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Dictionary of Post-Classical Yemeni Arabic.

As Wolfdietrich Fischer of Erlangen-Numberg University (and the editor of the Grundriss der arabischen Philologie, vol. 1: Sprachwissenschaft [Wiesbaden, 1982]) is always fond of saying at annual meetings of the North American Conference on Afroasiatic Linguistics (NACAL), Yemen is a museum of Arabic dialects. Piamenta, a retired professor of Arabic language and literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, well known for his book on The Uses of Tenses, Aspects and Moods in the Arabic Dialect of Jerusalem Jerusalem, 1964; originally his dissertation done under the guidance of the late H. J. Polotsky [d. August, 1991] and S. D. Goitein), has turned his attention over the past few years to the present dictionary of colloquial medieval and modern Yemenite Arabic dialects. These two volumes are handsomely prepared camera-ready copy by Between the Lines, Ltd., Jerusalem, containing a very legible Orientalist (Semitological) transcription plus elegant and very readable, albeit small, Hebrew and Arabic scripts. Not only do the data come from the very rich and abundant publications on Yemenite dialects by specialists (abbreviations of the references are on pp. xv-xxiv of vol. I), but the author also utilized the unpublished Yemenite glossaries of Otto Jastrow, Peter Behnstedt, and Yehuda Ratzaby on Jiblah, Tihamah, and San'a' dialects, respectively, as well as hundreds of old Yemenite manuscripts located all over the world. In addition, all the written materials were supplemented by data from many Yemenite informants who emigrated to Israel from different regions of their native country.

The reason that Fischer's statement mentioned above is accurate is that, as the author states, "Yemeni Arabic [is] quite unknown beyond its boundaries.... Its wealthy lexicon is based on extremely conservative dialects of formerly roadless regions, characterized by ancient features ... words borrowed during the ages from local ancient South-Arabian (Sabaean) ... " (p. v). The fascinating Yemenite vocabulary was then put through a high-powered comparative telescope by collating these data with those of the Arabic lexicons of Edward William Lane (1863-1893) and J. G. Hava (1915). The result is a major accomplishment destined to be the classic work in this field for many years to come.

Let us briefly examine some of the fascinating data Piamenta has gathered. The Classical Arabic (= CA) verb [delta]ahaba 'to go' survives (not with this meaning, though) as dihib (a) 'to get lost, be off', although there is ample attestation of rah 'to go' as well (yirih loh 'he should go') as in Form II, rawwah 'to go somewhere'. The root r y survives as the verb 'to see': niwra 'we shall see', rit 'you saw', etc. (p. 171). Although saf also occurs for 'to see', this root in Aden means 'to treat; behave toward someone' (p. 271). For further comparative details on this amazing archaism (cf. Hebrew ra a), the reader may consult my "The Verb 'See' in Arabic Dialects," in The Fergusonian Impact: From Phonology to Society, ed. J. Fishman, et al. (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1986), I:211-21.

The verb 'to sit' is another unbelievable story in itself. CA jalas turns up exactly as such and also as jilis, galas, jalass, jass, and gass with considerable variation in the imperfect, too. CA ga ada 'to sit' does not strangely enough) have that meaning anywhere in Yemen; ga ad (u) means 'to spend time' and is also quite well attested as 'to be' or as an auxiliary. There is another verb 'to sit', viz., ganbar or gambar (p. 414), much more authentic in the assimilated form, also attested as an auxiliary, which should be compared with the very special Sudanese Colloquial Arabic gennib 'to sit', the source of the Juba Arabic geni and Ki-Nubi gi- (with other vowels being possible) present progressive'. Doubtless, also related is the Yemenite verb gammar 'to sit' (p. 412), which appears to result from the further assimilation of the b to an m.

Of particular interest to dialectologists is the development of emphatics in words which do not have them in CA nor, to my knowledge, in dialects elsewhere. Four examples will suffice: ams and amseh 'yesterday' = CA amsi; bass, f bissah' cat' = many other dialects' bisse and MSA bass(a), pl. bisas (Piamenta lists biss, bissah or bisseh 'a cry to frighten away cats' but not with the meaning 'cat' itself [p. 30]); walbittah `definitely' (p. 19) = CA al-battata (also battatan); jamus 'buffalo' (p. 59) for CA jamus. The tentative conclusion to be drawn here is that Yemenite dialects, like bedouin ones in general and male vs. female speech, have many more cases of emphatics than other (sedentary) dialects, although it will be admitted that the reverse process of deemphasis or a lack of emphatics can also be found. Consider: baddixah, coll. baddix 'watermelon' (p. 33) with a somewhat bizarre variant bardix (p. 26) for CA battix (also bittix) and radan (u) 'to talk' (with a semantic shift) for CA ratana 'to talk gibberish'.

Piamenta has obviously invested years in this lexicographic masterpiece. All Arabists owe it to themselves to see why Fischer's dictum (see the beginning of our remarks here) is an enlightened perspective. Although he explains why he did not use his teacher's unpublished Yemenite data (" ... my great teacher and world renowned Orientalist the late Prof S. D. Goitein [1900-1985] ... " [p. vii]), including an enormous card file of some 7,000 items, he remains, nevertheless, the most qualified scholar to publish Goitein's raw materials, which were willed to the manuscripts department of the National and University Library in Jerusalem. Comparative Arabic dialectology sincerely hopes that publishing Goitein's materials will be Piamenta's next monumental project.
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Title Annotation:2 vols.
Author:Kaye, Alan S.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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