Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ibn Hazm again, and Cypriot Arabic

I just found a full translation online of the fifth chapter of Ibn Hazm's 11th-century work Iħkām fī Uṣūl al-Aħkām, discussed previously - a chapter remarkable for anticipating the ideas of a language instinct and of conlanging, and for clearly stating the relationship between Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac. Enjoy! The Origins of Language: Divine Providence or Human Codification.

Not long before Ibn Hazm's time, some Arabic-speaking Maronites fled the Levant for Cyprus. In the village of Kormakiti, they have kept their language up to the present. YouTube being what it is, you can hear some on a program called Sanna (ie لساننا - our language) - go straight to 2:40, 5:00, 7:04 to hear the language itself. (Ignore the video's ill-informed claims that this is descended from Aramaic, by the way.) If you speak Greek, there are even lessons at Hki Fi Sanna. This is far more incomprehensible to me than any mainstream Arabic dialect I've ever heard, including the Levantine Arabic from which it presumably derives - a remarkable case study in how much isolation from related varieties speeds up language differentiation.


John Cowan said...

How does it compare in intelligibility to Nigerian or Chadic Arabic?

bulbul said...

My scale (1-10, lowest to highest intelligibility): if Levantine Arabic is 10 and Moroccan Arabic is 8, Chadic is 6, Nigerian is 5. Cypriot Arabic is 2. It's pretty difficult to even read, perhaps on par with the basilect of some English-based creoles.

NOCTOC said...

Very interesting. Thank you very much for this post and I hope you continue your research on Cypriot Arabic. I read somehere that it originates fom Iraq, and from another place, from Anatolian Arabic. No-one seems to agree about its origins.

bulbul said...


according to Alexander Borg, Cypriot Maronite Arabic shares featurs with a number of Arabic dialects, mostly those of Northern Syria and qeltu dialects of Anatolia, but there are even some similarities with Palestinian Arabic (stress patterns). Consequently, Borg postulates a sort-of Syrian-Anatolian koine as the direct ancestor of CMA. He also notes (referring to Jastrow's works) that qeltu dialects do not cover a continuous area, but appear as network of small points and CMA can be seen as a continuation of that network.
Contrary to popular opinion, CMA doesn't really show any particular affinity with Lebanese dialects of Arabic, but shows evidence of Aramaic adstratum or even substratum.

Cemmust said...

Eid Mubarak to you too.

"a remarkable case study in how much isolation from related varieties speeds up language differentiation."

I guess isolation produces differentiation and hinders standardization in most cases. And it certainly applies to the Amazigh dialects.

Would Brits, Australians and Americans understand one another this easy if they were isolated for 50 or 100 years?

I met a Moroccan working at a company I recently joined, he's originating from Al Hoceima, Central Rif, Morocco. I was surprised by the many phonetic differences between our mutual Rif dialects, although they were still, luckily, intelligible.

I hope someday to become a cross-dialectal Amazighophone (in its broadest sense)!


I am not aware of anybody who speaks and understands Tashelhit, Tamasheq, Tarifit, Tashawit and Taqbaylit all at once!


Secondly, let's not forget the external influences which can speed up or even define these differences.

In Tamazight's case in present day, the Arabic and French media are exercising tremendous (and I would say "devastating") pressures and effects on the Amazigh language use in North Africa and elsewhere. I notice it everyday in my family's and relatives' language use: new Arabic and French words are entering their daily Amazigh language replacing the original Amazigh ones! all this happens in a very short time frame and I know where it all comes from: TV!

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Yes, TV and school have had an enormous effect on the vocabulary of both Tamazight and Arabic in North Africa. But changes of lifestyle have also played a big part - city dwellers will tend to know more words for computer parts and fewer words for plough parts... No doubt the same applies in Cyprus; you can hear the speakers using Greek words for concepts like "century", which they probably first encountered in school rather than in daily life.