Sunday, March 17, 2019

Protest songs 3: Frs Wld El3lmA

The most sociolinguistically interesting protest song that I've come across since the last post is also among the earliest (28 February): Frs Wld El3lmA's Az-Zawja Al-Khamisa (The Fifth Wife), a heavily underlined (and quite sexist) parable of Algerian history over the past 30 years introduced with وأي تشابه مع الواقع فهو مقصود بشكل متعمد... جدا "Any resemblance to reality is intended deliberately... very deliberately". He then launches into the lyrics - the Arabic is already given as subtitles in the video, so I'll just provide translations... (If you're more interested in the sociolinguistics than in the politics, just skim the lyrics and go to the paragraph that follows.)
In a rich town, whose fortune was plentiful,
There was a Bedouin girl, with an interesting body,
Honeyed eyes and silken hair,
Very romantic; many sought her hand.
Rich and poor competed for her,
Doctors and directors raced each other to visit her family.
They betrayed each other, hated each other, envied each other, conspired against each other,
They withdrew, came to blows, fought each other, made war on each other,
On the pure earth flowed conscience's blood
In total Ignorance (jahiliyya) died young children
Blood flowed and women were raped
The building was destroyed when the skies turned black
And blood flowed from those neglected quarries
With the eyes of the bereaved, the widows, the pregnant...
So that the town would not vanish in the process,
They offered up the beautiful one as a sacrifice to the prince.
Its prince was a migrant, returned from far away
With experience and wisdom and promises and threats.
He made a truce among the people of the great town
And said: "Marry me to the little princess,
So I can finish the trajectory and continue the process
So we can completely destroy this dangerous conflict (fitna)."
He married the second one according to the town's law
And changed its sacred book with fabrications
And spread around its money to keep everyone quiet
And shook up its situation so that the herd would bow down
And said: "Our religion, and it is obligatory to obey it,
Has always made licit a third and fourth wife."
He married the third one, his hair already turning grey,
And [???]
So he admitted that it was time for him to go away,
"So take up the torch, our dear youth -"
But suddenly, a deceptive blow!
The old man is capable of marrying a fourth wife.
A fourth wife? My God! How shall he enter unto her?
He is a decrepit old man, he shall not touch her hand!
A bride, fresh, soft, virginal, timid,
To be handed to an senile man with no manhood
While her family watch silently
And no groom arises among them to protect her;
As if the beloved town had become barren
Bringing forth only females or pseudo-males.
After the wedding, the old man slept a deep sleep
And the bride was lost in the continuation of life.
Who here would protect her, who defend her?
At night, in the bed, he would slink towards her...
The old man wasn't dead, no, the old man wasn't dead
And his gang were enslaving all those who stayed quiet.
Meanwhile, a beautiful new bride grew up,
And the time for her wedding drew near.
Where is her new groom? Come on, men,
Come on up, come on up, get ready for the tournament,
For the old man has become like a dry stalk
And everyone says the sacred law forbids a fifth wife.
But then they brought out to them a letter from the void,
In the handwriting of an old man, signed in ink and pen:
"The sacred law forbids a fourth wife who is a free woman,
But we are in a town, not in Algeria.
You have accepted to become like slaves around me;
Therefore, your daughter is - a slave-girl."
A slave-girl!
After this extended, elaborate, emo parable, he adds an afterword for anyone dense enough not to have gotten it yet:
روينا لكم القصة بالفصحى، لأن الفصحى لغة الأدب. لا تضطرونا باش نحكيوهالكم بالدارجة. في هاذاك الوقت، يا سعدو لي هرب.
"We have narrated to you this story in Fusha [Standard Arabic], because Fusha is the language of literature/politeness. Do not force us [shifts to Darja] to tell it to you in Darja [Algerian Arabic]. At that point, happy* the man that has fled!"

The chants of the demonstrators follow, shouting in chorus: ماكانش الخامسة يا بوتفليقة! "No fifth term, Bouteflika!"

While sociolinguistics is hardly the intended point, the sociolinguistic message comes across just as loud and clear as the political one. Fusha is the language of carefully planned literary compositions, where all the arts of parable and metaphor can be deployed to provide a figleaf of deniability when the censors come along; in Darja, you tell it like is, and it hits hard. As previously, this pair of stereotypes is not to be confused with a fact about the world: Darja even has a dedicated verb for speaking in pointed allusions, يمعني ymaʕni, and the practice of doing so is a core linguistic competence, especially essential for women but admired in men too, and seen as necessary in order to convey criticism without creating grudges and worsening conflicts. Then again, doing so relies extensively on proverbs which, if still Darja, are often far removed from the language of everyday speech; in a sense, resorting to Fusha is a natural extension of that approach. Be that as it may, the trope of Fusha as the language of circumlocution versus Darja as the language of straight talk is out there, familiar enough to every reader to make his invocation of it here rhetorically very effective.

* Is سعدو here a pun on Said [Bouteflika], the president's brother, widely thought to be pulling the strings? I suspect so...

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