Saturday, June 28, 2014

Grammatically analysing "Sahha Ramdankoum!"

Sahha Ramdankoum صحّة رمضانكم!‍ ‍This Darja phrase, which might be rendered as "happy Ramadan!", is familiar to any Algerian. It groups with a few others - notably Sahha Ftourkoum صحة فطولاركم "happy fast-breaking dinner!" and Sahha Eidkoum صحة عيدكم "happy Eid!" - as an example of a not very productive template "Sahha X+2nd person possessive" expressing good wishes on the occasion of X. But what is "sahha" doing in such forms?

In many contexts, "sahha" is a noun meaning "health"; we can be sure it is a noun, since it can be the object of a preposition and take personal possessive endings, as in b-sahht-ek بصحتك "good for you" (with your health). But there is also a defective verb, taking 2nd person perfective endings: sahhit صحيت (to a man), sahhiti صحيتي (to a woman), sahhitou صحيتو (to a group) "thanks / well done" (a little stronger than sahha "thanks"). The expected 3rd person masculine singular form of this verb would be sahh صح or sahha صحى; sahh actually is attested as an impersonal verb (ysahh-lek يصحلك "it is appropriate for you"), but its meaning is sufficiently distant that it's not necessarily part of the same paradigm. So in principle, "sahha" in "Sahha Ramdanek" could be interpreted as a noun, or a verb. Is there any way to decide which?

If it's a noun, then the phrase's syntax is bizarre - the literal interpretation would then be "Health is your Ramadan", whereas to make it fit the actual meaning we want at least something like "Your Ramadan is health", which would be the opposite order (?Ramdanek Sahha رمضانك صحة). If it's a verb, on the other hand, the syntax is fine - subjects in Algerian Arabic routinely follow the verb, and perfective verbs are routinely used to express states, so we could interpret it as something like "Healthy is your Ramadan!" or even, if we allow the perfective to be optative as in Classical Arabic, "May your Ramadan be healthy!"

On the other hand, if it's a verb, then it should agree in gender and number with what follows it, with feminine "sahhat" صحات and plural "sahhaw" صحاو. This can't actually be tested directly: in all such expressions that I can think of, the noun happens to be masculine and singular, and this expression cannot normally be extended to congratulate people on other occasions. But if we imagine using this formula to congratulate someone on their happiness, I for one would much sooner say "Sahha Farhatkoum" صحة فرحتكم than "Sahhat Farhatkoum" صحات فرحتكم, which suggests that my mind, at least, is not analysing it as a verb.

Perhaps it's neither noun nor verb, then? There are a few words in Algerian Arabic that form predicates and comme at the start of the clause, but do not take verbal morphology - for instance, makash ماكاش "there is no" or oulah ولاه "no need (for)". Putting it in this class would take care of the problem, but just leads us to a different one: can this class of non-verbal predicators be given a coherent positive definition, or is it just whatever happens to be left over from defining the major word classes?

Be that as it may, best wishes to all readers for this coming month, and, for those fasting it, Sahha Ramdankoum!


Nadia Ghanem said...

Sa7a ramdanek Lameen :)

I'd opt for a verb, particularly as if it is behaving as an old Arabic verb and form, then the verb does not need to agree in gender or number with its subject when the subject follows it. With use, the verb may have got frozen into this form too, remaining sa7a regardless of the subject's grammatical identity.

Very entertaining thoughts, thanks for a great post as always!

MnarviDZ said...

Saha Ramdanek Lameen.

You didn't mention the other meaning when we say sahhit, sahhiti, sahhitou,... as besides thank you, we also use it to say hi or bye.

As for the topic, and without any evidence, I think sahha in sahha Ramdanek is (was?) a verb with the meaning "may you Ramadhan be correct (so that it could be accepted) and then for some reason, Sahha xxxx became a good wish with xxx basically anything and "sahha" being either a verb or a contraction of bsahha as in bsahtek xxxx?
All in all it is related to being healthy but not necessarily to the body health.

Sahha el post ejdid.

Anonymous said...

I think that "Sahha" is an object (so a name).
Implicit in the sentence is "I wish you".
So, Sahha ramdanek= I wish you sahha(t) ramdanek.
Sahha may mean health or rightness.
I wish you the rightness of your Ramadan = Sahha ramdanek.

I don't agree that the template is not very productive. Some examples:

Sahha eddouche, or sahha tedwichtek = happy shower !
Sahha tahfiftek = happy hairdressing !
A joke when someone go to the hairdresser:
Sahha la coupe, la3qouba echamptionnat !
Sahha chribtek.
Sahha S'hourek.

It is used each time we want to congratulate someone for something that is not very important, otherwise Mabrouk is prefered.

Another meaning of Sahha is Hello. Example:
Sahha Amine, labes ?!

Abu Ilyás said...

I had always taken for granted that صحة here is short for بالصحة, which, as a wish, makes sense in all contexts.

Abu Ilyás said...

"(May you enjoy) X with health."

Anonymous said...

if sahha is treated as a noun could it not also form half of an idafa? so it would be "health of your ramadan" instead of "health is your ramadan".

Anonymous said...

if sahha is treated as a noun could it not also form half of an idafa? so it would be "health of your ramadan" instead of "health is your ramadan".

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks for all your comments!

Nadia: Even in Classical Arabic, the verb agrees in gender with a following subject, just not in number.

MnarviDZ: That scenario is possible - the -a in sahha might be a classicism - but then you'd expect sahhat tahfiftek, not sahha tahfiftek (unless it got generalised later.)

Anon 1: You're quite right to point out that you can also say things like sahha tahfiftek, so it's a bit more productive than I suggest.

Abu Ilyas: It's not obvious to me why b-es-sahha 3la X would be reduced to sahha X. If there were a preposition after sahha, I could maybe see it.

Anon 2: But in that case you'd expect sahhet Ramdan, not sahha Ramdan

Nadia Ghanem said...

Hello Lameen, in Classical Arabic there are several examples of sentence-initial verbs that are in the masculine singular and are followed by a subject in the feminine, also subjects in the plural I was taught (and this isn't just found in poetry and Quranic Arabic). It's not the general rule of agreement, that's all.

Abu Ilyás said...

Actually the original expression would not be "b-es-sahha 3la X" (بالصحة على...) but simply "b-es-sahha X" (بالصحة...). Cf. G. Colin, Le dictionnaire Colin d'arabe dialectal marocain, 1994, vol. 4, p. 1050, s.v. صحة, for some examples and variations.

Abu Ilyás said...

Here are some in Arabic script:
بصحتك الحمام
بالصحة هاذ الكسوة
بالصحة والعافية هاذ الجلابة