Is there a link between geography and closeness of a dialect to MSA?

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Josh_, Feb 14, 2009.

  1. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Split from here.
    I linked, here, to a serious scholar, who is definitely mainstream and has even published a book (with some other professors) which has become the most used book to teach MSA, and who has apparently learned many dialects, as well as MSA, and holds the view that no dialect is any closer to MSA than any other dialect. Who knows, maybe that is a PC statement on her part, but unless someone (preferably familar with several dialects) has conducted serious studies and has empirical data to suggest that a particular dialect is closer than another, I would tend to believe her. Most of the time people who claim that one dialect is closer than another to MSA are generally partial to their dialect of choice and have no real proof to back that up. So, barring some empirical proof, such claims are best left to the realm of conjecture, in my opinion.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 15, 2009
  2. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    "MSA" can mean a lot of different things in different contexts, so I should modify my statement to refer to Classical Arabic, of which MSA is a subset. And yes, that's the only scholar I know of who made that statement, and I know of her from your post earlier. But there are many more non-Arab scholars who say completely the opposite and cannot be accused of being partial. In fact, even aside from academic papers and books, almost every instructional work on Arabic that I've read will tell you that the further away you move from the Arabian Peninsula, the further away from CA you get. The idea that the dialect of a tribe of the upper Hedjaz is no closer to CA than the dialect of Casablanca is simply untenable. And yes I do believe the scholar you cited is simply being PC. I also think she exhibits a kind of intellectual laziness in that statement because it's simply not true that these things are impossible to measure. Just as linguists have offered good arguments and evidence for how certain romance languages preserve more of vernacular or classical Latin than others, the same could (and has been) done with Arabic. The only difference is that very few romance-speakers attach any value to being more or less "faithful" to Latin, whereas, obviously, in Arabic that is not the case, and so the question is not as controversial.

    [By the way, as an aside, we should be careful not to stereotype or generalize. Just as some speakers of a dialect would like to believe that their dialect is more "faithful" to the "Good Old Arabic," you will usually find many speakers of that dialect who want to distance their dialect from CA as much as possible because they feel that that helps to establish their dialect as a separate language. You see this more prominently in Egypt and Lebanon, but I've seen this phenomenon in almost every country, even Iraq, which is generally considered to have a more conservative group of dialects. There are also those on the opposite side who, although they are conditioned to believe that their dialect is very distant from CA, are the sort of people who usually advocate that we should all drop our dialects and accents and speak like the newscasters on BBC Arabic.]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 15, 2009
  3. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    To me, that is a dangerous statement (and to some may even sound like elitism), barring some kind of proof by those scholars to substantiate the claim. It is dangerous in that فصحى is portrayed as some monolithic language which is preserved by the Quran. So to suggest that say, Algerian or Moroccan Arabic for example, is farther away form فصحى than Higazi is to suggest that the speakers of said dialects are some how less religious than those in the Hijaz area, and thus more susceptible to language change. I find it quite suspect to suggest that the closer one is to the Arabian Peninsula (the birthplace of Islam; the proverbial "beating heart" of Islam) the closer his/her dialect is to فصحى -- the language of the Quran. I'm not saying that it isn't so (it could very well be that those dialects are closer), but that there is no inherent reason to think that it is so. Proximity to the Arabian Peninsula is, in itself, no indication of closeness to فصحى, as far as I'm concerned, and by extension no indication of piety.

    (I am using MSA/CA to mean فصحى in general. In fact it may be better to use that term than it is to use an English-derived term.)
     
  4. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    What I'm saying is that some dialects preserve more features of the Arabic of the 7th century (the best record of which is included in the Quran, Hadith, pre-Islamic and early Islamic poetry, and medieval adab literature) than other dialects. How this proposition could be interpreted as "elitist" is beyond me.

    That doesn't make it false (appeal to consequences).

    There is absolutely no logical link here. What has a thesis on linguistic evolution have to do with religious piety?

    The fact that these dialects are more conservative than others has nothing to do with Islam. Those who describe Arabian dialects as (generally, though not entirely) more conservative than non-Arabian ones do not base their assessment on proximity to the birthplace of Islam (which would be quite bizarre!). In fact, Islam was born in Mecca and Medina, but everyone agrees that the dialect of Mecca and Medina is among the LEAST conservative in the Peninsula, and has more in common with urban dialects of the Levant and especially Egypt and the Sudan than with Arabia. Even the speakers of this dialect have no problem acknowledging this because Mecca and Medina have been melting pots for every conceivable race on earth due to their status as holy cities, and the citizens of Mecca and Medina know this and are quite proud of their diverse origins.

    I think you're confusing things here. The thesis isn't "these dialects are spoken in the Arabian Peninsula ERGO they must be more conservative." What happened is the opposite. Many non-Arab scholars have looked at these dialects and studied them and have found that they preserve more features of Classical Arabic than those outside the Peninsula. This is a descriptive analytic statement, not a normative one. Now, once you've reached this conclusion based on studying different dialects, you can try to search for an explanation. You could say, "you know, it makes sense that these dialects are more conservative because this is the native environment that Classical Arabic developed in; it was populated by Arab tribes in harsh, isolated conditions, with limited contact with other languages and ethnic groups; technological development was slower here than in more hospitable areas ... maybe this explains the results that we have found. Then you look at places like Mecca, Medina, Aden, Qatif, i.e. urban areas along the coasts which tend to be less conservative, and you look at their history and that they were subject to long processes of immigration or by rule from neighboring countries like Egypt, and the explanation becomes stronger." But even if these explanations are not true, that does not negate the results, but rather it means you need to look for another explanation. Again, this is an analytic exercise. It doesn't mean Arabian dialects are "better" or "more beautiful" or "more expressive" or "more useful" (they may or may not be or it may be impossible to tell), and it certainly doesn't make their speakers better Muslims (wonder what gave you that idea!). Some people from other regions may not like to have their dialects to be described as "less conservative," but many others would be thrilled by it, and many more (maybe even most) will not care either way.

    Where have I mentioned piety?
     
  5. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    It has some relation. My experience was that I had no real difficulty understanding MSA as a young child, even though I learned Arabic relatively late (age 5 or 6), but I think someone growing up in Algeria or Morocco may find it harder. The problem is that the mere idea that dialects may differ in their mutual comprehensibility with MSA or CA is taboo here, so we had to go on a long tangent discussing that.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 15, 2009
  6. Xence Senior Member

    Algeria (Arabic - French)
    In fact, you would find some Algerians who are stongly convinced that it's the other way round, and they have a sound argumentation. :)

    ***

    Intersting debate...
    I'd just add that if the religious factor isn't actually that visible, it musn't be overlooked, imho.
     
  7. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    I really don't see how religion has anything to do with this at all, because we're not talking about how ordinary people would feel about the relationship of their dialect with CA. That's a completely separate issue.

    If I told you that Morocco is geographically further from Mecca than Somalia is, then that is a statement of fact. If someone from Morocco says, "hey I resent that! You're implying that Somalia is more Muslim than Morocco!" then it's not really my problem that he would make such an irrational statement, and it doesn't make Morocco any closer to Mecca than Somalia.
     
  8. Xence Senior Member

    Algeria (Arabic - French)
    That wasn't my point, here.
    What I meant to say is that the religious factor was decisive in preserving the Arabic language in those distant countries where Arabic wasn't the native language (Berber in the Maghreb, African languages, etc.). The intermingling between language and religion in these peripherial countries should not be underestimate.
     
  9. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    Sorry, I thought you were referring to something Josh was saying.
     
  10. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    That is a straw man and a misrepresentation of my position.

    Anyway, I want to go back to this statement for a moment:
    For sake of argument I will accept the notion that dialects within the Arabian Peninsula (hereafter referred to as AP) are closer to فصحى than dialects outside it. There certainly are grounds to make that claim as we can assume that these dialects had less contact with other languages and cultures (although there are other factors that affect language change). Ok, now that we have established that, let's talk about other dialects. You, and the authors of the academic and instructional works you read, claim that the further away from the AP one gets, the further away from فصحى one gets. Why would that happen? Why, for example, would Egyptian Arabic be closer to فصحى than Tunisian. Egypt is closer to the AP geographically, however both Egypt and Tunisia have had similar experiences and interactions with other cultures and languages (by way of indigenous populations/languages, colonialism, etc.). I would not necessarily say that one is tremendously different from the other on that front. So what automatically/inherently makes Egyptian closer to فصحى than Tunisian? While I may be able to accept the possibility that AP dialects are closer to فصحى than others, I do not automatically accept the claim that the further away one is from the AP the further away dialect is from فصحى. Not without some kind of explanation anyway.

    Out of curiosity, I really would be interested in knowing what those academics base their conclusions on (what kind of evidence they offer to substantiate their claims), so I can review it for myself. Who knows, maybe I will agree with them.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 15, 2009
  11. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Josh,

    I think I can provide with a fairly sound reason for why this might be the case.

    If we look at the way the Arabic language spread, and was maintained/regulated throughout the past 1400 years (ie. the Islamic period), we'll see that it was inevitable that lands that directly border with the peninsula would be more 'orthodox' in their retention of Arabic. As Islam spread in the 7th. century and carried Arabic with it, the ability of a central authority to maintain control over the language became stretched. The sheer distance between the different ends of the Islamic empire, meant that maintaining the consistency of the Arabic language just wasn't possible. The lands which remained in the central region (Peninsula, Sham, Egypt, Iraq) remained fairly tight-knit and so their Arabic was fairly consistent. However, after the decline of the Abbasids in the West (which caused a fragmentation of the Arab/Islamic world) and then the invasion of the Steppe peoples (Turks, Mongols, Tatars etc) from the east, the 'outer-rim' of the Arab/Islamic world came under heavy foriegn influence and this seems to have seriously affected the way the Arabic language developed.

    Remember that at the height of Islamic civilisation, even Persia was an Arabic speaking land, as too were Khorasan (north Persia/Afghanistan/Uzbekistan etc) and Spain to some degree. Throughout most of the period of Arab/Islamic decline, Sham and Egypt remained pretty much united as a single political entity (Seljuks, Ayyubids then Mamelukes) and was never really subject to any sustained outside influence (until the last century or so), except for the brief period of the Crusades, which only really held a few cities anyway, not the actual countries themselves, and the Ottoman/Turkish influence. So this central region, with Iraq and the peninsula remained fairly close and consolidated, whilst lands farther away fell under foreign influence and were seperated by greater distances, and either ended up losing the Arabic language (Persia, Khorasan & Spain) or it became severely affected by foreign languages (Maghreb).

    Also you must keep in mind that Egypt was occupied by the Brritish, but maintained it's own rulers throughout that entire period. Also the British weren't that interested in making Egypt part of the British empire (The Egyptians don't even play cricket for instance!!), whilst the French were quite interested in making the Maghreb part of their empire, and 'bestowed' a lot of their culture and language on the people of North Africa.

    Agreed. It can be quite frustrating, especially since it can take twice as long to become proficient, because you must almost learn 2 languages. I have had to struggle with learning 3 dialects, Fus7a (for myself), Egyptian (my wife's dialect) and Shami (most of my friends dialect) and often it feels like the old saying "jack of all trades master of none". It's so frustrating to have invested so much time and effort, and yet not actually being strongly proficient in any single dialect.
     
  12. Xence Senior Member

    Algeria (Arabic - French)
    There is, however, another phenomenon which contributed greatly in the maintaining of the Arabic language in the Maghreb: the migration of Banu Hilal tribes (11th century), originally from Najd, along with Banu Sulaym tribes (Hijaz).
    And that's also why there are a lot of similarites between Algerian Arabic in some provinces and Arabian Badawi, and that's also why some Algerians dare to claim that their native language is closer to Fus7a than many other Arabic dialects.
     
  13. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    Well, recall that the original poster stated that cartoons were useless for her to understand Finnish, a foreign language to her (though I wonder how old she was at the time). I certainly don't think that watching French cartoons would have been enough for me to learn French. But when the two "languages" have a very close relationship (e.g. dialectical Arabic and MSA), it becomes easier. At some point, you should have a dialect that is so far removed from MSA, that the transition becomes harder, and the connection becomes more difficult for a child to make. I often hear people in Egypt complaining about how difficult it is for them to read MSA as children (though this statement may be ideologically motivated of course). So, maybe the mutual comprehensibility of a dialect with MSA will be a factor in how easily the child will be able to learn MSA watching TV. This proposition may or may not be true (I have no studies to back it up of course), but I don't think it is as far-fetched as you think.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2009
  14. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    I would love to see how I misrepresented it. I think what's happening here is that you jumped to a lot of conclusions about what I was saying. For example, you thought that I was saying that Arabian Arabic MUST be more conservative than Moroccan because it is Arabian, rather than based on the features of the actual dialects. You also assumed that I thought that there something "better" or "more Islamic" about having a more conservative dialect, or that I thought being closer to Islam's birthplace had any significance linguistically (or vice versa). Perhaps this was my fault for not being clear enough in presenting my ideas.

    Certainly. That's why some Arabian dialects (e.g. Mecca) are classed separately from the dialects of the surrounding area. And anyway, nobody would claim that Arabian Arabic is identical to 7th century Arabic or that it has not undergone changes on its own. For example, there's evidence that Arabian Arabic preserved the dual verb form until around the 1500's, but there's no evidence of it retaining that feature thereafter. So, yes, (relative) isolation does not prevent evolution.

    Well, first of all you seem to have seized upon a very general, thumbnail-sketch-type statement here. I didn't literally mean that there's some mathematical equation that says "if you're 1000 km's from Arabia, your dialect is more conservative than if you're 1500 km's away." It's a general tendency, but it's not some sort of mathematical function. If you had read what I said in more detail, you would see that the dialects of Mecca and Jeddah are not especially conservative, even though they are located in western Arabia, the supposed birthplace of Arabic. The dialects of southern Iraq are probably more conservative than the urban dialect of Mecca or Jeddah. Also, for simplicity's sake, most people gloss over the bedouin-rural-urban axis when describing dialects. As Xence mentioned, there were significant Arabian migrations into North Africa in the middle ages. That's why, as has been mentioned before on this forum, we generally view Libya as having two distinct dialect groups -- a western one that is closer to urban North African dialects, and a more conservative eastern one that shows many bedouin/Arabian features and is probably more conservative than many urban dialects further east. Also, a bedouin tribe in Egypt may have a more conservative dialect than an urban dweller in Beirut or Jerusalem, as would a bedouin tribe roaming the northern reaches of Syria or Iraq. However, most people are interested in the far more widespread urban and rural varieties, which is why an introductory book on Arabic will likely gloss over this bedouin/urban dimension. So, yes, it's not always the case that a dialect will be more conservative if it's closer to Arabia, but more often than not, that is the case.

    Now why is this the case? It's simple; the migrations from Arabia never stopped after Islam, but continued in significant numbers up until the 20th century. For some reason, the country that has received the most settlement from bedouin tribes over the last 800 years has been Iraq, so not surprisingly, Iraqi dialects are generally more conservative than Syrian ones. Syria has also been influenced, but not as much as Iraq, but you still see traces -- for example, if you watch the famous Syrian drama باب الحارة, you'll see that these urban Syrian characters who speak very traditional Syrian dialects will still refer to the military leader of their neighborhood as 3ageed instead of 3a2eed or 3aqeed. That's because the military commander in a bedouin tribe is called a 3ageed . Egypt, Sudan, and North Africa have also received such migrations and influences, but these were mostly in the Middle Ages, whereas in Iraq and Syria they lasted longer. Also, in North Africa you'll find that the native languages (berber) survived in a significant manner much longer (in fact they survive to the present day) and co-existed with Arabic, whereas Coptic and Aramaic, while forming substratums, have not co-existed with Arabic to a significant extant for many centuries. And of course, the beduoins who settled in North Africa were cut off from their cousins in Arabia, while the ones in Iraq maintained contact and could immigrate back and forth, and the settlement patterns differed, and and and etc. etc. etc.. So, yes, there are many explanations why a country like Iraq will have a more conservative group of dialects (generally) than a place like Lower Egypt, or a place like Casablanca, and why Upper Egypt will have a more conservative dialect than Algeria. You could probably posit more (e.g. Aramaic is closely related to Arabic, while Berber is not, so Syrian Arabic did not develop the initial consonantal clusters that makes North African Arabic so difficult to comprehend initially for Eastern Arabs).

    It's mostly based on "tallying up" the features of Arabian Arabic that are preserved in one way or another from 7th century Arabic, and comparing them to the number of such features in other dialects. It also comes from analyzing grammar, syntax, and sentence formation. You could look at Clive Holes's Modern Arabic for a brief discussion, or people like Bruce Ingham and Kees Versteegh (who considers this almost self-evident). Even western travelers, spies, and diplomats who visited Arabia in the past 2 or 3 hundred years up to St. John Philby have noted this.
     
  15. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Ok, I will show you. The original situation was that concerning the claim that the farther away a place is from the AP the farther its dialect is away is from فصحى. I then said that that could be (in and of itself without further explanation) dangerous as some may take that as implying that they are less religious.

    (The reason I said that is that Islam and Arabic are inextricably tied to each other. Most Muslims are fiercely proud of their religion and the language used to represent it.
    Mecca, and the AP is considered the starting place of Islam and continues to be the center or focal point of the Muslim world. Muslims are also very proud of that, Saudis especially I would imagine, for obvious reasons. Due to these facts, making a link between farness of place from the AP and farness of dialect from فصحى, in the absence of any other explanation, may lead to the belief (rightly or wrongly) that one’s piety is being called into question – as though, divergence in dialect from فصحى, the language of the Quran (the word of God), suggests one that one was not as diligent in religious matters as those whose dialects are closer to فصحى.)

    That was the original situation; Now, let’s look at what you said later on.

    You construct a scenario with the implication of representing my position.
    In it you propose a simple statement of objective fact:
    This statement makes absolutely no mention of religion or language (language being the core issue of the original discussion). Yet you then posit a response of:

    ... as if that statement would lead to such a response (issues of logic described below). Then you appear to refute the constructed dialogue, and thus my position, by saying:


    So what you did was build up a scenario, taking parts of what I said but leaving out others, and implying that it was my whole position. Then you proceeded to tear it down thereby demonstrating that my position is untenable and easily refuted. That is the definition of a straw man argument.


    In addition to that the dialogue presented is not very logical. The responder is responding to your simple statement of fact concerning geography with a completely unrelated subject -- religion (something that is in no way implied by the first statement). There is a logical disconnect here, don’t you think? The first statement would not logically lead to the second statement being made.

    At any rate, I wanted to state for the record that my position is not that all dialects are necessarily equidistant from فصحى, and not that one dialect could not be closer to فصحى than another, but that for the claim that as one gets father away from the AP dialects begin to get further away from فصحى, I would need evidence to back it up. Additionally, in the absence of further explanation it sounds like partiality.

    Anyway, I thank all involved for an interesting discussion. I enjoyed it a great deal, but I must take my leave now.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2009
  16. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    Josh, I can't believe you went through all this trouble to explain to me the concept of the "strawman argument." I know what a "strawman argument" is. All I was asking was that you clarify your position.
    That's the problem; you automatically assumed (without much justification IMO) that there was no reason or justification behind this claim.
    There's really no difference between what you're saying here and the alleged strawman. Whether or not I provide the evidence (or "explanation") for a theory or a fact is completely irrelevant. I don't have to outline the evidence for the theory of evolution every time I mention evolution. You assumed that -- because I did not go into the "explanation" -- that no such explanation exists, which of course is wrong. Either way, you're still claiming that if someone was told that his dialect was less conservative than another dialect than it's likely that the person will find his "piety" impugned by this. There is no evidence that anyone would conclude such a thing, and even if they did, it would have no bearing on whether or not the statement is true.
    Yes, I know. That was my point. :)
    Just like your hypothetical Muslim would respond to a simple statement of fact concerning linguistics with a completely unrelated subject -- religion (something that is in no way implied by the first statement on linguistics). Your hypothetical Muslim will think that a statement on the relationship of his dialect to 7th century Arabic somehow reflects on his piety. I doubt that such a person exists, and that, even if he did, his illogical response would have any bearing on the facts.
    Again, it is only who's assuming that there is no evidence.
     
  17. Josh_ Senior Member

    the phrontistery
    U.S., English
    Oh I forget one thing. I also wanted to mention that the information you provided and the effort you went to did not go unnoticed, بل it is acknowledged and appreciated. Thanks.
     
  18. Wadi Hanifa

    Wadi Hanifa Senior Member

    Riyadh
    Arabic
    Well that's always good to know. Thank you. :)
     
  19. She'lock Holmes

    She'lock Holmes Senior Member

    Lebanon > Damascus > Abroad
    Northern Lev. Arabic (mostly Syrian)
    Closer in what sense? This sounds like an awful generalisation to me.

    1. If you mean lexically, then the modern dialect of Arabic in Syria is quite close as many words with non-Arabic origins were replaced by MWA words (which is by no means restricted to it) and the majority of them now have Arabic equivalents which can be used freely with their non-Arabic equivalents without sounding off. I doubt Hijazi Arabic is very different from SA in this aspect.
    2. If you mean phonology, then Tunisian Arabic has all (most?) of the phonemes of Classical Arabic but with extra phonemes; I am pretty sure that you can find something similar in Hijaz with less 'extra' phonemes than Tunisian Arabic (HA uses /g/ instead of /q/ but this existed in Classical Arabic too). Saying a dialect is 'closer' to CA because of its phonemes is quite a weak argument as probably all vernaculars can (or have native speakers that can) use CA phonemes, at the very least in loanwords and borrowings from it.
    3. If you mean grammarly, then all the Arabic vernaculars are quite different from CA and the cases system (the main foundation of CA) has been fully removed which is believe is what this professor meant here. No single grammar book for CA is useful for any vernacular whatsoever and I doubt anyone would disagree with this.

    And of course, 'MSA' is merely in a continuum between Classical Arabic and the vernaculars so every country has that subtle difference between its MWA and others which makes many arabophones claim that their dialects are the closest to MWA.
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2018

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