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Neo-Mandaic in Fin de Siecle Baghdad.


One of the earliest attested texts in Neo-Mandaic, and one of the few witnesses to the now-extinct Iraqi dialect of Neo-Mandaic, was a letter first published among the texts in the fifth volume of Jacques de Morgan's Mission scientifique en Perse. (1) Unfortunately, de Morgan offered no translation of this text or of any of the other Mandaic texts he claimed to have collected in Persia between 1889 and 1891. Nearly a century after de Morgan's mission, Rudolf Macuch transcribed this text with the help of his informant Nasser Saburi of Ahvaz, Iran, and supplied a translation in his Neumandaische Chrestomathie. (2) With the help of my informant, Nasser Sobbi of Flushing, New York, USA, I have prepared a new transcription, using the system I developed for the Neo-Mandaic dialect of Khorramshahr, (3) and a new translation, filling some of the gaps in Macuch's earlier attempt and offering a few variant readings in the process.

Although the author of the letter offers little information about himself beyond his name, "Hirmez," many details suggest that it was written in Baghdad sometime during the final years of the nineteenth century. The vocabulary shows strong Ottoman influence; the names given for the gemstones appear to be derived from Ottoman Turkish--the words zimrut, iaqut, and clmas call to mind the Turkish forms zumrut, yakut, and elmas rather than the original Arabic forms zwnurrud, yaqut, and [sup.c.almas]--and the coins used as legal tender in these transactions are Ottoman gold liras and mejidis. The former was a gold coin first introduced in 1843, equivalent to one hundred piastres or five mejidis, and the latter was a silver coin equivalent to twenty piastres, which was first minted in 1844 during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecit I (1839-1861). The author of the letter is accosted by a zabut or officer (Classical Arabic ddbit-, which is pronounced Sabut in Baghdad), who speaks to him in the colloquial Arabic of Baghdad. Likewise, the one place name mentioned in the letter, Khanezghan, is the name of a Baghdad arcade, and while two of the addressees are not immediately identifiable, Macuch identified the third (Patre Anastase) as Pere Anastase-Marie de St. Elie (1866-1947) of the Carmelite Mission in Baghdad. (4)

Pere Anastase-Marie, known to Iraqis as Anastas al-Karmali, was the editor of the monthly journal Lugatu l-cArab and an intimate of the French Orientalist Louis Massignon. He was also deeply involved with the Mandaean community. When the Iraqi historian Abdul Razzak al-Hassani revived the old libel that the Mandaeans are worshippers of the stars and planets in his 1931 book al-Sabi'unfi Hadirihim wa-Madlhim ["The Sabians in Their Present and Past"], Pere Anastase-Marie played an important role in their defense. The Mandaean priest Sheikh Dukhayil, then the ganzibra of Nasiriya, initiated a suit against al-Hassani and presented a copy of the Ginza Rba before a court of law in Baghdad. During this trial, Pere Anastase-Marie served as a translator and objective witness, translating the passages in which the worship of the stars and the planets is explicitly rejected. During the course of his long association with the Mandaeans, he also amassed a collection of Mandaic manuscripts, which Drower and Macuch cited as one of the primary sources for their dictionary of Mandaic. (5)

Given that the letter was apparently written in Baghdad and addressed to a "Patre Anas-tase" who was not only a friend of the Mandaean community but also literate in Mandaic, Macuch's hypothesis would appear to be well founded. It is unlikely that there were multiple Mandaeophone Pere Anastases running around Baghdad at the turn of the century. There is only one possible objection to this hypothesis: at the time when this letter was allegedly collected by de Morgan, the future Pere Anastase-Marie was only twenty-three years old and still known to the world as Pierre Paul Marini. He would not adopt the name Pere Anastase-Marie de St. Elie until he was ordained in 1894, three years after de Morgan's mission had concluded. (6) Furthermore, although Pere Anastase-Marie was born in Baghdad and spent most of his life there, he was living in Belgium and France at the time that de Morgan collected his texts. For these reasons, it is likely that the letter was actually written after 1894, once Pere Anastase-Marie had been ordained and had returned to Baghdad, but obviously before September 6, 1904, the date on which the text was published. It is not immediately clear how a letter written in Baghdad sometime during the late 1890s or early 1900s came to be published together with a group of texts allegedly collected in Persia a decade earlier.


Although Clement Huart, who wrote the introduction to the volume, described the language as "un arameen fort corrumpu," most of the vocabulary is recognizably of Aramaic origin. (7) There are a few loans from Arabic, including the roots of three verbs (tawwah 'he tossed' from t-w-h, laqradet 'you don't want' from r-d-w, and Iahattit 'I didn't speak' from h-d-6) and two conjunctions (inkan 'if from Arabic 'in kana and (va-)lakin 'but' from Arabic wa-lakinna). It is also worth noting that the numbers given in the letter are derived from Persian rather than Arabic or Mandaic (yek 'one' from Persian yak, so 'three' from Persian se, pien 'five' from Persian panj), which is typical of spoken Mandaic even today. Likewise, the conjunction agar 'if is of Persian origin, even though it is here placed in the mouth of the Arab officer.

The letter follows the standard orthography found in other Neo-Mandaic texts. With the exception of / [epsilon]/, all vowels are represented, but without any indication of length or quality. The letter <c> consistently represents an epenthetic vowel, either /e/ or /c/. The letters <b>, <g>, <k>, (p), and <t> may represent either stops or spirants; <b> may indicate /b/, /v/, or /w/; <g> indicates both /g/ and /B/; <k> indicates both /k/ and / [chi]/ (p) indicates both /p/ and /f/; and <t> indicates both /t/ and /u/. Neo-Mandaic orthography often differs from that of Classical Mandaic by using <u> to represent /w/ or /v/ even where they are reflexes of Classical Mandaic /b/. As Neo-Mandaic contains several phonemes not found in Classical Mandaic, several letters from the original alphabet have been modified to represent these phonemes by the addition of two dots placed below. Consequently, <S> may indicate /t [integral]/, /[??]/, or /[??]/; <d> indicates /[delta]'/; and <h> indicates /h/. As in the Classical manuscripts, emendations are indicated by a row of dots placed beneath the corrupt text, with the emended text placed above. In the transcription, the former has been indicated by striking through the text and the latter by indicating the letters in superscript.

Given the relative obscurity of Neo-Mandaic (as compared to other dialects of Aramaic such as Classical Mandaic), it may be useful to preface my remarks on the text with a sketch of its grammar. (8) Despite the complete collapse of the Classical system of states, and the obsolescence of the most common Classical plural morpheme -ia, much of the morphology of the noun has been preserved. While most nouns, masculine and feminine alike, are marked with the plural morpheme -an-, a number of other plural morphemes exist, which can indicate other distinctions beyond number. The feminine plural morpheme -(w/y)at- most commonly appears on nouns marked explicitly with the feminine singular morpheme -t-, although it can also be found on the plural forms of many feminine nouns not marked as such in the singular. Most loan words take the plural morpheme -(h)a, although a few retain the plural forms of their source languages. Additionally, most of the heteroclite plurals attested in the Classical language have been retained.

The forms of the pronoun (both independent and enclitic) are illustrated in Table 1.
Table 1: Personal Pronouns

Person  Masculine Sg.         Feminine Sg.         Plural

3rd     huwi           (-i)   hida          (-a)   honni   (-u)
2nd     at             (-ak)  at            (-ek)  atton   (-kon)
1st                           ana (-e)             ani     (-an)

The independent pronouns are optionally employed to represent the subject of a transitive or intransitive verb. Whenever the singular forms appear before a verb, their final vowel is apocopated. The enclitic pronouns are in complementary distribution with them; they may represent the object of a transitive verb, a nominal or verbal complement or adjunct in a prepositional phase, or indicate possession on the noun. On nouns of foreign origin, they are affixed after the morpheme -d-. (9)

Neo-Mandaic demonstrative pronouns (Table 2) distinguish between near-deixis and far-deixis in the singular, but not in the plural. They also make no distinction in gender. The original far-deictic plural demonstrative pronoun ahni 'those' (Classical hania) has assumed the function of a general plural demonstrative pronoun. It is also often used in place of the independent third plural personal pronoun. The demonstrative pronouns precede the noun they modify. In this position the final vowel of the singular demonstratives is apocopated (these are the forms listed as "contextual," e.g., a sersana 'these religions'). Note that the plural demonstrative does not appear in the contextual form; instead, the singular forms are used before plural nouns (the plural morpheme indicating plurality of the whole noun phrase). Neo-Mandaic also has two locative demonstrative pronouns, hand / ehna 'here' and ekkak 'there'.
Table 2: Demonstrative Pronouns

Isolated  Contextual  Gloss  Isolated  Contextual  Gloss

aha       a           this   aku       ak          that
ahni      -           these  ahni      -           those

The Neo-Mandaic verb (Table 3) may appear in two aspects (perfective and imperfective), three moods (indicative, subjunctive, and imperative), and three voices (active, middle, and passive). As in other Semitic languages, the majority of verbs are built upon a triconsonantal root, each of which may yield one or more of six verbal stems: the G-stem or basic stem, the D-stem or transitivizing-denominative verbal stem, the C-stem or causative verbal stem, and the tG-, tD-, and tC-stems, to which a derivational morpheme, t-, was prefixed before the first root consonant. This morpheme has disappeared from all roots save for those possessing a sibilant as their initial radical, such as est [delta] ba est [delta] bi (meg [delta] bi)) 'to be baptized' in the G-stem, or estallam - estallam (mestallam) in the C-stem, in which the stop and the sibilant have undergone metathesis. A seventh stem, the Q-stem, is reserved exclusively for those verbs possessing four root consonants.
Table 3: Verbal Stems

Stem     Perfective     Imperative     Imperfective     Gloss

G-stem   g [delta] tal  g [delta] tol  gatel            to
(a-o)                                                   kill

G-stem   d [delta] hel  d [delta] hol  ddhel            to
(e-o)                                                   be afraid

G-stem   s [delta] kob  S [delta] kob  sakeb            to
(o-o)                                                   lie down

tG-stem  epseq          epseq          mepseq           to
                                                        be cut on

D-stem   kammer         kammer         [delta] mkammer  to

tD-stem  kammar         kammar         me kammar        to
                                                        turn back

C-stem   ahreb          ahreb          m ahreb          to

tC-stem  ettar          ettar          mettar           to
                                                        wake up

Q-stem   basqer         basqer         [delta] mbasqer  to

The principal parts upon which all inflected forms of the verb are built are the perfective base (represented by the third masculine singular form of the perfective), the imperative base (represented by the masculine singular form of the imperative), and the imperfective base (represented by the active participle in the absolute state). In the G-stem, the second syllable of the perfective base can have one of three thematic vowels: /a/, /e/d, and /o/. Transitive verbs predominantly belong to the first, which is the most common of the three, whereas the latter two typically characterize intransitives and stative verbs. Transitive verbs also commonly yield a passive participle, which takes the form C [delta] Cil-, e.g., g [delta] te1 'killed (', g [delta] tila, and p1. g [delta] tilen. The D-stem is represented here by a single frozen form, the passive participle [delta] msabba 'praised', which belongs to the III-weak root class. The C-stem is likewise represented by a single III-weak passive participle, mahba 'kept'.

The inflected forms of the verbs are produced by adding personal suffixes to the principal parts (Table 4). The forms given in parentheses were cited by Macuch, who noted that they were infrequently found and not consistently used. (10) Before personal morphemes beginning with a vowel, the vowel of the syllable immediately preceding the suffix is deleted and the former coda becomes the onset for the new syllable. The addition of the morpheme may also cause the stress to shift, resulting in the reduction of vowels in pretonic syllables. (11) Enclitic object suffixes also have the same effect upon preceding syllables, affecting the form of the personal morpheme.
Table 4: Verbal Inflection

                     Singular                               Plural

Person  Perfective  Imperative  Imperfective  Perfective  Imperative

3m      - [phi]                 -[phi]        -yon
3f      -at                     -a            (-yan)
2 m     -t          -[phi]      -et           -ton        -yon
2f      (-it)       -[phi]                    (-ten)      (-yen)
1       -it                     -na           -ni

Person  Imperfective

3m      -en
2 m     -etton
1       -enni

All third person imperfective forms take the infixed morpheme -l- before the object suffix. This morpheme appears to be derived from the Classical Mandaic preposition (c)I, which serves to mark specific (determined) objects; a reflex of this morpheme continues to serve the same function in the modern dialect. (12) The final consonant of the third plural personal suffix -en regularly assimilates to this morpheme, resulting in the form -el(l)-. Additionally, the second singular and first plural morphemes assume the forms -at and -nan(n)- respectively, before object suffixes.

A very large and productive class of verbs in Neo-Mandaic consists of a verbal element and a non-verbal element, which form a single semantic and syntactic unit. The non-verbal element is most often a noun such as [delta] bada 'deed' in the compound [delta] bada [delta] bada [delta] bod ([delta] bed) 'to work or to do something', or an adjective such as h [delta] yana 'alive' in the compound hayana tamma 'to survive', although prepositions such as qar 'at', in the compound qar tamma 'to be born to s.o.', are attested. In many of these compounds the verbal element is a "light" verb, which serves only to indicate verbal inflections such as person, tense, mood, and aspect; the meaning of these compounds is primarily derived from the non-verbal element, which always precedes the verbal element. The most common light verbs are abad ~ abod (abed) 'to do', [delta] hab - [delta] hob (aheb) 'to give', m [delta] ha ~ m [delta] hi (mahi) 'to hit', and tamma 'to become'. Although phrasal verbs similar to these are attested in Classical Mandaic, most Neo-Mandaic phrasal verbs are calqued upon Persian phrasal verbs, and many of the nonverbal elements are Persian or Arabic loan words.


TOP: msabamarai

1. kusta asinkun ia-rabanai tauana u-iaqirana

2. asuta u-zakuta u-hitra u-busma u-tabuta u-rabuta u-basmuta

3. titi.lauaikun 1-zihua d-ainai tabana u-iaqirana rabanan Pa-

4. tria San u-Patria Anastas u-Patri Putriz mzahirlikun Malka

5. Mara d-Rahul a [sup.c.nkan] msailitun mn Sarai min sahdi-

6. kun ginza sbira ktai lakin qabin min hiia qadmaiia m-

7. zahirlikun ia-rabanai ama zgit gub Kan Egan saqit

8. Iah * bugat ka iiki iahudia taris qauid zimrut

9. u-iagut Imas ana habtilia zimrudin [sup.c.bidlia] mar

10. qabin masidi ia-marih bidnia amartilia bdia a-

11. na qihibnak masidih [sup.c.malai] pirsa subah zgit

12. ama subah qari hauliiih hautilia iak masidia

13. atun iahudiia malunai laqamzabnatia martilu sulima. ra

14. ia-siti ia-zabutia ata.malai bis hal zamrut

15. martilia talatat lirat apqil kisia tuba. pin ma-

16. sidia diria zga qimalai agar lagradat pin masidi

17. qdarinu minak ana lahatit urkia aha hukmu ka

18. qahawia balakin qimbarik min Malka d-Nhura minatu

19. matila tum hiianin bta alma hauatun basima

20. rahim dilkun Hirmiz

TOP: [delta] msabba Mare!

Praised Be my Lord!

1. Kusta asenkon, ya rabbdne tabana u yaqirana May the Truth preserve you, my good and esteemed sirs, may

2. asuta u zakuta u hitra u busma u tabuta u rabbuta u basmuta healing and victory, happiness and delight, goodness, greatness, and pleasantness

3. titi alawekon, l -zehwa d-ine, tabana u yaqirana rabbanan, Pa-come to you, the splendor of my eye, our good and esteemed sirs, Fr.

4. tre Jean u Patre Anastase u patre Patrice, amzaherl akon Malka Jean, Fr. Anastase, and Fr. Patrice, may the King Lord of Greatness protect you.

5. Mara d-Rabuta. Inkan amsieletton min care, min jand a-If you ask about my remedy, thanks to your efforts

6. kon genza sabira ekte, lakin qabin min Heyyi Qadmayi am-I am very well, but I want the First Life to

7. zaherl akon. Ya rabbane, ama ezgit gaw Xanizgdn. Saqit protect you. My lords, today I went to Khanezghan. I went up

8. elle * buqat. Ekkd ya yeki yahudi tares qdbed ziimrut to the [...]. There was one deaf Jew who did emeralds,

9. u yaqut [u] elmas. Ana habtelli zumrud-din dbedle. amar rubies, and diamonds. I gave him my emerald to do for me. He said,

10. "Qabin majidi, ya mare, [delta] bedni. " amartelli, "Abdi. A-"I want a mejidi, milord, to do it" I said to him, i4Do it.

11. na qahebnak majidi." amalley "Persd subah." Ezgit I will give you a mejidi." He said to me, "Tomorrow morning." I went

12. ama subah qari, hableyyi, habtelli yek majidi. to him this morning, he gave it to me, I gave him a mejidi.

13. Aton yahudi, dmallonne "Laqamzabnati?" amartellu, "So lira." The Jews came, they said to me, "Won't you sell it?" I said to them, "Three liras.

14. Ya siti, ya zabuti ata, amalle, "Bies hal zumrut?" A while later, an officer came, he said to me [in Arabic] "How much is this emerald?"

15. amartelli, "Talalat lirat." Afq' el-kisi, tawwah pien ma-I said to him, [in Arabic] "Three lira." He took out his purse, tossed five mejidis,

16. jidi, dari [u] ezga. Qzmalle, "Agar laqradet pien majidi, took it and left. He says to me, "If you don't want the five mejidis,

17. q [delta] darinu minnak." Ana lahatlit orkL Aha hukmu, ekka I'll take them from you." I did not speak with him. This is their "justice," that's

18. q ahawi. Va-lakin q [delta] mbarek min Malka d-a nhura manatu the way it is. But I pray that the King of Light will

19. mattila turn h [delta] yanen ba-ta alma. Hawetton basima bring their due, until they are living in that world. Be well,

20. rahem dilkon, Hirmez. your friend, Hirmez.


TOP: The phrase [delta] msabba Mare "may my Lord (= God) be praised!" is a standard formula found at the beginning of many Mandaean manuscripts, [delta] msabba 'praised' is one of a small number of D-stem passive participles which appear in the modern language, albeit as frozen forms.

LI. 1-3: These lines contain a series of introductory formulae commonly found in Classical Mandaic manuscripts as well as in the incantation texts.

L. 1: asenkon (Classical asainkun) "heal you (!" This is a third feminine singular G-stem imperative form asai with a second masculine plural object suffix kun. As is typical for Classical Mandaic verbs, the morpheme -n(i)- intervenes between the stem and the object suffix, provided that the object is plural. (13)

L. 2: titi (Classical titia 'she comes'). This is the third feminine singular G-stem imperfect form of the root '-t- w/y 'to come'. The prefix conjugation (or imperfect) is no longer used in colloquial Mandaic, apart from a few frozen expressions such as this.

L. 4: amzaherbkon "may he protect you." This is a subjunctive form consisting of the D-stem participle amzahher 'protecting (' without the indicative morpheme q([delta])-. The object kon is introduced by the enclitic preposition l([delta])-, as is typical for third person imper-fective forms. The gemination of the middle radical is lost as the stress shifts to the third syllable of the stem.

Malka Mara d-Rabuta (Classical Mara d-Rabuta). Mara d-Rabuta 'Lord of Greatness' is an epithet of the Supreme Being. He is also identified as Heyyi Qadmayi (Classical Hiia Qadmaiia) 'the First Life' and Malka d-[delta] nhura (Classical Malka d-Nhura) 'King of Light' in this letter (11. 6 and 18 respectively).

L. 5: [delta] msieletton "if you ask." This is another subjunctive form, consisting of the D-stem active participle [delta] msielen 'asking (pl.)' and the suffix -ton, with assimilation of the preceding -n. This verb regularly takes an oblique complement with the preposition min. The complement care 'my remedy' is of Persian origin.

L. 6: Genza (Classical ginza 'treasure') serves as the adverb 'very' in Neo-Mandaic. The independent copula ekte 'I am' derives from Classical aitai by means of an unusual, but regular, sound change; cf. Classical mitat and Neo-Mandaic mektat 'she died', or Classical t(a)urita and its modern reflex turekta 'cow'.

Qabin is the first singular imperfective indicative form of the verb 'to want' (Classical b-'-w/y). The stem of the imperfective form is the G-stem active participle bayi in the third person forms (singular and plural) and the suppletive form abi in all other forms.

LL 7: Ezgit (Classical asgit ' went') is the first singular perfective form of the root s-g-w/y 'to go'. In Classical Mandaic this verb was construed as belonging to the C-stem, but in the modern language it has given rise to a new G-stem verb. Its third masculine singular perfective form appears in line 16.

Sdqit (Classical silqit 'I rose'). This verb is derived from the Classical Mandaic root s-l-q, which has become reanalyzed as a middle-weak verb in the modern language.

Ama 'today' is likely a contracted form of a yuma 'this day'.

L. 8: buqat. The meaning of this word, which is unfortunately not clear in the facsimile provided by de Morgan, is the sole mystery that remains in the interpretation of this text. It appears to be buqat, but it could just as easily be duqat, or even burat or durat. Unfortunately, none of these possibilities yields a meaningful reading, Macuch left the word untranslated but transcribed it as sqat, which should mean 'she went up' but does not fit within the context of the sentence. Nasser Sobbi was perplexed by it as well, and glossed it as ab-dor honina 'in a small home'.

Qafred is the third masculine singular imperfective indicative form of the root b-d 'to do'. In the context of this account it appears also to mean 'to cut (gems)'. It appears in its subjunctive form dbed in the following lines.

L. 9: Habtelli (Classical [sup.c.habtilh] 'I gave him') is the first singular perfective form of the root '-h-b (Classical y-h-b) with the third masculine singular object suffix appended by means of the enclitic preposition 1(d)-. Its imperfective equivalent, with the second masculine singular object suffix, appears in line 11.

Ziimriit 'emerald'. Like most words of foreign origin in Neo-Mandaic, but unlike native and nativized vocabulary, zumrut takes the first singular possessive suffix only after an enclitic possessive morpheme, d-.

amar (Classical amar 'he said') is the third masculine singular perfective form of the root '-m-r. This is one of the most common verbs in this text, appearing multiple times in 11. 10-11 and 13-16.

L. 10: Abdi (Classical abdh 'do it!'). The masculine singular imperative form of the root '-b-d with a third masculine singular object suffix.

L 11; When the morpheme -l- is affixed to the form dmar 'he said', the final consonant of the stem assimilates to the following liquid, yielding the form [delta] malle 'he said to me'.

L. PerSa (Classical pirsa 'dawn') has come to mean 'tomorrow' in the contemporary form of the language, much as bukra (Classical Arabic bukrat- 'early morning') has come to mean 'tomorrow' in many contemporary forms of Arabic.

L. 12: Hableyyi "he gave me it." This form illustrates the ditransitive nature of the root '-h-b. Hiatus between the two object suffixes is avoided by the insertion of a glide: [delta] hab 'he gave' + l-e 'to me' + 4 'it' = hableyyi.

L. 13: Aton yahudi "Jews came ... " Note that the subject of the verb is grammatically singular, even though the verb is plural. In Neo-Mandaic, as in Farsi, unmarked nouns can have generic reference--that is, yahudi can mean both 'a/the Jew' and 'Jews' in general.

amallonne "they said to me." Curiously, whenever [delta] maryon 'they said' takes its object, the morpheme -1(a)- is regularly infixed between the stem and the personal morpheme, to which the object is directly affixed; cf.amalle 'he said to me' in 1. 11 above and amartellu 'I said to them' in the same line.

Ldq [delta] mzabnati "won't you sell it?" The stem of the verb,amzabben, is a D-stem active participle of the root z-b-n, the G-stem of which means 'to buy'. The enclitic negative morpheme Id- is prefixed to the verb and takes the primary stress.

L. 14: Ya siti (Classical sita 'hour'). The word 'hour' here takes the indefinite morpheme -i and the quantifier ya 'one', emphasizing its indefiniteness (cf. ya yeki in I. 8). The word sita appears to mean an indefinite period of time in colloquial usage rather than a period of sixty minutes.

Ata "he came." This is the third masculine singular perfective form of the root '-i- w/y 'to come'.

L. 15: Afq' el-kisi "he took out his purse." This is the third masculine singular C-stem perfective form of the root n-p-q 'to go out', followed by the referential object marker el- and an anticipatory third masculine singular object suffix (which has been elided).

L. 16: Dari "he took it." This is the third masculine singular G-stem perfective form of the root d-r- w/y 'to take', followed by the third masculine singular object suffix. A form from the same root, qadarinu, appears in 1. 17; this is the first singular G-stem imperfective form, with the third plural object suffix attached.

Q [delta] malle "he says to me." The stem of this form is the G-stem active participle amer 'saying (' but with the addition of the first masculine singular object suffix by means of the enclitic preposition 1(a)- it comes to resemble the third masculine singular perfective form of the same verb, with the addition of the indicative morpheme q(a)-.

L. 18: qahawi "it will be." This is the third masculine singular G-stem imperfective form of the root h-w- w/y 'to be', with the indicative morpheme q([delta])-. The base of this form is the G-stem active participle hawi.

q[delta]mbarek "I pray." This is a contextual (reduced) form of the first singular D-stem imper-fective of the root b-r-k 'to kneel', with the indicative morpheme. The stem, dmbarrek 'to pray', becomes dtnbarek when the stress shifts from the second syllable to the third after the addition of the first singular personal morpheme -na. In context, this suffix is frequently lost, leaving the shift in stress and the reduction of the geminated middle root consonant as the only distinction between the third person (q[delta]mbdrrek) and the first person (q[delta]mbarek). This verb often takes an oblique complement with min, just like zmsieletton in 1. 5 above.

[delta] manaiu maQila "he will bring their due." The first part of this phrase is clearly the Classical mnata 'portion, share, due' with the third plural possessive suffix. The verb (which follows in I. 19) is the first singular C-stem imperfective of '-i- wly 'to come', i.e., 'to bring', with a third feminine singular object suffix appended by means of the morpheme -l-, referring to the predicate.

L. 19: h [delta] yanen "they are living." This is a predicate adjective construction, with the third plural form of the enclitic copula -en attached to the adjective h [delta] ycina 'living'.

Hawetton "may you (pi.) be." This is another subjunctive form, consisting of the G-stem participle hawen 'being (pl.)' and the suffix -ton, with assimilation of the preceding -n, as in 1. 5 above.

L. 20: dilkon (Classical dilkun 'yours'). This possessive particle is strangely absent from other dialects of Neo-Mandaic. It could either represent a reflex of the Classical form or, more likely, a conscious archaism.


The language of this letter is clearly distinct from Classical Mandaic. Apart from the orthography, numerous features distinguish the two stages of the language. Several loanwords have entered the language, and brought with them new loan phonemes not found in the classical language. The most common classical plural morpheme -ia has largely been replaced by the plural morpheme -an- in most nouns, masculine and feminine alike. The Classical Mandaic imperfect (the Semitic "suffix conjugation") is absent apart from a few frozen forms preserved in formulae. Nevertheless, the language of the letter is still recognizably Mandaic, and many of the features that distinguish it from the language of the earliest Mandaic texts are the result of developments already attested in Classical and Postclassical Mandaic, such as the loanwords and the use of the participial present tense alongside (and gradually to the exclusion of) the imperfect.

The letter presumably reflects the Neo-Mandaic of Baghdad at the turn of the twentieth century. It was composed by a Mandaean resident of that city and addressed to three missionaries resident there, including one (Pere Anastase-Marie) who was born and raised in Baghdad and had spent nearly his entirely life there. Nevertheless, apart from the interpretation of one word, it posed no challenges for a Neo-Mandaic speaker from Iran a full century later. This corroborates Macuch's observation seven decades later that there are no substantial differences in dialect between the communities of Iraq and Iran. (14)

(1.) Jacques de Morgan, Mission scientifique en Perse, tome V (etudes linguEtudes linguistiques), deuxieme partie: textes mandaites (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1904), 282.

(2.) Rudolf Macuch, Neumandaische Chrestomathie (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1989), 184-85.

(3.) Charles G. Haberl, The Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr, Semitica Viva, vol. 45 (Wiesbaden- Harras-sowitz, 2009), 48-49.

(4.) Macuch, Neumandaische Chrestomathie, 184-85.

(5.) Ethel S. Drower and Rudolf Macuch, A Mandaic Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963).

(6.) John S. Guest, The Yezidis: A Study in Survival (London: Routledge, 1987), 148.

(7.) Apparently, neither Huart nor de Morgan bothered to read the texts that they were publishing, as the titles they have attributed to them are completely wrong; see Jorunn J. Buckley, "A Study of the Two Liturgical Collections in J. de Morgan's Textes Mandates," Le Musdon 104 (1991): 191-203. It seems that their knowledge of Man-daic was extremely limited, which makes Huart's verdict on the language all the more unjustifiable. De Morgan's anonymous informant did, however, relate a horrifying tale about how the texts came to assume their present form; see de Morgan, Mission, xiii-xiv.

(8.) Apart from my own description of the dialect of Khorramshahr, the only other full-length description of any dialect of Neo-Mandaic is Rudolf Macuch's Neumanddische Texte im Dialekt von Ahwaz, Semitica Viva, vol. 12 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1993), which provides additional data potentially useful for the comparison of the forms encountered in this letter.

(9.) Charles G. Haber'Haberl, "The Relative Pronoun d- and the Pronominal Suffixes in Mandaic," Journal of Semitic Studies 52 (2007): 71-78.

(10.) Rudolf Macuch, Handbook of Classical and Modern Mandaic (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1965), 257.

(11.) Most commonly the stress falls on the penultimate syllable; for further details see my Neo-Mandaic Dialect of Khorramshahr, 77-80.

(12.) Macuch, Handbook, 436.

(13.) Macuch, Handbook, 356. The origins of this morpheme are not clear to me. An especially helpful anonymous reader of an earlier draft of this article has suggested that it might derive from the consonant -n, which formerly terminated the second and third plural personal morphemes, and which may have been reanalyzed as a redundant agreement marker with plural object suffixes.

(14.) Rudolf Macuch, Zur Sprache und Literatur der Mandaer (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1976), 75.

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Author:Haberl, Charles G.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 1, 2010
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