Monday, February 21, 2011

Gaddafi Jr's speech

In his rather desperate speech today, Saif Al Islam Gaddafi opened with a sociolinguistically very interesting statement:

əlyōm saatakallam maʕākum... bidūn waraqa maktūba, 'aw xiṭāb maktūb. 'aw natakallam maʕakum bi... luɣa ħattā ʕarabiyya fuṣħa. əlyōm saatakallam maʕakum bilahža lībiyya. wa-sa'uxāṭibkum mubāšaratan, ka-fard min 'afrād hāða ššaʕb əllībi. wa-sa'akūn irtižāliyyan fī kalimatī. wa-ħattā l'afkār wa-nniqāṭ ɣeyr mujahhaza u-muʕadda musbaqan. liʔanna hāðā ħadīθ min alqalb wa-lʕaql.(YouTube - first minute; conspicuously dialectal bits bolded)


Today I will speak with you... without a written paper, or a written speech. (N)or even speak to you in the Classical (fuṣħā) Arabic language. Today I will speak with you in Libyan dialect, and address you directly, as an individual member of this Libyan people. And I will speak extempore. Even the ideas and the points are not prepared in advance. Because this is a speech from the heart and the mind.


Now the explicit association between dialect, extempore speech, and speaking as "one of us" is fairly obvious, if interesting. But the odd thing is that this paragraph, like the rest of the speech, isn't very dialectal at all; it seems far closer to Standard Arabic than to any dialect. Some dialectal features are present, but a lot of unambiguously Classical constructions are used; even something as basic as the first person singular oscillates between Libyan n- and Classical 'a-. What it looks more like is some sort of intermediate ground between dialect and standard - or, if you prefer, like the highest level of Arabic that he is capable of extemporising in at short notice.

Readers may recall that Ben Ali tried the same gambit in his last speech (though Mubarak never resorted to it.) An omen? Let's hope so.

14 comments:

Abu Ilyás said...

And did you see the title in green displayed at the bottom? What kind of official position is «منهدس»? Ha, ha... It must mean "eginneer" in Lybian dialect!

John Cowan said...

Here's my suggested revision of your translation:

Today I'll speak with y'all... without a written document or a written text. I ain't even verbalizing to y'all in the Classical Arabic language. Instead today I will make my oration to you in Libyan colloquial dialect, and address you unmediatedly as an individual member of this Libyan populace. And I will speak out of my ass. Even the conceptualizations and the bullet points have not been prepared in advance. Because this is a presentation directly from the emotional side of me.

(In Ireland, this is called the "cúpla focal", the couple of words in Irish at the beginning of a speech otherwise entirely in English.)

Thomas said...

Man, John, your revision is sophisticated as hell!

Abu Ilyás said...

Actually it seems as if, at first, he had thought of delivering the speech in Lybian dialect, then changed his mind or simply let himself go.

phoenix said...

Both with Ben Ali as now, I think it's very telling how disconnected these men are from their people to the point that they can't even speak the same language when they're trying.

Sad, but linguistically incredibly interesting.

Anonymous said...

Seriously this approach to dialect vs. classical annoys me soooooooo much. The dialectical leader's 'people' in Tunisia's main chant was in fush7a arabic and it has now spread to all Arab countries. Young men chanted Alsha3b yurid isqat alnitham as they went to their certain death in front of Katibat Alfadhil in Benghazi. No one is disconnected from classical arabic, it has a highly emotional charge for all of us, witness the call-in prayers and poetry on jazeera live. The mixed language of Ben Ali and Sayf is used by most jazeera mubashir callers use, nothing elite about it.

P.S I am a Libyan girl with a brother in Tobruq, I also have maternal cousins in Derna and Benghazi and paternal cousins out in the streets in Tripoli and Misrata. I have recieved unconfirmed news of one of them being martyred and am keeping it secret from the family. I haven't slept in days. The only ones who stood by us from the beginning are Jazeera Arabic and the Arab people from Gulf to Atlantic whose call-ins and comments on facebook http://www.facebook.com/17022011libya have given us strenght. Our language is the only uniting bond neither western worlds 200 year dominance of the region nor our leaders have destroyed. When Arabs are ruled by people who represent them they will be able to cooperate and develop easier with one language than 22 dialects.

Anonymous said...

P.S Mubarak's fus7a speech about dying in his country was the only one that touched people, the dialect nationalism has no effect whatsoever

Lameen Souag said...

Anonymous: I hope your cousins are OK, and I hope this murdering criminal Gaddafi gets kicked out ASAP, preferably today, before he bombs anybody else. Of course Classical Arabic has enormous emotional resonance for Arabic speakers. If it didn't, it wouldn't even still be in use. But when the speaker has just killed hundreds of his own citizens, any language he decides to use, Classical or dialect, is like putting lipstick on a pig.

Lameen Souag said...

And John: I love your revision, and any kind of Gaddafi-mockery is fine with me on a day like this, but I have to say it doesn't at all reflect the tone of Gaddafi's speech. His speech is pretty normal educated Arabic discourse - what's odd is his insistence on labelling it "dialect".

John Emerson said...

I think that, almost always, educated speakers of a standard dialect who drop down to a non-standard dialect for some reason will split the difference, with the benefit of the doubt generally going to the standard dialect. It's a sort of rhetorical or stylistic or sociolinguistic ploy that almost never involves actually speaking non-standard dialect.

There's a whole other hybrid produced by speakers of non-standard dialects trying not completely successfully to speak the standard dialect.

And there's even a third hybrid, writers of standard dialects trying to reproduce the speech of speakers of non-standard dialects trying to speak the standard dialect.

Anonymous said...

It's almost like a false dichotomy is being drawn here. Pace John Cowan, but mixing of fus7a and dialect like this is very common. There are phrases and words which cannot be put into dialect (or which would sound ridiculous in dialect). Don't let your political hatred of the speaker spill over into your assessment of his mastery of his native language.

John Cowan said...

Because English isn't diglossic, the only thing I can do to represent this kind of dialect mixing is register mixing, which of course is inherently funny (and I meant it to be funny) even though dialect mixing is not inherently funny. (African-American English speakers are in a diglossic situation, but I don't control that dialect, so I can't use it here.)

David Marjanović said...

His speech is pretty normal educated Arabic discourse - what's odd is his insistence on labelling it "dialect".

Do you think he can speak a dialect? With his father's insistence on being a Bedouin, which is strong enough that he got into most European languages as Gaddafi*, one should think he does, but... if that's what he thinks dialect sounds like...

* The French and the Russians spell him with K.

Ricky said...

I propose an alternate "street" translation:

"Sup...I jus gon' be straight up wit' y'all...I aint' got notin'. I ain't be doin' dis all ol' school, I be talkin' straight up, you know what I'm sayin, 'cause dis my crib and y'all part o' my hood. I ain't talkin' shit. I ain't dun notin', ain't got notin'. I just be keepin' it real and tryin to represent."