Autochthonous Texts in the Arabic Dialect of the Jews of Tiberias

Publication: Journal of the American Oriental Society
Author: Hary, Benjamin
Date published: April 1, 2011
Language: English
PMID: 27321
ISSN: 00030279
Journal code: PJOS

Autochthonous Texts in the Arabic Dialect of the Jews of Tiberias. By AHARON GEVA-KLEINBERGER. Semitica Viva, vol. 47. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ VERLAG, 2009. Pp. xiv + 229. euro62.

Judéo-Arabie is a religiolect (a language variety used by a religious community) that has been written and spoken in various forms by Jews throughout the Arabic-speaking world. Its literature deals for the most part with Jewish topics, and is written by Jews for a Jewish readership. Several features distinguish it from other varieties of Arabic: a mixture of elements of classical and post-classical Arabic, dialectal components, pseudo-corrections, and pseudo-corrections that have become standardized. Judéo-Arabie is written, for the most part, in Hebrew characters, and employs elements of Hebrew and Aramaic vocabulary and grammar. Moreover, the religiolect frequently preserves archaic forms and makes use of migrated or displaced dialectalism, where uncommon dialectal characteristics appear in a certain region against regular dialectological expectations. In other words, it is a typical mixed language variety.

Judéo-Arabie can be divided into five periods with a linear development: pre- Islamic Judéo-Arabie, early Judéo-Arabie (eighth/ninth to tenth centuries), classical Judéo-Arabie (tenth to fifteenth centuries), later Judéo-Arabie (fifteenth to nineteenth centuries), and contemporary Judéo-Arabie (twentieth century). This periodization, however, should not draw attention away from the major changes that occurred in the fifteenth and in the twentieth centuries, when the religiolect underwent two dramatic changes in its structure and use. During the fifteenth century the Jewish world reduced its contact with its Arab counterpart. Although a great number of Jews settled in the Ottoman empire after the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula in 1492, and in some ways experienced even more intense contact with the Ottoman Muslim world, many curtailed their contacts with Arabs, their language, and their culture. Jews were more separated from their Muslim (and Christian) neighbors and began to congregate in Jewish restrictive neighborhoods. Because of the change in contact between the cultures in the fifteenth century, not only did the structure of written Judéo-Arabie come to incorporate more dialectal elements, but also more works were composed in Hebrew. In the twentieth century the religiolect again experienced a dramatic change in terms of grammatical structure and literary production with the rise of Jewish and Arab nationalist movements, the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the consequent emigration of Jews from Arabic-speaking areas, leading to the near loss of the religiolect. The book under review, then, deals with the last period, contemporary Judéo-Arabie.

In this context, studies of local varieties of later and contemporary Judéo-Arabie have been conducted and published in the last several decades. The following publications represent only a few examples: for Egypt, Haim Blanc, "Egyptian Arabic in the Seventeenth Century: Notes on the JudéoArabie Passages of Darxe No'am (Venice, 1697)," 1981 ; Benjamin Hary, Multiglossia in Judéo-Arabie, 1992; idem, Translating Religion, 2009; and Gabriel Rosenbaum, "The Arabic Dialect of Jews in Modern Egypt," 2002 ; for Iraq, Yitzhak Avishur, "The Folk Literature of the Jews of Iraq in Judeo- Arabic," 1979; Blanc, Communal Dialects in Baghdad, 1964; Otto Jastrow, Der arabische Dialekt der Juden von rAqra und Arbil, 1990; and Jacob Mansour, The Jewish Baghdadi Dialect, 1992; for the Maghrib, Moshe Bar-Asher, Traditions linguistiques des juifs d'Afrique du nord, 1998; Joseph Chetrit, Diglossie, hybridation, et diversité' infra-linguistique, 2007; Norman Stillman, The Language and Culture of the Jews of Sefrou, Morocco, 1988; Ofra Tirosh-Becker, "An Algerian Judéo-Arabie Translation of Piyyut "Mi Khamokha' by Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi," 2006; Yosef Tobi, "The Flowering of Judéo-Arabie Literature in North Africa, 1850-1950," 19%; Sumikazu Yoda, The Arabic Dialect of the Jews of Tripoli (Libya), 2005; and more; for Syria, Avishur, "An Early Babylonian Judaeo-Arabic Translation of the Latter Prophets with Complements in Syrian Judaeo-Arabic," 2002; for Yemen, Moshe Piamenta, "Intra- and Intercommunal Appellations in Judeo-Yemeni," 1996; and more. Only very recently did the study of Judéo-Arabie in Palestine receive attention with the publication of Piamenta, Jewish Life in Arabic Language and Jerusalem Arabic in Communal Perspective, 2000. Aharon Geva-Kleinberger followed suit and published studies on the Judeo- Arabic of Haifa (2004) and Peqi'in (2005), after an earlier article on the Judéo-Arabie of Safed (2000). The book under review on Tiberian Judéo-Arabie is an important, and notable, addition to our understanding of Palestinian Judéo-Arabie.

The author identifies Tiberian Judéo-Arabie within the Syro-Palestinian group of dialects (p. 8). In other words, he classifies the dialect within the framework of geographical dialects. It could be also advantageous to categorize the variety as a religiolect, thus classifying Tiberian Judéo-Arabie within the Jewish linguistic spectrum. This may prove more useful, as comparison can be drawn to other Judéo-Arabie varieties, on the one hand, and to other Jewish religiolects, on the other hand.

By stating that "(t)he aim of the book is to preserve the Arabic dialect of the Jews of Tiberias since it is becoming obsolete" (p. 3), Geva-Kleinberger takes upon himself an important task. This is the last living generation of Tiberian Judéo-Arabie speakers and the documentation of the religiolect is, indeed, a salvage operation. The book mainly provides transcribed recorded texts of Tiberian Judéo-Arabie speakers. There are fifty-three texts, well transcribed and translated into idiomatic English. Topics vary from historical anecdotes to daily life in Tiberias from the beginning of the last century. The texts also help us better understand Jewish life in the late Ottoman and British periods as well as Arab-Jewish interaction. Of special interest are the descriptions of the relations with Jews in other locales, such as Safed; the cholera epidemic of 1902 (in the Judéo-Arabie of Tiberias, ir-iih il-asfar 'the yellow wind'); the 1934 flood in Tiberias (in Judéo-Arabie, îôfe); the famine during the Ottoman period; descriptions of different sites in Palestine, such as the Old City of Jerusalem; local foods, such as rakkub (see text 12); and more. The texts are accompanied by illuminating notes. For example, text 38, line 36 describes the differences between Palestinians and Israelis, which are not at all the same today; note 571 on p. 149 explains the issue in detail.

In light of current growing tension between Jews and Muslims in Israel, it is interesting to read about a different kind of Jewish-Muslim interaction in Tiberias some seventy to one hundred years ago. In general, Jews preferred the proximity of Muslim Arabs to that of Christian Arabs. Moreover, GevaKleinberger notes that the phenomenon of ixwän bi-ridäca 'brothers through breast-feeding', was not uncommon in Tiberias, where Jewish mothers would have their babies breastfed by Muslim women. These children, when they grew up, felt brotherly commitment to their Muslim "siblings" (p. 4).

In the introduction to the book, the author provides a good ethnographic summary as well as helpful linguistic remarks about Tiberian Judéo-Arabie. Of special importance is the collection of proverbs, some of which are Tiberian-specific (p. 21). Geva-Kleinberger also provides useful indexes of names of people (pp. 213-16) and sites (pp. 216-19) but one on linguistic terms is lacking. On the other hand, the lexical list of vocabulary of Tiberian Judéo-Arabie (pp. 201-12) is superb. There is also a valuable discussion of the lexicon including influences from other languages (pp. 14-29). The maps on pp. 30-31 are beneficial in bringing the research findings to life.

Geva-Kleinberger mentions several areas where data from Tiberian Judéo-Arabie shed light on the whole Jewish linguistic spectrum. First, in terms of gender speech, the author argues that men's speech tends to be more conservative and reflects more rural features than urban women's speech (p. 9). This is shown in the following phonological features: the use of the hamza, where women's speech reflects the shift /q/ > Pl while men's speech varies (preservation of the /q/; /q/ > /k/; /q/ > /k/; and also /q/ > Pi); men sometimes still use the interdentals while women have shifted to the stops; men make use of the morphological pattern of afála rather than áfal: ahsana 'better'; akbara 'bigger'. Lexical features include the use of il-'ugniye 'rich people' by men vs. gunaya by women. Men use ani and ana for "I," where women employ ana only (p. 11).

Second is the feature of migrated or displaced dialectalism. This feature has developed in many Jewish language varieties exhibiting dialectal characteristics that are uncommon for their region (Hary, Translating Religion, 2009: 22-23). This is usually due to Jewish migration and dispersion. For example, in Coitene Judéo-Arabie one can encounter the forms nikîib-nikîfbu for the first person singular-first person plural imperfect, otherwise typically found in "western" Arabic dialects. One would not expect to find these forms in Cairo; their appearance among Cairene Jews is probably due to Jewish migration from Morocco or Alexandria to Cairo. Another example of migrated or displaced dialectalism can be found in Judeo-Italian. In the southern Italian dialects (Gyoto-Italian) one finds the form lì donni 'the women' instead of the standard le donne. In addition, a typical characteristic of central Italian dialects is a system of seven vowels. The combination of these two regional features can only be found in Judeo-Italian, suggesting a synthesis of dialectal elements from different regions due to migration among the Jewish communities in Italy. Geva-Kleinberger shows several of these characteristics in Tiberian Judéo-Arabie: regular word stress in Tiberia is VCC or -V:C next to the word ending; however, Tiberian Judéo-Arabie exhibits some Maghrebi influence on stress position - for example, Una 'we said', rather than fina; fantina 'we were happy', rather than jaruma; ihnálhná 'we', rather than Ana; and more. Moreover, the verbal pattern of the verb s-k-n in Tiberian Judeo- Arabic presents Maghrebi influence, especially in the form skinna 'we were living in' (p. 12). Furthermore, the addition of the definite article to the counted noun following the number one can be considered a Maghrebi phenomenon: wah-il'emir One emir'; wah-ilyom One day'; wah-innahär One day' (p. 13). Finally, an indication of Maghribi migration to Tiberias can be found in food recipes in Tiberian Judéo-Arabie, which include many Judeo-Spanish lexemes (p. 7) as well as the use of Judeo-Spanish loanwords (p. 27).

Finally, it is documented elsewhere that Christians or Muslims have entered into the Jewish linguistic spectrum (Hary, Translating Religion, 2009: 16-19) and vice versa. For example, American nonJews may use some Jewish English elements, mostly in the lexicon, especially if they live in a city with a sizeable Jewish population, like New York or Chicago. Thus, it is not unusual to encounter a Catholic Italian-American asking a porter to schlep ('carry') her suitcase. Furthermore, as far back as the Middle Ages, Hebrew and Aramaic lexical items entered some Christian-German dialects in the Rhine Valley via Yiddish dialects and have survived until today. For instance, in Hessonian dialects Schmiere stehen 'to keep a lookout' comes from Hebrew smira 'guard'; schackern 'to flirt' comes from Hebrew sikor 'drunken'; and Ganove 'thief comes from Hebrew ganav, with the same meaning, spread beyond local dialects and even into standard spoken German. Geva-Kleinberger shows that religious terms in Tiberian Judéo-Arabie are taken from the Arabic Islamic religious environment, for example, kuîab for 'Jewish religious classroom, heder' (p. 16), as in kuttab-xam-bibas 'Rabbi Bibas's heder', or the use of knis/knise for both 'synagogue' and 'church' (p. 15). The author also points out that Arabs use the Judéo-Arabie term hammin 'choient' as they cooked the very same originally Jewish dish.

Even such a well-written book cannot escape some flaws. For example, Geva-Kleinberger does not provide enough evidence for his statement, ". . . those Arabic-speaking Jews of Galilee came to identify themselves by the all-inclusive term 'Arab Jews'. ..." In general, it would have been useful to address the issue of categorizing or naming Arabic-speaking Jews, a hotly debated issue in the literature. Along the same lines, it is a bit naïve to state that "(t)he texts ... are free of political alignment" (p. 3); the author probably refers to party politics and even this statement is doubtful. Furthermore, Geva-Kleinberger states that Jewish-Arab relations in Tiberias became more tense especially in the 1940s, causing the gradual decrease of Arabic use among Tiberian Jews (pp. 3-4). In this context, it would have been useful to write about the politics of the employment of Hebrew as a national Zionist language and its ramification on the use of Tiberian Judéo-Arabie. In terms of dialectological studies, the number of the informants is quite limited for this study, but, of course, not many speakers are alive, so it must be assumed that more informants could not be found.

There is sometimes confusion in categorizing examples: wah-il'emïr does not belong to 11-99 examples (p. 13); marrind 'aravim 'from the Arabs' (p. 12) could be considered as part of Hebraism; and the use of the term "contamination" (p. 15, 1. 17) is unfortunate. Furthermore, more careful editing and proofreading would have prevented some typographic errors: p. xiii, 11. -1 and -5: "4.1" should be "5.1"; 1. -2: "" should be ""; p. xiv, 11. 3 and 8: "4.2" should be "5.2"; p. 3, 1. 4: "linguist" should be "linguistics"; p. 8 n. 37: "36, 17" should be "36, 15"; p. 203, 1. 11, hukama at the end of the line is superfluous; p. 224, 1. 15, the use of the two question marks is unclear.

In conclusion, despite the above criticism, this volume is not just another welcome contribution to the field of Arabic dialectology; it is rather an important addition to the growing literature on the Jewish linguistic spectrum in general and the Judéo-Arabie religiolect in particular. Geva-Kleinberger has increased our knowledge and understanding of contemporary Palestinian Judéo-Arabie and our gratitude to him is thus recorded.

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