Sunday, November 26, 2006

Speaking Arabic in public; or: don't say Yallah

You may have heard about the imams who got taken off a plane in the US (Minneapolis) because some passenger thought they were suspicious. Apparently:
Before passengers boarded, one became alarmed by an overheard discussion. "They seemed angry," he wrote in a police statement. "Mentioned 'U.S.' and 'killing Saddam.' Two men then swore slightly under their breath/mumbled. They spoke Arabic again. The gate called boarding for the flight. The men then chanted 'Allah, Allah, Allah.'"
It's bizarre the way that "They spoke Arabic again" seems to be characterised as somehow suspicious in itself - but the part that really makes me think "duhhhh!" is "The gate called boarding for the flight. The men then chanted 'Allah, Allah, Allah.'" It's obvious what they must really have been saying (although I haven't seen any paper point this out): Yallah, yallah, meaning "come on! let's go!". If even the use of the word "Allah" alarms some paranoid passengers, then Arabs will be hard-pressed to speak at all - between inshallah, hamdulillah, and bismillah alone (let alone yallah or wallah) you could easily reach at least one mention of "Allah" every couple of sentences in a completely mundane conversation! I hope this is an isolated instance rather than a trend.

In related news, speaking Yan-Nhangu is apparently suspicious as well...

In unrelated news, I thought Tulugaq's Google Map of Inupiaq was pretty cool, as is Sydney Place Names - I hope this is a trend.

Monday, November 20, 2006

"An elaborate series of grunts and gestures"

More in the weird colonial-era language books series - this time "The Siwi Language", by W. Seymour Walker, F.R.G.S (Late Royal Artillery), with a foreword by His Excellency Wilson Pasha (Governor, Western Desert Province of Egypt), 1921:
There are no interjections in Siwi which are sufficiently constant to be worth committing to paper.
Their meaning is expressed by an elaborate series of grunts and gestures which can only be acquired by practice.

There is only one noun-adj. in Siwi in which the masc. and fem. forms are identical:
zlèta, naked, bare
Note 30. This exception is a good example of the construction of the Siwi vocabulary, and illustrates one of the reasons for its paucity. Amongst the women a naked female is quite a possibility, but to the general Siwani mind, it is so inconceivable, and so contrary to all established customs, that no special word-form has been evolved to cope with such an obvious phenomenon.

If you want to hear what Siwi is really like, the indefatigable Madi has put a Siwi audio file up on Tawalt: the Story of Prince Sayf. With a bit of help from books like Walker's (and more usefully Laoust's), I can make out a fair bit of it. Remarkably, Siwi has borrowed Arabic's comparative form, as you can hear in the second sentence.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gulf Arabic (and Hindi?) Pidgin

It should be unsurprising that a pidgin trade-Arabic has evolved in the Gulf, given the incredibly large proportion of the population from non-Arabic-speaking countries. But this is the first info I've seen on it online. Not much actual detail (I would add the word siida "straight ahead"), but it also mentions a pidgin Hindi, which is more surprising. Sounds worth investigating...