Friday, March 02, 2007

Destroying Harsusi

I just came across some incredibly unenlightened reporting from Al Watan on one of the more endangered South Arabian languages (not, pace the article, a dialect of Arabic - in fact, it's less closely related to Arabic than Syriac or Hebrew are):

وتحدثنا المعلمة شيخة بنت راشد الهنائي إحدى المشرفات على الفصل التمهيدي ومعلمة مادة التربية الإسلامية بالمدرسة قائلة : الفصول التمهيدية التي سعت إدارة التربية والتعليم بالمنطقة بتنفيذه في مدارسها وللعام الثاني على التوالي يأتي بالعديد من الأهداف والتي تتمحور في الأساس لتشمل فئة من الأطفال الذين يتوقع التحاقهم بالصف الأول الأساسي في العام الدراسي القادم حيث تأتي في مقدمة هذه الأهداف تعويد الطالب على الجو المدرسي من خلال طابور الصباح والانخراط مع الطلبة في المدرسة والفصل الدراسي وتأقلمهم مع المعلمة داخل القاعة الدراسية وغرس التعاون والجو الاجتماعي في نفس الطالب قبل دخوله المدرسة وإكساب الطلبة العديد من المهارات في القراءة والكتابة والعمليات الحسابية وكذلك العمل على القضاء على اللهجة السائدة والطاغية على أهالي هيماء وهي اللهجة الحرسوسية من خلال الحروف والكلمات العربية الصحيحة لأنه في الحقيقة تواجه إدارة المدرسة عند التحاق الطلبة في الصف الأول مشكلة فتجد المعلمة الصعوبة في تفهم هؤلاء الطلبة من خلال هذه اللهجة الحرسوسية
"The teacher of Islamic Upbringing at the school, Sheikha bint Rashid al-Hana'i [s]aid: "The preschools that the Ministry of Education in the area has undertaken to implement in its schools for the second year running will bring about a variety of goals [...] the children will gain many skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we will work on destroying the dialect which is prevalent and rife among the inhabitants of Hayma, the Harsusi dialect, through correct Arabic letters and words, because it truly presents the school administration with a problem when the students enter first grade, because the teacher finds it difficult to understand these students in this Harsusi dialect." (Al Watan, 15 Apr 2005)
I wonder if her echo of the language policies that half-destroyed Welsh or Native American languages is conscious. Somebody get over there and make some recordings of Harsusi before people like this manage to implement these goals!

12 comments:

bulbul said...

Stupid linguistic imperialism aside, wouldn't the article qualify as good news? It tells us that

1. Harsusi is still alive
2. It has enough young native-speakers to be a nuissance (the ratio of Harsusi speakers to Arabic speakers in first grade seems to be quite high).

Or is it possible that our Lady of Incredibly Dumb Ideas wasn't referring to actual Harsusi but some local dialect of Arabic with heavy Harsusi interference?

Somebody get over there
Oh boy, wouldn't I love to get my recording equipment and questionnaires and get out there to do some field research...

Lameen Souag said...

Yes, that is definitely good news. Even if it were a heavily Harsusi-zed Arabic dialect, that would be rather interesting in its own right.

Etienne (AKA friendly neighborhood Romance linguist) said...

A side issue...I'm no Semitic scholar, but it isn't clear that Harsuri (+ its South Arabian realtives) is in fact more distantly related to Arabic than Hebrew or Syriac are: while Hetzron does group the latter three languages within Central Semitic and groups South Arabian and Ethiopian Semitic together (South Semitic), other classificatory schemata exist: I was very impressed, for example, with Robert Radcliffe's book on Arabic broken plurals, and by his conclusion that it is likelier that Arabic is a South Semitic language influenced by Central Semitic than vice-versa.

That, and I was intrigued by the claim that Arabic-speaking teachers find Harsuri "difficult to understand": this might indeed (as stated above) refer to a Harsusi-zed Arabic dialect, but couldn't it instead refer to a heavily Arabicized form of Harsusi, so Arabicized in vocabulary (and perhaps other aspects as well?) as to make it somewhat intelligible to Arabic speakers?

Just my two cents.

Lameen Souag said...

Fair point - I too found Radcliffe's arguments rather impressive. The trouble is that they seem to be based only on the broken plural system, which is admittedly rather complicated but is still only a subsection of the grammar (and a relatively easily borrowed one at that, as Persian or Berber show); and that he doesn't present a clear outline of what can and cannot be traced back to Afro-Asiatic (Berber, in particular, offers a number of similar non-borrowed plural types), which undermines his arguments. Pending more work, I'd say the issue's still unclear.

Lameen Souag said...

> couldn't it instead refer to a heavily Arabicized form of Harsusi?

That would certainly be a plausible scenario in a language under heavy pressure. The same could almost be said of some Berber varieties.

Etienne said...

Lameen: Many thanks for your prompt answers. And the theory that we are dealing with heavily Arabicized Harsuri seems likelier in the light of this article:
http://llacan.vjf.cnrs.fr/PDF/Publications/Senelle/LngSAM_CIL1997.pdf.

For those who don't read French: the author's conclusion is that in the Medium term Soqotri, Jibbali and Mehri will be extinct, and the remaining South Arabian languages (including Harsuri) in the short term, and already the speech of the younger generation of speakers of all South Arabian languages is so Arabicized that they find traditional songs/stories incomprehensible.

bulbul said...

Thanks for the article, Etienne.
Just to check: you mean Robert Ratcliffe: The “broken” plural problem in Arabic and comparative Semitic, right?

Lameen Souag said...

Very interesting link. Its final comments on finding traditional songs/stories incomprehensible could apply almost as much to North African Arabic at this stage...

Etienne said...

Bulbul: yes, that is indeed the book I was writing about in my earlier comment: my apologies, I should have given the exact reference.

Lameen: I imagine a similar situation must be found in many (most?) varieties of Berber as well, and in other minority languages of the Arab world too. A comparative study of the linguistic influence (past and present) of Arabic upon its (many!) neighbors would doubtless prove interesting (or does such a study actually exist? I'm reading Kees Versteegh's THE ARABIC LANGUAGE these days, and if his bibliography is any guide, while there exist studies on the impact of Arabic upon various languages, no study comparing the impact of Arabic upon different languages seems to have seen the light of day).

Lameen Souag said...

True, but I had in mind majority languages of the Arab world - the Arabic dialects are changing at such a pace these days that older poetry in them tends to be quite hard to understand, not just in Algeria but in the Gulf as well...

"A comparative study of the linguistic influence (past and present) of Arabic upon its (many!) neighbors" - is basically what my PhD thesis will be. (Mainly two of them, to be exact, but with notes on others.)

Etienne said...

Lameen: as someone who has "been there", good luck with your thesis: the process won't last forever, although it most definitely will feel that way at times. I hope to read the finished product someday.

What you wrote about North African varieties of Arabic being so influenced by the Standard that earlier songs and poetry are now incomprehensible is very reminescent of the history of the Romance languages, many of which received an influx of Latin loans during the Post-Renaissance period that wholly replaced a great many native words. Another comparative study --the history of the Arabic "dialects" compared to that of the Romance "languages" -- is one that would definitely be worth reading, too...

Anonymous said...

Harsusi is a language. You can haer some texts in it at SemArch University of Heidelberg website in MP3 just in your computer. This language as well as others MSA should be saved even through their corpus digital/tape recording and transcribing.
I've did such work in Soqotra in 1976-80 and 1991 collecting Soqotri dialects and folklore texts.