Levantine Arabic: مواليد الـ٩٨، سكّان عبدون


New Member
English - US
I've noticed in my study of Levantine Arabic in Amman, Jordan, that speakers sometimes seem to omit the particle "مِن" when describing themselves or others as belonging to broader demographic groups. This ostensible omission strikes me as peculiar, given that it can occur in equational sentences in which the subject and predicate do not agree in grammatical number.

For example:
1. "انت مواليد 98"
= "You are [among] those born in 98"
2. "مفكّر حاله سكّان عبدون"
= "He believes himself to be [among] the residents of 'Abdoun [a stereotypically wealthy neighborhood of Amman]"
Source: uttered to me by a friend joking about the pretentious behavior of another person

I'm wondering:
A. Are these indeed cases of "مِن" getting omitted or is there a better explanation for what's happening here?
B. What licenses such omission of "مِن"? Are there any generalizable semantic, syntactic, and/or pragmatic conditions that must be true for the omission of "مِن" to be felicitous?
C. Are there any other plural nouns, like "مواليد" and "سكّان", that Levantine speakers commonly predicate of singular subjects without using "مِن"?
D. To use utterance #1 above as an example, does "انت مواليد 98" convey any salient pragmatic meaning that, say, "انت انولدت ب98" does not?
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  • elroy

    Imperfect mod
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Thank you for this question! I had to do quite a bit of introspection and metalinguistic analysis to answer it. ;)

    In Levantine Arabic, a مبتدأ and a خبر do not necessarily exist in a copular relationship. They often do, but that's not always the case. The relationship is very broad and vague: the خبر simply tells us something about the مبتدأ. It's not necessarily the case that the خبر renames or equals the مبتدأ. The مبتدأ is the topic: you're saying "I'm about to tell you something about this topic." The خبر is the thing that you're saying about the topic. (It literally means "news" in Arabic.)

    أنت مواليد الـ٩٨ = You belong to the group of those born in '98.
    هو سكّان عبدون = He belongs to the group of those that live in Abdoun. (This logic extends to مفكّر حاله سكّان عبدون.)

    Another example:
    أنا روم كاتوليك: I'm a Roman Catholic. (literally: I am Roman Catholics.)
    In fact, for this one, there's no idiomatic rewrite with a singular noun! This is the way to say it.

    I don't think these arose due to omission of من; see the "Roman Catholic" example, which can't be rewritten by adding من.

    An example that doesn't use a plural noun referring to the group the person belongs to:
    أنا هوية ضفة: I carry a "West Bank ID." (literally: I am a "West Bank ID.") [identifying what type of ID card the person carries, and by extension, what group they belong to (the group of "West Bank ID" holders)].

    This is not a productive construction: you can't say, for example, أنا أعضاء الجمعية، أنا طلاب الجامعة، أنا موظفين البنك, etc. I think this tends to happen with very common identifiers: language economy and high frequency probably conspired to produce these forms, which, as I said, are syntactically licit anyway.

    I don't know that there are any conditions that can be clearly articulated under which this construction occurs. I think it has to do with high frequency (for example, أنا هوية ضفة is something that is said very, very frequently in Palestine!), but I don't think there's a handy "formula" and I think you probably just have to learn these one by one.

    The difference between أنت مواليد الـ٩٨ and أنت انولدت/خلقت بالـ٩٨ is a nuance: the former identifies your state as belonging to the group of people born that year, while the latter specifically refers to the actual event of your birth. Of course, both amount to the same reality/information, and both are commonly used to say when you were born; the difference is only a nuance, as I said.

    Incidentally, it occurs to me that this is paralleled in German:

    Ich bin Jahrgang 1998. (literally: "I am the year* 1998." -- which works just like the non-copular مبتدأ-خبر situation I described!)
    Ich wurde 1998 geboren. (literally: "I was born in 1998.")

    *Jahrgang, as opposed to the neutral Jahr, denotes a year as part of a classification system; for example, in referring to the volume of a magazine or journal. In other words, this is saying "the year I'm classified under (in terms of date of birth)."
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    New Member
    English - US
    Thank you for this generous response and for all the introspection and metalinguistic analysis that went into it! Your addition of the definite article to "98" is also much appreciated, albeit somewhat frustrating in revealing that I still have trouble hearing حروف شمسية مشددة :)

    The example of "أنا هوية ضفة" was especially helpful, as it brought to mind a concept that I think characterizes what's going on here: deferred reference.

    In English, this sort of metonymic reference occurs in utterances like:
    "I'm the ham sandwich" (="I'm the person who ordered the ham sandwich"), said by a diner to a waiter holding multiple orders.

    I believe it can also be said to occur in utterances more akin to my original Arabic examples dealing with group membership:
    "I'm class of '75" (="I'm a member of the class of '75"), said by one alumnus to another at a university homecoming.
    "He's CIA" (="he's an agent of the CIA")

    Of course, this does nothing to explain why, in Arabic, one can say "هو سكّان عبدون", but in English one could generally not felicitously utter, "He's Beverly Hills Residents." But it does at least offer some sort of conceptual framework, and it further suggests that what's at play here are historically contingent and culturally specific ideologies governing what can constitute salient properties of people in certain contexts. So, basically, I think you're very right in suggesting that I "probably just have to learn these one by one"!

    As a quick addendum, I heard from a friend who works with d/Deaf communities in Jordan that some d/Deaf individuals say:
    "انا صُمّ"

    Perhaps another plural ism to add to the list?