Monday, December 09, 2013

wləd/wlid- "boy, son": An irregular development

There's a curious feature I recently noticed about the Arabic of Dellys in Algeria (I can't imagine what took me so long, since it's in my own idiolect as well!). In Morocco and western Algeria "boy" and "son" are both ولْد wəld, corresponding regularly to Classical Arabic وَلَد walad. In Dellys, "boy" is ولد wləd, again corresponding regularly (in Morocco, CaLaC and CaLC, where C is any consonant and L is a sonorant, both end up as CəLC; in central Algeria, the former becomes CLəC, the latter CəLC). But with a possessor – ie, in the sense of "son" – is not wləd, but وليد wlid. You can say وليد خويا wlid xu-ya "my brother's son" or وليدك wlid-ək "your son", but not *wləd xuya or *wəld-ək. It's not obvious how to explain this historically; on the face of it, it looks like a completely irregular development. There are a few other nouns derived from the pattern CaCaC – for instance حنش ħnəš "snake", حبق ħbəq "basil" – but I can't think of any cases offhand which frequently occur in the construct state (that is, with a possessor directly following them). It might be compared to the diminutive, but in present-day Dellys Arabic anyway, the diminutive is وليّد wliyyəd, not wlid.

Has anyone come across a similar phenomenon in any other Arabic variety?

10 comments:

Rhaeticus said...

I’m afraid that this question will show how much a beginner I am, but aren’t we dealing with two distinct words here, classical ولد walad and classical وليد walīd, which also has the feminine وليدة walīda? Their meanings overlap to a great extent, but I’d expect the latter to specialize in the “offspring” sense.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

That's a possibility; the primary sense of walīd seems to be "infant, newborn" more than "boy", so I wouldn't necessarily expect it to develop in this direction, but it is also used in the sense "boy, servant". Even then, though, that still wouldn't explain why wlid has come to be restricted to the construct state.

John Cowan said...

It's hardest of all to notice things that are in your own idiolect, since they are automatically backgrounded for you. Nobody's language "sounds funny" to themselves.

Marijn van putten said...

Interesting indeed. My first feeling says that it is a way to avoid /ə/ in an open syllable while retaining the consonantal structure. But of course 1. there is no reason why only 'boy' would do that, and 2. wlid xuya would not be explained.

So we need to find something else:

I'm partial to the walīd explanation, as that would be the regular reflex.

I can imagine that walīd and walad would compete in construct position because both an wlid 'newborn (boy)' and a wləd 'boy' could easily refer to the 'son'.

When a 'newborn' and a 'boy' are not possessed, they are more dinstinctly they would be more semantically distinct. I imagine that 'boy, son' has more of a 'boy' meaning when it is unpossessed.

This competition + reanalysis could lead to the distribution found here.

But obviously, you as a native speaker are a better judge of the boy~son semantic field that wləd has than I am.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Your explanation sounds fairly plausible; that's probably the best we can do without supplementary evidence, maybe from dialectal variation or older texts. I'm not sure I can claim much special native speaker insight into how medieval Algerians spoke, continuity notwithstanding...

Afifay said...

Close, or even intimate, language contact is not to be neglected in Dellys since, roughly, half the population is also tamazight-fluent. Boy and son are here also differentiated : aqcic and mmi-.

Afifay said...

... Language contact

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Contact with Kabyle might well explain why the meanings got distinguished, but not how they ended up being distinguished by an -i-.

Emad Odel said...

In Tunisian (Tunis dialect), we have [wlɛd] means "a boy", [wəld] means "son" and [wləd] is the verb, to give birth.
[wlɛd] is pronounced with a Schwa in some dialects, with the same meaning.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Very interesting - I don't suppose you can post audio files of the three?