History of the dialectal Arabic verb forms تفاعل tfaaʕal and تفعّل tfaʕʕal


Senior Member
English (US) / Arabic (Lebanon)
This might be a little specific, but we'll see. Note that it ONLY applies to certain Arabic varieties; for example, there are Bedouin dialects that have preserved all of the original 'internal passives', and they assuredly are not within the scope of this post. The dialect group I'm best-acquainted with is Levantine, so (disclaimer) any odd assumptions I make will probably be because of that.
I'm not sure if I should provide background, seeing as this isn't an Arabic-specific forum, but I'll chance not doing that for the sake of keeping this post shorter. (It didn't quite work, in retrospect, but if you happen to browse the Arabic form and have seen my recent post regarding stanna, then you can pretty much just skip to the final two paragraphs!)

Basically, in a lot of contemporary Arabic dialects, the original reflexive active-voice verb forms *tafaaʕala and *tafaʕʕala have been reappropriated from reflexive to passive. In other words, rather than historic "faaʕala-passive-fuuʕila", "faʕʕala-passive-fuʕʕila", "tafaaʕala-passive-tufuuʕila", and "tafaʕʕala-passive-tufuʕʕila", the new productive formations are "faaʕal-passive-tfaaʕal" and "faʕʕal-passive-tfaʕʕal".
Complicating this, though, is the continued influence that the contemporary dialects have received from higher registers of Arabic which preserve the 'original' verb-derivation system, resulting in direct loans or fossilized verbs that don't respect the whole "new passive" idea. For example, the Levantine verb tṣawwar is the productive passive of the verb ṣawwar "to take a photo of", but it coincides with the fossilized higher-register loan tṣawwar "to imagine".

A while ago I came across something that's in fact nothing new (but was new to me at the time), documented in this Arabic-forum thread of mine. Basically, a lot of dialects seem to sport a marginal variant of each of the two t-prefixed forms: (i)stfaaʕal and (i)stfaʕʕal for, respectively, tfaaʕal and tfaʕʕal. Their derivation appears to be by analogy with the initial st- of the wholly unrelated verb form (i)stafʕal, but there's no semantic shift whatsoever — the only shift is the sound change of the t- prefix to st-.
Importantly, all verbs following (i)stfaaʕal and (i)stfaʕʕal are reflexive in meaning, meaning they aren't "new passives" of faaʕal and faʕʕal.

Now, on what seems like a tangent, there's a verb "to wait" used in a lot of Arabic varieties today that reads stanna. It's not immediately traceable to any particular verb-form derivation pattern, but the general consensus is that it's somehow related to the historic verbs taʔanna "to act leisurely" and (i)staʔna "to hesitate, to wait". However, I haven't yet seen a concrete explanation of the devation from both. So my last post in that earlier thread of mine is an argument that it fits right in to this general pattern of "(i)stfaʕʕal" verbs, being derived directly from tʔanna but affected by analogy with (i)staʔna, meaning that its 'original' dialectal form must have been *(i)stʔanna.

And that's all well and good. But what confused me was that, unlike the other examples of (i)stfaaʕal and (i)stfaʕʕal, this stanna is nowhere near marginal: it's the predominant verb for "to wait" in a large, widespread number of contemporary Arabic varieties, which seems to suggest to me that its apparent predecessor, *(i)stʔanna, must have previously been present in all of these varieties as well, which seems odd for a verb form that is rare and completely unproductive today despite also being present marginally in a large number of varieties.

So the idea popped into my head all of a sudden that perhaps the original dialectal reflexes of the active-verb forms *tafaaʕala and *tafaʕʕala were in fact (i)stfaaʕal and (i)stfaʕʕal, which initially would have allowed tfaaʕal and tfaʕʕal to unambiguously exist as new-passive formations. And then, as time passed, these (i)stfaaʕal and (i)stfaʕʕal verbs would have been leveled back into tfaaʕal and tfaʕʕal through continued exposure to (and both loaning and re-loaning from) Modern Standard Arabic and historically equivalently-high registers. Under this assumption, *(i)stʔanna would have only avoided being overridden by a re-loaned *tʔanna because of the phonologically-motivated shift to stanna, causing it to resemble a different-enough verb form that it stuck around.

This has every reason to just be a flight of fancy, though, which I'm definitely leaning toward because I'm not at all well-read on the contemporary dialects' evolution and diachronics. Is there anything to possibly support this idea, or is it just bunk, with the actual explanation being that the s-prefixed forms appeared erratically on a small number of verb forms without constituting a language-wide shift (and stanna just got lucky)?
Last edited:
  • < Previous | Next >