Category Archives: Arabic Language

Mahri: A language or dialect?

MahriTribesMen
from Bertram Thomas’ “Arabia Felix” (1932)

[The article below features research by AIYS Board Member Sam Liebhaber.]

by Ali Abulohoom, Yemen Times, October 2,  2014

“My father told me that [in his village in Mahra] back in the day, they did not use any language but Mahri in their daily lives, as there was no need to use ‘formal language’ [Arabic],” said Saeed Bin Basheer, 52, who lives in Al-Ghaiyda, the capital city of Mahra governorate.

Basheer still speaks the Mahri language and urges his four sons to do the same.

I always tell my sons not to forget Mahri as it is part of our culture and identity. Arabic, English, and other languages have become easy to learn anywhere, whereas Mahri [is in danger of dying],” Basheer added.

In 2009, the Yemeni Central Statistical Organization estimated the population in Al-Mahra governorate at 101,701—many of whom speak the region’s traditional Mahri language.

Like Arabic and Hebrew, Mahri is a Semitic language. Unlike its two Semitic counterparts, however, it lacks a written tradition. Except for a few short lines and word lists, which have been published in Arabic, the Mahri language has only been written down for scholarly audiences.

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Is there a “Middle Arabic”?

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Map of Aden in Ibn al-Mujāwir’s text

There is an important new article on so-called “Middle Arabic” from historian Rex Smith and Alex Bellem in the Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 44 (2014): 9–18. Below are the title and summary.

‘Middle Arabic’? Morpho-syntactic features of clashing grammars in a thirteenth-century Arabian text

by Alex Bellem & G. Rex Smith

Summary
There is a body of texts in Arabic the language of which has traditionally been called ‘Middle Arabic’ (MA). The term persists,
although often taken to relate to chronological and historical ‘middleness’ rather than linguistic intermediacy. One perhaps less well-known text composed in this style is Ibn al-Mujāwir’s thirteenth-century Tārīkh al-Mustabṣir.  As is typical of so-called ‘MA’ texts, Classical Arabic (CA) appears to dominate the style, with many non-CA features mixed into the CA base. Often, the non-CA features are essentially typical of Spoken Arabic (SA), so that the language is generally said to be a mix of CA and SA. There are, however, many non-CA features of Tārīkh al-Mustabṣir that do not conform entirely to either CA or SA, yet their use is not unsystematic. For these reasons we reject the term ‘MA’ in favour of ‘Literary Mixed Arabic’ (LMA).

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AIYS at MESA 2014: Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

[P3654] Making Yemen’s Islamic History: Engineering, Monuments, Taxes and Stimulants

 MESA Annual Convention, Washington DC
To be held Monday, 11/24/14 11:00am

•    Written versus archaeological evidence: The example of water and wastewater in medieval Zabid, Yemen by Dr. Ingrid Hehmeyer
•    Ideal and pragmatic tax law in mediaeval Zaydi Yemen by Dr. Eirik Hovden
•    A cultural heritage text from early medieval South Arabia by Dr. Daniel Mahoney
•    Coffee and Qat in Yemen: The Historical and Literary Evidence for their Introduction by Dr. Daniel Martin Varisco
•    Discussant:  Dr. Nancy Ajung Um

SUMMARY:

Scholarship on Islamic history has paid less attention to Yemen than to Iraq, Syria or Egypt. Despite an important corpus of manuscripts and the publication of several significant primary sources, the historical reconstruction of Islamic Yemen lags behind these other regions. This panel brings together historians who work on various periods in Yemen to illustrate how the current historiography is being made. Archaeological fieldwork on the Islamic era has been limited with the notable exception of the Royal Ontario Museum project on Zabid. Based on the excavation of water works in Zabid, one paper compares the material evidence with the description of water engineering schemes in the 16th century Yemeni text History of Zabid by Ibn al-Dayba’, thus showing the importance of archaeology for fleshing out the tantalizing details in written texts. Another paper focuses on the 10th century multi-volume al-Iklil of the Yemeni savant al-Hamdani, who provides a rhetorical landscape of monuments as an aid in the formation and maintenance of the South Arabian political identity in a fashion akin to modern cultural heritage texts. At the same time, al-Hamdani’s reconstruction of Yemen’s pre-Islamic past serves as a mirror of the politics of his own time, with the retreat of the Abbasid presence and the recent arrival of both Zaydis and Isma’ilis to northern Yemen, more than a century before the Ayyubid invasion. The Zaydi presence in Yemen’s north since the late ninth century is the focus of a paper on the tax policies of the Zaydi imams, especially the tension between the traditional zakat on production and other kinds of taxes. This paper discusses both the theological debate about tax collection and recorded information on how taxes were actually collected. Another paper examines the evidence for the introduction of both coffee (Coffea arabica) and qat (Catha edulis) into Yemen, probably during the Rasulid era. Recent research has resolved the issue of the origin of the term “qat” and there is a need to update discussion of the stimulant in previous sources, including the EI. This paper will examine historical, literary, legal and lexical sources as well as Yemeni folklore. Overall the panel provides both an indication of current research and an invitation for other scholars to help make Yemen’s history as well.

South Arabia and the Berber Imaginary

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Mahri camels at the International Festival of the Sahara in Douz, Tunisia,  December 24, 2012. Photo by Sam Liebhaber.

by Sam Liebhaber

One of the long-standing myths of Berber ancestry places their origins in Yemen from whence they were dispatched to North Africa in the service of ancient Ḥimyarite kings.  Although this chapter in the mythological prehistory of the Arab world can be refuted on the grounds that the Berber are indisputably indigenous to North Africa, the offhand dismissal of the South Arabian-Berber imaginary overlooks an important sociolinguistic kinship between the Berber of North Africa and one of the last indigenous linguistic communities of the Arabian Peninsula: the Mahra of Yemen and Oman.

A number of socio-cultural parallels distinguish the Berber and Mahra from the other minority language communities of the Middle East. For one, the Mahra and Berber are members of the Islamic ʾummah, unlike many of the other minority language communities of the Arab world where linguistic boundaries are frequently coterminous with religious divisions. Further, the Berber and the Mahra did not inherit a written tradition that includes religious and literary texts. As a consequence, the Mahri and Berber languages are frequently consigned to the category of “lahja,” an Arabic term that signifies any non-prestigious, vernacular idiom that lacks of historical or social value.

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Serjeant’s “Prose and Poetry” now in Arabic

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There is now an Arabic edition of R. B. Serjeant’s classic South Arabian Poetry: Prose and Poetry from Hadramawt (1951).

كتاب (نثر وشعر من حضرموت) للمستشرق البريطاني روبرت سارجنت في المكتبة العربية الآن

صدر عن دار ثقافة للنشر والتوزيع كتاب (نثر وشعر من حضرموت) للمستشرق البريطاني روبرت سارجنت، وترجمة الأديب الحضرمي سعيد محمد دحي. الكتاب يُعد أحد أهم ما كُتب عن خصائص المجتمع الحضرمي في النصف الأول من القرن العشرين وعن طريق قراءة عميقة للنثر والشعر العامي الذي تم انتاجه في حضرموت في تلك الفترة.

ويصف المترجم سعيد دحي في مقدمته للكتاب روبرت سارجنت بأنه خير من يمثل الباحثين الأوروبيين الجادين والنشطين والموضوعين الذي درسوا تراث أمتنا العربية ونظمها الثقافية والمعرفية والشعبية والدينية وتلمس شخصية الأمة العربية في إطارها الحضاري المتميز ويهتز طربا لاحتفالاتها ومواسمها الشعبية والأعراس والمناسبات التي يتجلى فيها إبداعها بأبهى مظاهره وصوره وتنوع فنونه من خلال اللهجة العامية والأشعار الشعبية والأغاني والأهازيج والزوامل.

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Facebook Yemen: الجمعية الفلكية اليمنية

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The Astronomical Society of Yemen has a Facebook site created by the distinguished scholar of Yemeni astronomy, Yahya Yahya al-Ansi.  Check it out at https://www.facebook.com/groups/AstronomicalSocietyofYemen/

أهلا وسهلا بك إلى الجمعية الفلكية باليمنية. مخصص لطرح ومنافشة انشطة الجمعية المختلفة … مخصص لطرح كافة الانشطة الفلكية عربيا وعالميا

الاستاذ يحيى يحيى العنسي

 

Yemeni Manuscripts in Peril

[More than 10,000 Yemeni manuscripts have disappeared over the last 10 years, many of them destroyed by extremists opposed to Zaydi-Shiism and its intellectual heritage.]

السبت, 22-مارس-2014
الثوتة نوز.نت

يعتبر اليمن موطنا للمخطوطات والرقائق القرآنية بامتياز، حيث إن التاريخ والموروث الحضاري العربي الإسلامي بكل تجلياته ، وجد بيئة حاضنة لم تكشف لحد اليوم عن كامل أسرارها وكنوزها النادرة التي لا تنضب .
ورغم تعرض المخطوط اليمني لعملية نهب منظمة إبان الاستعمار البريطاني ، قدرت بأزيد من 60 ألف مخطوطة على الأقل ، إلا أن الوثائق اليمنية غير المكتشفة أكبر بكثير مما سلط عليه الضوء .
وتتوزع المخطوطات اليمنية في العالم بين مختلف المكتبات والمراكز المختصة بشكل رسمي ، فنجد أن مكتبة “الأميروزيانا” التي تأسست عام 1609 في مدينة ميلانو ، تزخر لوحدها بأكثر من 1700 مخطوط يمني في مختلف مجالات العلم والمعرفة ، بالإضافة إلى آلاف الوثائق اليمنية التي تنتشر على مكتبات قارات العالم بأكمله .
ومن المكتبات العالمية التي تحتضن في أروقتها مخطوطات يمنية ، نذكر: مكتبة الفاتيكان في إيطاليا ، مكتبة الإسكوريال في إسبانيا ، المكتبة الوطنية في باريس ، مكتبة الكونغرس في واشنطن ، مكتبة برلين ، المكتبة السليمانية في تركيا ، إلى جانب مكتبات في الهند وباكستان وبريطانيا وإيرلندا. Continue reading Yemeni Manuscripts in Peril