kood – on p.46 and I could not find the latter in the lexicon. There are also two brief texts with translations (‘Of old times’ and ‘Wedding’, pp. 64-5) and 209 sentences (pp. 66-74).

The grammar is rather brief (pp. 18-63), consisting of (1) phonology, (2) tonology, (3) nouns, (4) pronouns, (5) postpositions, (6) the verb, (7) adverbs, (8) ideophones, (9) conjunctions. I will not go into any details here except to note that Arabic is invading the phonology and lexicon of Midob, as with all Sudanese languages.

The slim volume is well produced from what looks like computer print-out (with both margins justified)…. A sketch map of the location and general features of Dar Midob would have been helpful.

Despite some weaknesses, pointed out above, on balance this tone-marked grammar of Midob, based on fieldwork of 1987-88, is certainly a valuable addition to the Nubian linguistic literature.

M. Lionel Bender

Southern Illinois University

For a quicky wiki overview of contemporary Nubian languages see below:

“Of all the Nubian languages, the ones spoken along the Nile traditionally have received the most attention. Many manuscripts have been unearthed in the Nile Valley, mainly between the first and fifth cataracts, testifying to a firm Nubian presence in the area during the first millennium. Nobiin and a dialect cluster related to it, Kenzi-Dongolawi, are found in the same area. These languages were the languages of the Christian Nubian kingdoms. Historical comparative research has shown that the Nile-Nubian languages do not form a genetic unit; the speakers of Nobiin arrived first in the area, followed later by the speakers of the Kenzi and Dongolawi varieties.

“The other Nubian languages are found hundreds of kilometers to the southwest, in Darfur and in the Nuba Mountains of Kordofan. In the past, there has been debate as to whether the Nubian languages spread to the Nile valley from Kordofan and Darfur or moved in the opposite direction. For a long time it was assumed that the Nubian peoples dispersed from the Nile Valley to the south, probably at the time of the downfall of the Christian kingdoms. However, comparative lexicostatistic research in the second half of the twentieth century has shown that the spread must have been in the opposite direction (Thelwall 1982, Adams 1982, among others). Greenberg (as cited in Thelwall 1982) calculated that a split between Hill Nubian and the Nile-Nubian languages occurred at least 2,500 years ago. This account is corroborated by non-linguistic evidence — for example, the oral tradition of the Shaiqiya tribe of the Jaali group of arabized Nile-Nubians tells of coming from the southwest long ago.”

Jay Spaulding has written an interesting article on the Shaiqiya tribe's relationship to Nubian, asserting that in fact they and several other riverain ethnic groups that have linguistically assimilated into the Arab majority spoke Nubian until a couple hundred years ago (and still retain traces of this in some of their speech)… a more detailed look at this will be in a forthcoming post addressing the question of whether and whither the different branches of the Nubian languages split… for now I leave you with a tree of how the branches of Nubian breakdown (thanks to the SIL Ethnologue):

* Nobiin (Not intelligible with Kenuzi-Dongola. Lexical similarity 67% with Kenuzi-Dongola)

o Mahas (Mahasi, Mahass)

o Fiyadikka (Fedicca, Fadicha, Fadicca, Fadija, Fiadidja)

* Kenuzi-Dongola (Not intelligible with Nobiin. Lexical similarity 67% with Nobiin, 56% with Debri)

o Dongola

o Kenuzi (Kenuz, Kunuzi)

* Midob or Meidob (Lexical similarity 51% with Birgid (closest)

o Shelkota (Shalkota)

o Kaageddi

o Urrti (Uurti)

* Birked/Birgid (extinct)

* ("Hill Nubian")

o Ghulfan (Wunci)

o Kadaru (Kodhin)

o Dilling (Lexical similarity 94% with Debri, 93% with Kadaru)

+ Dilling

+ Debri

o Dair (Thaminyi)

o El Hugeirat (El Hagarat)

o Karko (Kithonirishe)

o Wali

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.