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Arabic Dialectology: In Honour of Clive Holes on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday.

Arabic Dialectology: In Honour of Clive Holes on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday. Edited by ENAM AL-WER and RUDOLF DE JONG. Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics, vol. 53. Leiden: BRILL, 2009. Pp. xix + 298. $176.

As the editors point out, this volume is testimony to the wide range of subdisciplines that come together in the works of Clive Holes in particular and in variational sociolinguistics in general. They go on to say that Holes, as a "variationist to the core," has raised the Arabic of Bahrain to the same dialectological status as the English of Norwich (p. ix), and there is a pleasing symmetry in the fact that a paper has been contributed by Peter Trudgill, who put Norwich on the linguistic map.

The papers are grouped thematically into historical topics, descriptive dialectology, contact phenomena, social dialectology, and code mixing, and while this is perfectly coherent and practical, this review will look at them from other perspectives which will unite the papers across these categories.

Some are examples of the new linguistic genres that have evolved over the last few decades, such as the concise dialect descriptions that now proliferate and, notably through the Zeitschrift fur arabische Linguistik, have created a virtual template, of which the description of the Sawawi dialect of northern Oman by Domenyk Eades is a good specimen. These descriptions, usually accompanied by short texts, are extremely useful for comparative studies, as they often focus on distinctive features, or in Eades's case the lack of them, as he confirms in detail that the Sawawi dialect has all the characteristics of the type I Sedentary dialects set up by Holes for this region. Bruce Ingham's contribution is a postscript to his earlier work on Mesopotamian dialects. Another genre now prominent in linguistics is the statistical survey, which is seen in the contribution of Hanadi Ismail on the alternation of possessive suffix hlzero (reflexes of CA -hu) in Damascus. Here the bar charts quantify the sociolinguistic realities to provide a firm basis for a variationist interpretation of the data, establishing with some precision an isogloss that had hitherto only been recognised informally (e.g., by Cantineau, in BSLP [1938]: 89-97). Lexicography has a longer tradition in the secondary literature, where there is really little else to do but discuss individual words: Peter Behnstedt's contribution follows this path, choosing vocabulary items that reflect the variationist approach, as a kind of supplement to Holes's massive glossary of Gulf Arabic, Dialect, Culture and Society in Eastern Arabia (2001).

A noticeable preoccupation of several articles is the polarization of urban/sedentary and Bedouin/ nomadic dialects, which has been a tradition, not to say a dogma, in Arabic linguistics since at least the time of Constantin-Francois Volney (Simplification des langues orientales [etc.], 1795), who has a strong claim to be the first variationist in our field. This sociological distinction is still the main criterion in dialect classification, but there is some ambivalence about it in the present work, from tacit acceptance (Ingham for Mesopotamian dialects), acceptance with reservations (Heikki Palva for the gelet dialects, Eades for Sawawi, and, of course, Holes himself), to a radical rejection of the whole idea by David Britain, who argues that the "urban fetish" has misled dialectologists into the false equation of conservatism with nomadism and progressiveness with sedentarism, when in fact there are no linguistic changes that can be attributed solely to the urban way of life itself. As others have shown, Bedouin dialects can be surprisingly innovative.

Trudgill raises a related question, whether language contact leads to simplification or complexification. There is no easy answer, and Trudgill perforce concludes (p. 183) that both may occur, either simultaneously or consecutively, and not necessarily through language contact. There is an echo here of an earlier and equally inconclusive debate that began in the 1960s about the alleged metamorphosis of Arabic from the "synthetic," i.e., inflected Classical language, to the "analytical," i.e., uninflected colloquials. The stock example is the replacement of the inflectionally marked annexation construction by the so-called analytical genitive, yet this very same periphrastic possessive has been put forward (e.g., by Retso, in AIDA 1 [1994]: 333-42) as evidence of syntactical complexification, being the price paid for morphological simplification (loss of case inflections). In all likelihood the two processes are complementary, with changes in one part of the closed system giving rise to consequential changes elsewhere, as has been acknowledged in Arabic phonology since the 1950s (and cf. Palva's paper, p. 25).

A festschrift is an ideal platform for challenging long-held beliefs. Heikki Palva's re-examination of the old assumption that the gelet dialects of Baghdad are simple survivals of Bedouin speech does not take anything away from Chaim Blanc's pioneeering study; rather it adds historical and linguistic nuances to Blanc's broad picture, which did not take into account the complexity of the population movements involved. Jonathan Owens revisits the dental spirants and uses Neo-Arabic evidence to argue that the early Aramaic reflex of Proto-Semitic [eth] always varied synchronically between [d] and [z], as it does in spoken Arabic today, against the inherited theory that in Aramaic two changes occurred in sequence [eth] > [d] and [d] > [z] (among other explanations). However, it is an audacious prediction by Owens (p. 11) that the spirant [eth] will eventually disappear from Arabic, and it is not clear where the unvoiced correlative [theta] belongs in his scheme.

Manfred Woidich and Liesbeth Zack tackle another controversial theme, with a nod to Holes's own work in historical phonology, a field that is particularly difficult in Arabic because the stability of Classical orthography masks practically all phonetic changes in the concurrent spoken varieties. They undertake a bold revision of the conventional view that the sound represented by the Arabic letter jim was originally [d3], and that the [g] in Egyptian and a few other dialects is derived from this [d3] and is not a survival of the Proto-Semitic [g]. As well as phonological arguments against a shift of [d3] > [g], they adduce toponymic evidence and the observations of a fifteenth-century German pilgrim in support of their claim that this [g] does indeed preserve the original Proto-Semitic value, and that [d3] is the innovation. Carl Brockelmann had already taken this for granted in 1908 (Grundri[beta] der vergleichenden Grammatik der semitischen Sprachen, 1: 120), but whereas he could only make an unsubstantiated assertion, Woidich and Zack provide a serious justification. It might help to add to their data the medieval English and German loanword Dragoman, from turjuman (with [g]!), charmingly transformed by Middle High German folk etymology into the personal name Tragemunt, lit. Carry-mouth. For the convenience of those who cannot consult the German secondary literature on Sir Arnold von Huff, the annotated English translation of his pilgrimage narrative by Malcolm Letts, The Pilgrimage of Arnold von Harff; Knight [etc.], 1946, repr. 1967, could be added to the references in n. 32, p. 52.

Kees Versteegh's survey of the borrowing of verbs gives an informative account of the various strategies in several languages, though the title of his paper does not prepare us for his conclusion that there are no do-verbs in the strict sense in any form of Arabic, from Pidgin through the dialects to the Classical. As he shows, Arabic employs its own range of flexible internal resources, from the unassimilated bare forms of the Pidgins, through the hybrid paradigms of Cypriot, Maltese, and Uzbeki, to the traditional Semitic Stem II and Quadriliteral patterns, the latter structurally equivalent to Stem II, as Holes noted in his contribution to the 2004 festschrift for Manfred Woidich.

Contact (or rather the lack of it) between groups speaking the same language is the topic of the paper by Aziza El-Essa, who describes with devastating candor two communities that have a deep and abiding dislike of each other. The Najdi immigrants in Jedda do not assimilate socially to their Hijazi-speaking fellow-citizens, and intermarriage, though it does sometimes occur, is "generally frowned upon" (p. 205). This has interesting consequences for the peculiarities of Najdi speech, especially the affrication of [k] and [g] (i.e., qaf): only older speakers preserve it uniformly, while younger speakers, less inhibited by the conservatism and isolation of their elders, are tending to abandon it, and other types of accommodation are also becoming apparent in spite of the mutual antipathy.

Reem Bassiouney deals with yet another area of language contact, where two varieties of the same language are exploited for purely commercial reasons. Although her framework is that of diglossia (and she is rather critical of El-Said Badawi's classification of Egyptian speech), diglossia as such is not the issue. She documents how, when a certain gravitas is required to enhance the plausibility of an advertisement, the dialogue shifts from colloquial Egyptian into the present-day oral form of uninflected Classical Arabic (called here "Modern Standard Arabic," but this reviewer sides with the late Alan Kaye that the term is not well enough defined to be useful). This is the linguistic equivalent of the common Western advertising trick of putting on spectacles and white coats to give the impression of integrity. Significantly, these props would not be required in an Arabic advertisement, because merely the sound of elevated Arabic itself conveys scientific authority, and so these advertisements can be and are played unaltered on the radio (p. 276); in English, by contrast, a figure wearing a white coat and glasses will be given credence even if using regionally accented informal English. We may link this to another linguistic opportunity exploited by Egyptians, namely, the deliberate and usually whimsical mixture of Classical and Colloquial called fushammiyya or fus ammiyya studied by Gabriel Rosenbaum.

That leaves Jerome Lentin, whose paper has been left till last partly because it is by far the longest (a small monograph of more than sixty pages, extracted from his Paris doctoral thesis of 1982) and partly because it is a contribution to the history of sociolinguistic variationalism, in which Lentin and Holes are both pioneers, as well as close contemporaries. Where they differ is that Lentin's observations on Damascene speech in the 1982 thesis were made independently of the principles formulated by William Labov and his school (though not in unawareness of them), while Holes in 1987 applied Labov's methodology overtly to the Bahraini dialects. Lentin surmises, at the risk of offending the editors of this volume, that he and Holes nevertheless share a certain scepticism about the necessity of the Labovian approach in arriving at conclusions that could have been reached without it.

After these prefatory remarks, Lentin treats us to forty-seven selected features of Damascene Arabic which he accounts for in the variationist sociolinguistic categories of age, gender, ancestry, residence, occupation, religion, class, and education. The function of speech as a group identifier comes over very clearly, likewise the absence of a single norm, which is replaced by constant choices from the linguistic options in reaction to the fluid social context. The result is a heightened sensitivity to the speech habits of others, and Lentin's list (pp. 114f.) of the ways in which the social affiliation of speakers is revealed (or betrayed!) brings to mind Chaim Rabin's enumeration (Ancient West-Arabian, 1951, 21) of the terms used by the medieval Arabs to characterize tribal speech: they are all essentially pejorative, denoting what sounded like abnormalities or defects to the ears of members of a different speech community, which is not surprising when we consider that Arabic was born in the part of the world where the shibboleth was invented.

Most readers will agree with the editors that only Clive Holes could properly translate the poetic eulogy that introduces the work. And if they really do mean "discretely" on p. vii instead of the expected "discreetly," that is a matter between them and Holes's secretary. But "Bands" should definitely be replaced by "Volumes" on p. 108. The reviewer, however, is grateful to the editors for this valuable collection of illuminating studies, and for the opportunity to append his own congratulations to the dedicatee.


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Author:Carter, Michael
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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