Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Two funny adjectives (?) in Algerian Arabic

In Algerian Arabic, as in any other Arabic variety, adjectives follow the noun. However, there is one exception to this rule: invariant quja قوجا or qŭjna قُجنا, "a huge". Thus we say ṛajəl kbir راجل كبير "a big man", but quja ṛajəl قوجا راجل "a great big man". Not only does this "adjective" precede the noun it modifies, it requires it to be made indefinite: you can say šrit quja ktab شريت قوجا كتاب "I bought a huge book", but if you want to say "I bought the huge book", there's nothing you can do but use a different adjective. *šrit quja l-ktab or *šrit əl-quja ktab or *šrit əl-quja l-ktab are all impossible. You can make quja قوجا follow the noun, but you have to use a different construction, equally unique to this "adjective": ṛajəl quja mən huwwa راجل قوجا من هو "a great big man", daṛ quja mən hiyya دار قوجا من هي "a huge house". The origin of quja قوجا is clear: it comes from Turkish koca "large; husband", which in turn is apparently an early adaptation of Persian xɑje خواجه "master, gentleman". In Turkish, all adjectives are prenominal, so one could take that to explain its position in Algerian Arabic; but a quick search suggests that Turkish koca has no problem combining with the indefinite (one finds phrases like bu koca dünya "this huge world"). However, it looks like Algerian quja has followed a trajectory very similar to Iraqi and Khaliji xôš خوش. It is not obvious to me why obligatorily indefinite prenominal adjectives should even be possible in a language that otherwise strictly requires adjectives to be postposed, much less why they should have to be indefinite in order to stay prenominal - but that's what it looks like....

The word məskin مسكين "poor (pitiable)" is not so unusual, lexically speaking; it's just about pan-Arabic. It combines just fine with definite nouns, and takes normal agreement (f. məskina مسكينة, pl. msakən مساكن.) However, it has almost the opposite idiosyncrasy: it doesn't take the definite article, which would be obligatory with any normal adjective whose head is definite (and, if it comes to that, with a noun in apposition to a definite phrase as well). Thus we say bwəʕlam məskin maqdərš yji بوعلام مسكين ماقدرش يجي "poor Boualem couldn't come", even though we would say bwəʕlam əṭ-ṭwil بوعلام الطويل for "tall Boualem" (Boualem the-tall). Why? No idea. Suggestions are welcome!

19 comments:

Tim said...

I can't speak to what is going on with maskin, but the syntax of quja reminds me of the indefinite iDaafa used in superlative structures: in Syrian, for example, aTwal waa7ed 'the tallest one'. They're not exactly the same, but I note the combination of preposition + indefinite. (Of course, in the case of the superlative, there is also the marked structure of il-waa7ed il-aTwal.)

Y said...

Is there anything remarkable about the syntax of the two when used as predicates?

Abu Ilyás said...

This reminds me of the Spanish colloquial adjectives "un señor" (a master) / "una señora" (a mistress) which always precede the nouns they modify ("una señora herida" —a huge wound— but never "una herida señora") and cannot be definite ("un señor banquete" —a huge feast— but never "el señor banquete").

John Cowan said...

Tim: Superlatives are unavoidably definite, which is why the Romance languages can use a definite article plus a comparative to express them.

Abu Ilyás said...

Actually, شريت قوجا كتاب rather equals "me he comprado un señor libro" in Spanish (I have bought a "master" —lordly?— book).

Benjamin Geer said...

It is indeed odd that مسكين has to be indefinite in Algerian Arabic, because it can be definite in other dialects and in MSA. Could بوعلام مسكين ماقدرش يجي actually be two sentences, a nominal sentence (بوعلام مسكين) and a verbal sentence (ماقدرش يجي)?

Abu Ilyás said...

However, Lili Boniche used to sing «أنا الورقة المسكينة»...

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Tim, John: Such structures do offer a kind of precedent for prenominal adjectives, but as John points out, they're always definite.

Y: Quja can't be used predicatively at all, and məskin sounds kind of odd in predicative contexts (I have trouble imagining ?huwwa məskin, for instance).

Abu Ilyás: That's a perfect comparison; I'll have to look into what syntacticians have had to say about Spanish señor! That Lili Boniche song is an interesting counterexample. It sounds pretty classicized to me (سقطت for "fall", for instance), and I doubt that a phrase like that would come naturally in ordinary speech. But if you did, that particular context does seem to force an article somehow, maybe because of the relative clause following it.

Benjamin: I'll have to think about possible counterexamples, but some such explanation might be feasible - in Kabyle this word actually got borrowed as a strictly predicative adjective...

Abu Ilyás said...

All of this would explain why Abdelkader Alloula's original «سكينة المسكينة» in his play الأجواد becomes «سكينة المغبونة» on stage, while retaining the word as a noun («الجوهرة تقول المسكينة»).

Abu Ilyás said...

Then you should look into some Moroccan expressions too, like «شريت واحد سيدي الكتاب» (I have bought a "my lord" book).

Anis said...

Where is quja used? I'm from the East and don't think I've ever come across a term like this.

Mahammed Bouabdallah said...

Anis, quja mainly used in Algiers and around it. I heard it also in Blida. I'm from the East and we never use it. We use كبير

petre said...

Sounds more like some kind of quantifier than an adjective Is it invariable, or can you decline it to match the following noun?

petre said...

'meskin' is interesting, from which we get the French word 'mesquin'. For the syntax, compare Norman, where we have "lé pouorre homme" for an unfortunate man we sympathize with, but "l'homme paouvre" (a man who has little money). Are they completely different words? You tell me, we don't 'feel' it.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Abu Ilyas: Actually, an English near-equivalent occurs to me now too: hell of. You can say "I heard a hell of a story", but never *"I heard the hell of the story".

Mahammed: Yes (Dellys, in this case), but I think everyone uses kbir whether they also have quja or not!

petre: Whatever it is, it isn't a quantifier, since it isn't quantifying anything... but yes, it's invariable.

petre said...

OK not a quantifier, but invariability always makes me suspicious. Are there invariable adjectives in Arabic?

Benjamin Geer said...

petre: In Egyptian Arabic, كتير (many) doesn't agree in gender or number: حاجات كتير (many things).

Anonymous said...

What is Kabyle appositional syntax like? Maybe it developed from an appositional phrase like "I bought a giant, a book" -> "I bought a giant book"

petre said...

Thanks, Benjamin, but unlike our earlier example (where I was wrong), I think "many" can legitimately be regarded as a quantifier, rather than an adjective.