Once upon a time, A long time ago

clevermizo

Senior Member
English (USA), Spanish
I want to ask a little about the storytelling traditions in colloquial Arabic. As I have posted before, I have been working through الف ليلة وليلة slowly but surely, and there is this common intro I notice, which is I suppose the analogue to the English "Long, long ago in a land far, far away":


كان في قديم الزمان وسالف العصر والأوان...


I wanted to ask how this sort of phrasiology was accomplished in colloquial storytelling. I would love to hear responses from the variety of dialects represented by speakers here on the forum.

Thanks;)
 
  • Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    I want to ask a little about the storytelling traditions in colloquial Arabic. As I have posted before, I have been working through الف ليلة وليلة slowly but surely, and there is this common intro I notice, which is I suppose the analogue to the English "Long, long ago in a land far, far away":


    كان في قديم الزمان وسالف العصر والأوان...​



    I wanted to ask how this sort of phrasiology was accomplished in colloquial storytelling. I would love to hear responses from the variety of dialects represented by speakers here on the forum.​



    Thanks;)
    They usually use the same one you quoted above, if at all.
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    In Egyptian I have frequently heard "marra kaan fii..." which of course is nothing grandiloquent, but rather just a simple opener, literally being "Once there was..."
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    In Egyptian I have frequently heard "marra kaan fii..." which of course is nothing grandiloquent, but rather just a simple opener, literally being "Once there was..."
    That's essentially how most stories begin; nothing grandiloquent at all. Sorry to disappoint you clevermizo :D.

    It usually just goes like "ygooloon inn kan feeh ... etc.", or its equivalent in other dialects.

    It's common to borrow the one from Alf Layla that you mentioned if the story is being told to children.

    Also, there are the "epics" such as those of Baybars or Abu Zayd Al-Hilali. I've never listened to them, but they might have some interesting preludes.
     

    ayed

    Senior Member
    Arabic(Saudi)
    In Badawi dialect , we say:
    *yegoloon kan feeh( It is said that)

    * kan ya ma kan fee gadeem az-zamaan(كان ياما كان في قديم الزمان)

    *if the story is a myth, we begin our story as follows:

    youm 'aad kolshin aytaHaka, kan feeh(يوم عاد كل شي يتحاكى)When everythings would speak , there was...)
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).

    كان في قديم الزمان وسالف العصر والأوان...​

    I wanted to ask how this sort of phrasiology was accomplished in colloquial storytelling. I would love to hear responses from the variety of dialects represented by speakers here on the forum.
    In Egypt, we usually say:
    كان يا ما كان في سالف العصر والأوان، كان في...
    In Egyptian I have frequently heard "marra kaan fii..." which of course is nothing grandiloquent, but rather just a simple opener, literally being "Once there was..."
    The مرة كان في or كان في مرة is correct, but mostly used with jokes.
    Is that correct? or is it كان يا مكان?
    The expression ياما or يا ما means "so many". It's like saying "there once was, and oh how many things there were...".
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    That's essentially how most stories begin; nothing grandiloquent at all. Sorry to disappoint you clevermizo :D.
    None of the responses have been disappointing in the slightest. :) I had no idea what to expect; I just wanted to know what types of phrases were common.

    Thanks to everyone who has posted. I have seen كان يا ما كان before as well. It was interesting to find out that the سالف العصر والأوان was used. I figured في قديم الزمان was probably also used, however I wasn't sure whether for "effect" it would be pronounced as in fus7a, or if it would end up being "fi gadiim/2adiim iz-zamaan."

    Thanks again.
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    I have nothing substantial to add: in Palestinian Arabic we say "kaan yaama kaan fii 2adiim iz-zamaan" (so colloquial pronunciation).

    I agree with Cherine about "marra kaan fii." That is the classic joke opener.
     

    Josh_

    Senior Member
    U.S., English
    The operative word must be 'mostly' because all the stories I have heard told by a native Egyptian started with 'marra kaan fii.' But alas, I did have an atypical experience in Egypt.:)
     

    Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    cherine,

    The expression ياما or يا ما means "so many". It's like saying "there once was, and oh how many things there were..."
    So كان يا مكان is not correct then? I have never seen it written before, and from what I thought I heard, it sounded as I have written it, but it's strange to find now that it's not correct.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    cherine,



    So كان يا مكان is not correct then? I have never seen it written before, and from what I thought I heard, it sounded as I have written it, but it's strange to find now that it's not correct.
    The expression is كان يا ما كان , as in "كان يا ما كان في قديم الزمان ، كان تاجر كثير المال والاعمال" from الف ليلة. It may sound "yaa ma" or "ya ma" rather than "yaa maa" because I doubt those are articulated with two truly long vowels.

    Edit: Sorry, I'm not cherine. I only realize now that that was at the top of your question.:D
     

    Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    cleverizmo,

    Sorry, I'm not cherine. I only realize now that that was at the top of your question
    No problem, anyone who can clarify this for me is welcome.

    كان يا ما كان من قديم الزمان
    This phrase brings up only 2 results in google (typos perhaps?), so I really don't think it's a correct spelling. I can't see that being the spelling in any book, if it has only 2 google results.

    Perhaps what I suggested is fus7a, and what others have written (including yourself) is the colloqiual, which is what you asked for anyway I guess.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    cleverizmo,



    No problem, anyone who can clarify this for me is welcome.



    This phrase brings up only 2 results in google (typos perhaps?), so I really don't think it's a correct spelling. I can't see that being the spelling in any book, if it has only 2 google results.

    Perhaps what I suggested is fus7a, and what others have written (including yourself) is the colloqiual, which is what you asked for anyway I guess.
    I'm sorry, it should be "كان يا ما كان في قديم الزمان".

    Apparently there are results for كان يا مكان, I even found "كان يا مكان في قديم الزمان وسالف العصر والأوان". I don't know what the status of this usage is. However, despite the colloquial tendencies of الف ليلة, it is hardly deniable that the language is primarily fus7a. I so far have not found "كان يا مكان". Now, you will say that I wrote about "كان في قديم الزمان وسالف العصر والاوان" and that is true. However, this formula is realized in different ways:



    كان فيما مضى من قديم الزمان وسالف العصر والأوان...
    كان يا ما كان في قديم الزمان...
    كان في قديم الزمان...



    ُEtc. Note, that for what it's worth, the Al-Kitaab series has chosen the rendition "كان يا ما كان" about two pages in from the first lesson, as an exercise in recognizing the letter alif..
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    cleverizmo,



    No problem, anyone who can clarify this for me is welcome.



    This phrase brings up only 2 results in google (typos perhaps?), so I really don't think it's a correct spelling. I can't see that being the spelling in any book, if it has only 2 google results.

    Perhaps what I suggested is fus7a, and what others have written (including yourself) is the colloqiual, which is what you asked for anyway I guess.
    This is simply what we call خطأ شائع.
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    Wadi Hanifa,

    Can you be a little more specific? What exactly is the common mistake? What I typed? Or what cleverizmo typed?
    First of all, I just noticed something. The reason you only got 2 google hits is that you typed "كان يا مكان من قديم الزمان" instead of "في قديم الزمان".

    Here's what I get from google (using quotation marks):
    كان ياما كان 150,000
    كان يا ما كان 188,000
    كان يا مكان 188,000

    كان يا ما كان في قديم الزمان 14,400
    كان ياما كان في قديم الزمان 536
    كان يا ماكان في قديم الزمان 960
    كان يا مكان في قديم الزمان 16,000
    كان يمكان في قديم الزمان 410

    What I meant was "كان يا مكان" is a common error, whereas the correct form is كان ياما كان, in my humble opinion.
     

    Abu Rashid

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    First of all, I just noticed something. The reason you only got 2 google hits is that you typed "كان يا مكان من قديم الزمان" instead of "في قديم الزمان".
    I just copy/pasted, but I see now cleverizmo said they typed it wrong.

    I got almost the same results as you. Which is why I became confused, because that's a very very commmon mistake, if it even surpasses the correct spelling when grouped into the phrase with في قديم الزمان

    كان ياما كان 150,000
    كان يا ما كان 191,000
    كان يا مكان 187,000

    كان يا ما كان في قديم الزمان 14,300
    كان ياما كان في قديم الزمان 598
    كان يا مكان في قديم الزمان 15,700

    whereas the correct form is كان ياما كان, in my humble opinion.
    I'm not saying you're not right, and the "truth is not always with the majority", but I find it hard to fathom that this spelling only 598 results compared with around 15,000 each for the two "common mistakes". This must means Arabs are very bad spellers :)
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    I find it hard to fathom that this spelling only 598 results compared with around 15,000 each for the two "common mistakes". This must means Arabs are very bad spellers :)
    Oh yes, they are :eek: Not all of them/us of course; luckily, there is still a large number of well educated Arabs :)
    But the problem is that the education level is not half as good as it used to be 20 or 30 years ago :( So a lot of what's written in websites must be taken carefully, and examined with comparison to older texts, dictionaries... And, once more :) We shouldn't take Google's result as a trustworthy index of correctness.

    Back to يا ما كان and يا مكان : Let's judge by meaning:
    يا مكان = Oh! place
    يا ما كان/ ياما كان = how many (things/events) there were
    Note that yaama/yama is not necessarily a fuS7a expression, but at least it makes more sense in this structure than مكان
     

    coptiyah

    Member
    Arabic
    Hi,



    كان ياما كان في قديم الزمان كان فيه....


    it's like saying once as so often happens long ago there was...
    and the tale is on it's way.

    Yaama is used like "often" or "many times",

    so someone asks you : have you tried to build a dam here?

    you answer: ياما حاولنا بس كل ما نبني السد =we tried so often but every time we build a dam...


    :)
     

    ayed

    Senior Member
    Arabic(Saudi)
    I am for those who are saying "yama kan" means " many things/often happen".
    In my own Badawi dialect :

    ياما نصحت محمد لكن ما فاد
    How often/much I advise Muhammaed but in vain
    ياما قلت له سو ذا لكنه عنيد
    How often/much did I command him to do this but he was stubborn.
     

    Zuze

    Member
    Hebrew
    Ahlan fikum ya jama3a!

    A few days ago I heard a radio show (in Radio Ashams) the words “مرة, بالزمانات", meaning “a long time ago”.

    I came up with a few words that might have a similar meaning in PA, and wanted to know if it is indeed so. Also, I would be delighted to hear of other words you know that mean “a long time ago”:

    في القديم
    في الزمان القديم
    من زمان
    مرة, بالزمانات

    In the Arabic version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast I’ve also heard “كان يا ما كان”, which is a phrase I particularly like!

    Thank you!
    roey

    P.S
    This thread holds two nice examples of phrases close to those I’m interested in.

    Moderator note:
    I merged this new thread to the previous one, as they discuss the same topic. Please don't forget to search the forum before opening a new thread. Thanks :)
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    كان يا مكان is a set clause to start a story, exactly like "once upon a time". You may also add في قديم الزمان and some very old fashion grandmothers may say:

    كان يا ما كان، في قديم الزمان
    ولا يحلى الكلام
    إلا بذكر النبي عليه الصلاة والسلام
    Then start the story (well, at least that's how my grandmother used start her stories :))

    As for the rest, there is actually a difference in use between من زمان and بالزمانات. It's basically the context. To give an English example, من زمان is "a long time ago" or "long ago" or "it's been a while" depending on context while بالزمانات means specifically "in the good ol' days".
     

    Zuze

    Member
    Hebrew
    Thank you so much for your answer (and your grandmother as well)!
    So to make sure I got this right, I could start a story with any of them, except for "من زمان"?
     

    elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    No. The most common story-starter is كان ياما كان. You can add في قديم الزمان, but you can't start with it.

    You could also use مرة, but that tends to be used for jokes rather than longer stories.

    I've never heard في القديم or في الزمان القديم.

    You can't start a story with من زمان or بالزمانات.
     
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