Lidia Bettini: Contes feminins de la Haute Jezireh syrienne. Materiaux ethno-linguistiques d'un parler nomade oriental.
Author: Palva, Heikki
Pub Date: 01/01/2008
Publication: Name: Acta Orientalia Publisher: Hermes Academic Publishing Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Hermes Academic Publishing ISSN: 0001-6438
Issue: Date: Annual, 2008 Source Volume: 69
Accession Number: 201551096
Full Text: Lidia Bettini: Contes feminins de la Haute Jezireh syrienne. Materiaux ethno-linguistiques d'un parler nomade oriental. Firenze: Dipartimento di Linguistica, Universita di Firenze, 2006. (Quaderni di Semitistica, 26). X + 409 + 39 pp. ISBN 88-901340-7-0. ISSN 1724-8213.

This collection of Bedouin texts consists of 50 narratives recorded between 1982 and 2003 in the northeastern corner of Syria. Among all the major collections of Bedouin narratives, this work is unique in that the narrators are women. Up to the present, only a few narrative prose texts spoken by Bedouin women have been published; now for the first time we have a comprehensive corpus of them. It is a well-known fact that there are great differences between men's and women's stories as far as performance, motifs, and themes are concerned. As pointed out by H.M. El-Shamy (Folktales of Egypt, Chicago, 1980: xlviii), tales (hawadi[] or hikayat) are often called "women's stuff", apparently known but not transmitted by men, who consider tales as unworthy of adult men. According to Judith Rosenhouse, who has published both Bedouin men's and women's stories (The Bedouin Arabic dialects, Wiesbaden, 1984), the former mainly deal with nomadic values or codes of moral behaviour, including loyalty, horsemanship, nobility, reception of guests, law cases, and tribal history, whereas women's stories more often treat feelings such as love, hate, and jealousy, and combine mysterious elements. Women's stories may belong to the fables or heroic, tribal, or family history types, but more often they are "fairy tales", in which the fairies usually are jinns or ogres, as often is the case in the present corpus as well.

In this corpus almost all the narratives are tales. The few exceptions include two short stories, one about a marriage (VIII) and the other about a heavy snowfall (XXVIII); exceptional are also a witty anecdote about the wolf and the goats (XXII) and a poem about a she-goat looking for its kids (XXIII). While the most typical men's story among the Bedouin is a historical narrative ( salfe) followed by a poem ( gaside), in this collection no examples of these genres are found. It is also typical of these narratives that they never begin with a formulaic opening.

It is my experience from fieldwork among Bedouin tribes that the language of men tends to be more levelled than that of women, which implies that the structure of the latter often is more coherent, representing a language form which in dialect studies traditionally has been called 'genuine'. In this collection, the language is 'genuine' in the sense that it is practically unlevelled, and also fusha interference is minimal. On the other hand, it does not display any phonetic, phonemic, or grammatical features exclusively used by women. This actually tallies with the results of Rosenhouse's statistical study (ZAL 39, 2001:64-83), which revealed differences between female and male narrators in certain individual preferences on the lexical rather than on the syntactic level. In the present corpus, however, as stated by Bettini (p. 52), even the style does not essentially differ from the men's narratives analyzed by, e.g., Sowayan, Ingham, and Palva. It really seems difficult to find any significant specifically feminine trait in the style of the narratives included in Bettini's collection. Thus, they abound in verbs of motion, asyndetic chains of verbs, descriptive imperatives, and other devices, which often render the style dynamic and staccato--all stylistic devices which according to Roni Henkin ("Narrative styles of Negev Bedouin men and women", Oriente Moderno 1/2000: 59-81; EALL III: 368, 2008), are typical of men's narratives in the Negev. The same holds true of concretization, which in Henkin's Negev material is typical of men's stories but which very often occurs in this corpus. The most essential difference between men's and women's narratives is no doubt the choice of themes. Women very seldom tell stories about wars, raids, disputes between tribes or subtribes, hospitality, bravery, and hunting, whereas Bedouin men seldom tell fairy tales or folktales.

In the present corpus, a number of the narrators come from the tribe of Jbur (Oppenheim 1939: 183-184, 196-197), inhabiting the banks of the Jagjag River, in villages built since the 1940s and '50s between al-Hasaka and al-Qamisli. The oldest narrators were born in tents and have been living as traditional seminomads even after having moved from tents to permanent houses. Only four texts come from other parts of the Province of al-Hasaka: text XLVI was recorded at al-Ya'rubiyya at the Iraqi border, and texts XXVII-XXIX come from the area of Jabal 'Abd al-'Aziz to the West of al-Hasaka. All the places where the recordings were made are clearly indicated on a coloured map. There are seven further coloured pages, which include nice portraits of six of the narrators as well as five views of the physical surroundings.

The transcribed texts are conveniently divided into short paragraphs, each followed by its translation, an arrangement which saves the reader much thumbing. The useful 40-page glossary includes items not found in Barthelemy 1935-54, provided with references to relevant sources. The volume also includes a 30-page section in Arabic, containing acknowledgements and a preface as well as a presentation of the contents and themes of the narratives.

As stated in the introduction, here the investigation is consciously limited to an internal analysis of the recordings, whereas the performance, motifs, themes, variability, narrative techniques, interaction with the audience, and the narrative context have mainly been left outside the study. As to the motifs, El-Shamy's important work, Folk Traditions of the Arab world. A Guide to Motif Classification, I-II (Bloomington, Indianapolis 1995), is referred to, and the Aarne-Thompson classic, The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography (Helsinki 1961), is mentioned on page 14, footnote 66. It may be mentioned that this has been recently updated by Hans-Jorg Uther, The Types of International Folktales. A Classification and Bibliography I-III (Academia Scientiarum Fennica, FF Communications 224-226; Helsinki 2004). The main aim of the present study is dialectological, but, as pointed out in the introduction, it necessarily implies a relevant account of the historical and cultural background of the area as well as of different methodological issues. In this respect the introduction is very illuminating.

The transcription used by Bettini is morphophonemic, which implies preserving morphological transparency (e.g., tharrbun instead of [tharbu:n]; ar(i) d aruh) and omission of phonemically irrelevant or marginal features (e.g., secondary velarization). Among the typologically most distinctive phonemic traits in northern Jazira is the reflex of * g. According to Behnstedt 1997, Maps 7 and 8, the q reflex is a feature characteristic of the dialects spoken in the Upper Euphrates area northwest of Der ez-Zor and also occurs sporadically in the northeastern corner of Syria. For the sedentary population living on the banks of the Jagjag River, Behnstedt gives the reflex g(ganam, garb), and in the items 'to wash' and 'washing machine' x ( xasal, yixsil, xassale). In the present corpus, recorded among the Bedouin in the Jagjag River area, the reflexes of * g are q and g, which appear irregularly in all positions, obviously as stylistic variants used in free variation, e.g., ger ~ qer, ganam ~ qanam, garb ~ qarb, gayab ~ qayab, gazu ~ qazu, gaba ~ qaba; in text XLVI, narrated by a young Sammariyye and recorded at al-Ya'rubiyya, the only reflex is g. In the verb 'to wash' the reflex is as a rule q: qassal XVIII 25, nqassil II 10, ta-aqassil XIX 15, iqsilin II 12, etc.

The phonetically conditioned allophones of /g/ and /k/ are g and c respectively, but--as is commonplace in Bedouin dialects--the affrication has not always been applied. In rather few cases q occurs as a reflex of *q; this may be either a fusha variant or a qeltu-type dialect reflex: 'ala sab' turuq 'to a crossroads of seven routes' XVI 14, la yiqra w-la yiktib 'he could neither read nor write' XVI 14, ballas yiqra 'he started reading' XVI 19, al-qussa 'aley ani 'the story is about me' XVI 29, misaw ci[]ir gilil qalil 'they walked on (some distance)' V 11. As far as the latter alternative is concerned, it is due to dialect contact: Behnstedt (Map 9) gives the reflex q for al-Hasaka and the sedentary villages on the banks of the Jagjag River.

Synchronic processes typical of Najdi-type Bedouin dialects include the a-raising rule in an open non-final short syllable (/a/[right arrow] i or u), the resyllabification rule CaCaCV [right arrow] CCvCV, and the gahawa syndrome. An interesting systematic synchronic process is the gemination of the fem. -t before suffixes beginning with a vowel: banattu 'she pitched it (the tent)', ntattu 'she gave him', sawwattu 'she made it', gattic 'she came to you (f.)', calattu 'she ate it', gayittu 'who comes to him', talbittu 'who demands him'; a parallel case is the gemination of n of the 3rd p. pl. f. in the same position: laffannu 'they rolled it', ntannu 'they gave him', gitinnu 'they came to him'. Salient Bedouin-type grammatical features are, e.g., the use of the redundant tanwin in certain positions (when followed by an adjective attribute or modified by a clause; in some cases in an isolated position and in fixed formulas); the absence of tense and mood markers in the imperfect; the absence of analytic genitive constructions (exceptions: taba' XXXIII 13, mal XIII 23, XLVI 27); and the absence of split-morpheme negations. Somewhat surprisingly, I did not notice any apophonic passives in the texts.

A most interesting feature found in the texts is the retention of the feminine morpheme -t in definite nouns followed by an adjective attribute: 'ala g-giht al-garbiyye 'towards the west' XX 7, al-hurumt al-awwaliyya 'the first wife' XL 3 (but: al-hurma al-awwaliyye XIX 32), wan-naqt al-flaniyya wenha 'and the she-camel So-and-so, where's it?' XLI 17, halib al-naqt al-bakra 'a young camel's milk' XLVI 2, al-marrt ar-rab'a 'the fourth time' XX 6, al-lelt a[]-[]anya 'the next night' XX 16, al-lelta []-[]al[]a 'the third night' XVII 19, al-lelta r-rab'a 'the fourth night' XVII 19; in the last two instances the a between the two words belongs grammatically to the article. The feminine morpheme is also retained when the definite noun is followed by a relative clause: ha[]i l-mufatih al-qurft al-biha []- []ahab 'here are the keys of the room in which the gold is' ibid., az-zlimt al-'id rasha 'the man who was close to her head' XLI 4, az-zlimt al-ymut 'the man who dies' XLI 14, ma 'idhum has-siqart al-yisrabunha 'they don't have even one cigarette to smoke' XXXII 5, ha[]i al-faruwt as-sawwetha-lak 'here is the fur which I made for you' XXV 11. In one instance the first term of a construct phrase carries a definite article, perhaps due to the phonetic similarity of the article and the relative pronoun: al-miftah al-qurft al-mqaffala 'the key of the locked room' XI 11; cf. ha[]i l-mufatih al-qurft al-biha []-[]ahab 'here are the keys of the room in which the gold is' one line before.

The most frequently used verb for 'to wish, want' is rad, yrid, but in the idiolects of some speakers the pseudoverb bidd + pron. suffix is of common occurrence. Interestingly, this old SyroPalestinian sedentary feature is also attested by Behnstedt (Map 359) for al-Hasake and the banks of the Jagjag River.

To sum up, Lidia Bettini's extensive collection of Bedouin women's narratives is a major contribution to the study of Arabic dialects. Ample in material and exact in presentation, this is an outstanding work indeed. In addition to rich, carefully documented linguistic data, it is excellent material for the study of oral literature and folklore, and moreover, makes enjoyable reading.

Heikki Palva

University of Helsinki
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