Archive for the ‘lexicography’ Tag

The 16th-century scribe ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz from Mardin   1 comment

CFMM 466, f. 296v

Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) ms 466 is a copy of Išoʿ bar ʿAli’s Syriac-Arabic lexicon dated 1857 AG (= 1545/6 CE). The script is a very fine Serṭo — descriptions of scribal hands can tend to sound like you’re talking about wine! — with just the right amount of flourishes for the scribe to show some uniqueness while still making his text simply legible. After the lexicon proper ends, there is a short list (see the image above) of words that have šīn in Syriac but sīn in Arabic, and vice versa; note that a later reader has marked the pair sahrā and šahr with an X, and rightly given the Arabic meaning of sahrā as qamar (“moon”) rather than, strictly speaking, šahr (“month”), although the two sibilant words are surely related, just as “moon” and “month” are in English and other Germanic languages (but not Indo-European more generally).

On the same page as this little comparative list comes the colophon, written sideways, from which we learn both the scribe’s name and the date of copying. Aside from the frequently found terms of scribal self-deprecation, the colophon informs us that ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz completed the work “in a small amount of time in the year 1857 AG in the monastery of the see of Antioch, Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān”, and some of this information is repeated again in a Garšūnī colophon on ff. 300v-301r. This scribe, whose hand penned these lovely letters, was from Mardin, he tells us, specifically the part known as Qāṣur or Qāṣrā (see Payne Smith col. 3708 for references to these toponyms). I was so inspired by the work of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, that I composed a few humble lines in his honor, to be sung to the tune of Abdul Abulbul Amir:

Of the sons of Mardin there’s scribes and there’s monks,

And many who write in Serṭo.

But of all of those writers, there’s none, I believe,

So precious as ʿAbdulʿazīz!

The note above the colophon is a purchase note in Garšūnī, where we learn that the scribe’s own son, Rabbān Pawlos of Al-Manṣūrīya (from which place we also know a female scribe named Maryam from about the same time period as ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz), bought the book in February of 1886 AG (= 1575 CE) from a certain Rabbān Šemʿon known as Ibn Al-Qarya (?).

Recently digitized books from HMML’s collections   1 comment

I want to highlight five books from HMML’s rare books collections that we have recently photographed and made available at Vivarium. The first three are slim booklets with some very basic information about Arabic, Persian, and Syriac in the form of a guide to reading and pronunciation with some short well-known texts in the particular language and a Latin translation. The Alphabetum Arabicum (1592) has  the Lord’s Prayer, the Annunciation, Psalm 113 (112), Psalm 117 (116), and John 1:1-9.[1] Similar introductory books were published for Gǝˤǝz (Alphabetum Aethiopicum sive Gheez et Amhharicum [Rome, 1789]),[2] Armenian (Alphabetum Armenum), Coptic (Alphabetum Cophtum sive Aegyptiacum), Persian (Alphabetum Persicum), and Syriac (Alphabetum Syro-Chaldaeum), all of these printed by the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide press. Later the Dominicans at Mosul would print the comparable Syllabaire ou exercices de lecture arabe à l’usage des enfants (1862), Syllabaire chaldéen, 3d ed. (1884) for east Syriac script, and Livre de lecture syrienne, 3d ed. (1884) for west Syriac script.[3] These digitized booklets on Arabic, Persian, and Syriac (the script in this one is mostly Serṭo) may be of interest for the history of scholarship in these languages, typography, and perhaps even pedagogy.

Alphabetum arabicum (Rome, 1592).

Alphabetum persicum, cum Oratione dominicali et Salutatione angelica (Rome, 1783).

Alphabetum syro-chaldaeum, una cum Oratione dominicali, Salutatione angelica, et Symbolo fidei (Rome, 1797).

The next volume, completely unrelated to the previous three, is Budge’s The Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Life of Hannâ (Saint Anne), and the Magical Prayers of ‘Ahĕta Mîkâêl (London, 1900). Only 300 copies were printed (“for private circulation”), of which this copy is no. 79. No one who has not seen this ponderous tome will divine its heft and size merely from viewing the images on a screen, but I vouch for its massive dimensions. To be sure, some of the criticisms that R.H. Charles leveled against another of Budge’s huge books are fitting here (see in Hermathena 10 [1899]: 397-406, available here), too, but, at the very least, many of the plates are worth examining.

The last book is Giovanni Battista Ferrari’s Ktābā da-bnāt qālē suryāyātā = Nomenclator Syriacus (Rome, 1622), a Syriac-Latin glossary (based on onomasiological rather than semasiological principles). HMML also has a copy of Thomas Obicini’s similar work, Thesaurus Arabico-Syro-Latinus, which was posthumously published at Rome, 1636.[4]

[1] For Arabic HMML also has the similar, but longer, Fabrica overo dittionario della lingua volgare arabica, et italiana by Dominico Germano de Silesia (Rome, 1636); it includes some partially vocalized Christian phrases and texts, such as the Christian basmallah, the Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria, the Apostles’ Creed, Ten Commandments, Salve Regina, and the Athanasian Creed.

[2] Note also the Chaldeae [sic!] seu Aethiopicae Linguae Institutiones (Rome, 1630). HMML also has this volume; it has already been photographed and will be added to Vivarium in the near future.

[3] See further M.W. Albin, “Preliminary bibliography of Arabic books printed by the Dominican fathers in Mosul,” MIDEO 16 (1983): 247-260, and J.F. Coakley and David G.K. Taylor, “Syriac Books Printed at the Dominican Press, Mosul,” in, George A. Kiraz, ed., Malphono w-Rabo d-Malphone. Studies in Honor of Sebastian P. Brock, Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 3 (Piscataway, 2008), pp. 71-110.

[4] This work is based, without attribution, on Eliya of Nisibis’ Kitāb al-turjumān fī taˤlīm luġat al-suryān, of which I am preparing a new edition—there is an older one by Lagarde—based partly on six newly identified manuscripts of the work, including the oldest dated copy.

English loanwords in Arabic: data from the early 20th century   2 comments

Not too long ago Riccardo Contini highlighted the importance of travel literature for scholars interested in the diachronic investigation of Arabic by examining Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta (first published 1888).[1] Similar, though more paltry, data useful for this kind of linguistic research may also be found in a somewhat unexpected resource, and it is this resource I would like to point out here.

I spent part of the weekend reading H.L. Mencken’s excellent The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the Unites States, originally published in 1919, followed by revised editions, the last of which, the fourth, appeared in 1936. Mencken also augmented this first thick volume with two equally sized supplements. I can hardly praise the book highly enough, both for the information it provides and for the delightful prose and wit in which that information is couched. At the end of the first volume, Mencken offers some remarks on a number of languages spoken in immigrant communities in America, and Arabic is happily among that number, his data having been provided by H.I. Katibah and S. Baddour (pp. 683-685). Here (with modified orthography) are some of the English-influenced lexical items,[2] mostly verbs, he lists, along with a few remarks of my own:

  • sannas earn a cent, as in l-yom mā sannasnā, “We didn’t make a cent today.”
  • šannaj make change (money)
  • šarraj charge
  • darrav drive
  • narvas become nervous
  • layyat be late, as in l-trēn mlayyit, “The train is late.”
  • baḏar bother, as in lā tbaḏirni, “Don’t bother me.”
  • barrak park
  • sammak smoke. The original way to say “I smoked” is šaribtu l-duḫ()āna, “I drank smoke (or tobacco),” etc. (Lane p. 1526, col. 1),[3] but subsequently a denominative II verb from duḫān developed: daḫḫantu (Wehr, Dictionary, p. 317). Cf. D.R. Woodhead and W. Beene, A Dictionary of Iraqi Arabic: Arabic-English, pp. 154-155, 238.
  • faksan fix, as in hāda muš mfaksan, “This isn’t fixed.”
  • [fabrak manufacture. This word is included in the list as though it were an English loan, but it much more likely derives from French fabriquer.]
  • haldab hold up
  • sayyan sign (a document)
  • kaddam say “God damn”
  • some English nouns with Arabic feminine plural marker added: hawsāt (houses), starāt (stores), bazāt (bosses), šuzāt (shoes [as noted in the list, a plural of a plural!]).

As can be clearly seen, most of the verbs, whether taken as from triliteral or quadriliteral roots, are put into the phonological and morphological pattern of the II verb, and this practice is common across Semitic languages for making new verbs, often from nouns (denominative). It’s too bad more examples were not given for these lexical items, but we at least see some participles for the verbs, both active (mlayyit) and passive (mfaksan). Especially interesting are haldab and kaddam, both of which each come from two words in English.


[1] “Travel Literature as a Linguistic Source: Another Look at Doughty’s Najdi Arabic Glossary,” in F.M. Fales and G.F. Grassi, eds., CAMSEMUD 2007: Proceedings of the 13th Italian Meeting of Afro-Asiatic Linguistics, Held in Udine, May 21st-24th, 2007 (Padua, 2010), pp. 305-314.

[2] On evidence of language contact in Modern Standard Arabic see Hans Wehr, Die Besonderheiten des heutigen Hocharabischen mit Berücksichtigung der Einwirkung der europäischen Sprachen (Berlin, 1934), and Majed F. Saˤid, Lexical Innovation through Borrowing in Modern Standard Arabic (Princeton, 1967).

[3] Arabic is not alone in this idiom. As one example outside the Semitic languages note the old expression in German “Tabak trinken”: “Tabak rauchen” dates only from the second half of the 17th century (Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, vol. 8, col. 244). Among Neo-Aramaic dialects, we may similarly cite, at least, šty “drink” used for both liquids and tobacco in the dialects covered by Yona Sabar’s Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary (Wiesbaden, 2002), p. 305. In the dialect of Barwar, inter alia, the verb grš “pull, drag” is used for smoking (G. Khan, The Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Barwar, vol. 2, Lexicon, [Leiden, 2008], p. 1128; idem, A Grammar of Neo-Aramaic: The Dialect of the Jews of Arbel [Leiden, 1999], p. 553; idem, The Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dialect of Sulemaniyya and Ḥalabja [Leiden, 2004], p. 584). Maclean (A Dictionary of the Dialects of Vernacular Syriac [Oxford, 1901], pp 58, 314) cites both verbs for this meaning. The use of the verb “pull, drag” instead of “drink” may be due to Iranian influence: cf. Persian چبوق كشيدان “smoke a pipe” (Steingass, Dictionary, p. 387) and سگار كشيدان “smoke a cigar” (p. 690).

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