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Studies on Arabic Dialectology and Sociolinguistics

Catherine Miller
Alexandrine Barontini
Marie-Aimée Germanos
et al.

Arabic Dialectology - Linguistic Descriptions

The Tense in Central Asian Arabic Dialects: (Complex (Immediate)) Future and Present Definite (Continuous tense)

Guram Chikovani


The peculiarities of Bukhara (BAD) and Qashqa-darya (QAD) Arabic dialects are mostly resulted by linguistic contacts with non-kindred to the Semitic languages Turkic (Uzbek, Turkmen) and Indo-European (Tajik, Dari and partly Russian) languages. In the mentioned dialects we see the old Arabic/Semitic forms and morphological formation as well as the cases of internal development. The changes caused by extra linguistic features must be taken into account as well. Central Asian Arabs’ century long isolation from Arab world makes linguistic features of verb formation in Bukhara and Qashqa-darya dialects extremely interesting and important from the point of view of independent development of Semitic linguistic material.
In the paper is given analyse of the Complex (Immediate) Future and Present Definite Tenses as well as the origins of the morphological elements used for the formation of the mentioned tenses.

Texte intégral

1Verb formation in Central Asian Arabic dialects is characterized by several peculiarities. It is noteworthy that in Qashqa-darya Arabic dialect exist two main forms (with fatha and with kasra) of regular triliteral verbs (Chikovani 2002a: 102), conjugation types specified by the position of emphatic consonants (Chikovani 2002a: 107; Chikovani 2002b: 182), mi prefixed forms of the imperfective in Bukhara Arabic (Tsereteli 1947: 461-470; Akhvlediani 1985: 66; Chikovani 2009: 17-18), imperative of faʿāli type in Qashqa-darya Arabic (Chikovani 2002a: 112), etc.

2Particularly should be emphasized the forms conveying tenses different from the Literary Arabic. The majority of them are the result of long-lasting relations of Arabic dialects with structurally different Indo-European (Tajik) and Turkic (Uzbek) languages. The category of tenses in Qashqa-darya Arabic dialect is represented with the following forms: Present Definite (Continuous Tense), Present Indefinite, Past Perfect, Past Continuous, Past Indefinite, Simple Future, Complex (Immediate) Future.

3I would like to draw attention to forming of Future and Present Definite in Central Asian Arabic dialects. This last one conveys a continuous prolonged action in the present.

1. The complex (immediate) future

  • 1 Some examples are given from unpublished dialectological material recorded by me in Central Asia.
  • 2 In round brackets are given verbatim translations and in square brackets – explanations.

4One of the main elements forming Complex (Immediate) Future in Central Asian Arabic is the prefix ta-: ta-noġdi ‘let’s go (immediately)!’, ‘we will go right now’; ta-nōkul ‘let’s eat (immediately)!’; ta-noġsa ‘let us take it immediately!’; ta-iktub ‘let him write immediately!’; ta-tilbis ‘dress (immediately)!’; zōka i ̮bōi binta igūlya: ta-noġdi i ̮madīna i ̮buḫōrō1 ‘he says to the Bey’s daughter, ‘[Let’s] go to the town Bukhara.’2; zōča pōšo mūya šāfata ḫairōn sōrat, zīka i ̮pōšō i ̮zōča-ta-tušrub-gālat ‘[when] the Pasha’s wife saw the [magical] water, she was [very] surprised. She said to the Pasha [to her husband], ‘[Come on,] drink it [right now]!’

5Prefix ta- conveying future is added to the imperfective of the verb. George Tsereteli connects it with Arabic matā (متى): “Like Syro-Palestinian and Mesopotamian, in the studied dialect have emerged the forms of future, produced with the particle ta < متى : ta-tiktila ‘will kill her’; ta-noġdi ‘let's go’; ta-iəkūn ‘will be’, etc.” (Tsereteli 1941: 143).

6Arabic matā (متى) is also independently fixed in Central Asian Arabic and its meaning is ‘when’, ‘whenever’. Here are some examples from Bukhara Arabic: mata bint-ki kabiret mantia al-zōǧ (Chikovani 2009: 125) ‘When a girl grows up, we (give her) in a marriage.’ inti diʿi, middi, hal šiyātik i ̮ʿandi tuōguf, toimitin toḫsīna (Chikovani 2008: 77). ‘Bring me these (your) belongings and put them here with me, whenever [you wish], take them.’

7Earlier, George Tsereteli connected the prefix ta- with Arabic hattā: “Like Syro-Palestinian and Mesopotamian the forms of future tense are produced with the help of the particle ta < حتى” – says the scientist (Tsereteli 1937: 20).

8Mentioned particle was dealt by Vladimer Akhvlediani in his monograph ‘Bukhara Arabic Dialect’, who, like George Tsereteli, connected the element ta- conveying future with hattā (حتى):

As a subjunctive mood with the meaning of future is used the particle ta (< hattā) + imperfect: daʿu tājnām ‘leave him, let him sleep’, mājeʿrif fisāb tājoġdi ‘he does not know where to go. The same construction can be used as an imperative mood of plural of the 1st person and both singular and plural of the 3rd person: imši, waro tāningalabgo, let’s go back!, i ̮bejt tājiǧilet him go into the house! (Akhvlediani 1985: 62), etc.

9In Isaak Vinnikov’s dictionary of Bukhara Arabic dialect verbal particle ta- is explained as an element conveying purpose and wish: “ta – is a particle; used with the verb it conveys purpose and wish” (Vinnikov 1962: 42). As examples the dictionary gives the sentences with verbal forms using particle ta-. Its origination is not discussed.

10In Bukhara and Qashqa-darya dialects is fixed the particle of Persian origin, which conveys time and is also found in Turkish: ta baştan ‘from the very beginning’ (Baskakov 1994: 814). In Persian its meaning is ‘to’, ‘till then’, ‘before that’, ‘from there on’: tā-tehrān ‘to Tehran’. With the same meaning it is used in Bukhara and Qashqa-darya dialects: ilay to- si rūza, ilay salās yumāt qabrī qaraulya sū! ‘Watch over my grave for three days’ (Chikovani 2009: 82). The mentioned particle is conveying time but I consider unlikely to connect it with Central Asian Arabic prefix ta-.

11As a result of observations made over the materials obtained during my dialectological expeditions to Central Asia I came to the conclusion that the particle ta-, could be originated from Arabic dialectal form taʿāl, the meaning of which is ‘come’, ‘come on!’. I would like to mention here that in my earlier publications I shared the opinion of above-mentioned scientists about the connection of the prefix ta- with hattā (حتى) (Chikovani 2012; 127).

12taʿāl is widespread in Arabic dialects. In Qashqa-darya it is characterized by the ability to have variations in gender and number:





taʿāl // taʿāla





13In one of the districts (mahalla) of kishlak Jeinau, particularly in Avona, the variability of the verb taʿāla was fixed not only in gender and number, but also in person. This case indicates the tendency to produce forms in the dialect (Chikovani 2002a: 151).

14In parallel with independent form of existence we can assume the reduction and transformation of the form taʿāl into verbal prefix, which has obtained the function of future marker.

15Thus, ta-noġdi ‘let’s go now!’ should originate from the expression taʿāl noġdi ‘let’s go!’ Similarly: taʿāl nušrub ‘let’s drink!’ > ta-nušrub; taʿāl tuktub ‘come on, write! > ta-tuktub, etc.

16Besides Georgian and Arabic the verbal form ‘come on!’ expresses future tense in other languages as well. At the same time it also expresses a call. There is an expression ‘come on!’ in English as well.

17It is possible that eventually the prefix ta- had acquired a range of different nuances to express future, such as purpose, intention, aspiration, ability, etc.

18Here are some examples from the texts recorded by me in Central Asia:

  • 3 The texts in the indicated book are divided into pieces. With the number of the page I indicate the (...)

hama matala ta-nismaha. (Chikovani 2007: 29, 43).
[Let’s] listen to this fairy-tale.

ʿahlu l-madīna ademiyāta ʿorba ʿašar yōm leyl e nahār i ̮asad rōsa keyin ta-išufūna, ta-ifraḥūn. (Chikovani 2007: 36, 4).
‘The inhabitants of the town were looking at the lion’s [severed] head for forty days and nights and were happy.’

ies ta-asī ana? (Chikovani 2007: 39, 3).
‘What can I do [now]?’

nahnāt hamzōk ademin aswad ta-nelgi (Chikovani 2007: 31, 7).
‘[We’ll go] to find that black man [immediately].’

  • 4 Here taʿāl expresses a call to an immediate action. It is a good example to illustrate that the pre (...)

hama ademin aswad ilga, taʿāl! 4
‘Go, find that black man [right away, immediately, quickly]!’

ugūb hama sabī morta gālat: -sandūq ta-naftiša ta-inšūfa (Chikovani 2007: 33, 3).
‘Then the son’s wife said, ‘Let’s now open the coffer [and] take a look [what is inside].’

hama ʿandiāni tangayāti to min madīna angilib aǧī i ̮andkum tayōguf-gultinni (Chikovani 2007: 42, 2).
‘I said [to him], ‘I’ll [leave] my money to you till I return from the town.’

ilai kōn hamrayāt kōn šīīt hast, il ̮hamzōk šiyāt, i ̮bētkum, ta-aǧība, ta-diʿī (Chikovani 2007: 42, 5).
I have a lot of money [and] belongings. [I’ll go] and bring this belongings to your house, I’ll [store] them [in your house].’

waldak il ̮hamāza ieš guftan bakana ta-idri, ta-iǧi! (Chikovani 2007: 45, 7).
‘Let your son find out why he is crying, let him come [right away and tell me].’

  • 5 The meaning of zat is ‘fat’, but in this particular case it means ‘pilaf’.

inta i ̮bēt uġda i ̮morti gūl: -laḥam, ǧizār, diḥin, baṣal ta-tištari, ta-toḫuz, zat tasī (Chikovani 2007: 60, 4).
‘Go home, tell my wife, ‘Immediately buy meat, carrot, fat, onion. Take [all of these] and cook pilaf!5

sawdogar sawdogaria ġadān, bāt haṭ ḫaṭīb hat walad kēn kober ki-magder wihay taišraḫ, qul: - haṭ zaġīr baham ta-nenṭa ia šamiš ṯa-nsu, ta-nišraḫ (Chikovani 2009: 57, 4).
‘Sowdagar went off to trade. [Here is, what happened] then: this khatib [the lover of Sowdagar's wife] could not spend time [have fun] with his [mistress because] the boy was [home]. [He] told [the woman], ‘Let's drive out this boy, get rid [of him], and we'll spend time together [enjoy ourselves].’

maratak waḥad dunya ta-toġdī, muh ta-tisšrab, ta-tiǧī, iḫlāf ʿašara miṣōr (Chikovani 2009: 63, 3).
Your wife must [immediately] go to one country; she must drink the water [there]. [When] she comes back, (then) she’ll get pregnant.’

i ̮kulla madināni ademiyāt i ̮ham waḫt amr asi ta-ilbisunāt mustin ǧadīdāt! (Chikovani 2007: 47, 4).
‘From this moment (from now on) I order every resident (all the residents) of the town to put new boots (shoes) on!’

wai sahriya pōšō i ̮nās ʾamir sawa-ki il-mūzatūmat i ̮usṭoyāt ta-iwuddūnat, ta-iḫaytunāt, ta-itrawanū (Chikovani 2007: 49, 13).
‘In the morning the Pasha ordered the people to take the shoes to tradesmen and mend (repair), walk [easily].’

19Examples given above illustrate how widespread is the particle ta- in Qashqa-darya and Bukhara dialects. Presented opinion on the origins of the particle ta- can be extended on the Arabic dialects of Syria and Iraq, where the mentioned prefix also conveys future.

20It is important that dialectal verbal form taʿāl can also be found in Arabic dialects in a reduced form – tāʿ//tāʿī: tāʿ, taʿī la ʿandi ‘come to me [come here]’. Such pronouncement is characteristic for quick speech and expresses language economy. This is also another argument to connect the particle - with the form taʿāl.

21In some cases, to express Immediate Future in Central Asian Arabic dialects are fixed elements different from the prefix tā-. These are rāḥ and ḫalli. Both forms express quick, unconditional, immediate future. They are found in the dialects of Syria and Iraq. rāḥ is also fixed in Egyptian dialect in the form of a (Sharbatov 1968: 127).

22Let me discuss mentioned forming elements separately. B. Sharbatov relying on S. Willmore considers that rāḥ comes from the verb rāḥa (Sharbatov 1968: 127). Its meaning is ‘was going, started, was ready to do (something)’ (Wehr 1994).

23As I have already mentioned, rāḥ is widely spread in Arabic dialects producing Immediate Future, especially in Syria and Iraq. In the materials recorded by me in Central Asia, in particular in kishlak Kamashi of Qashqa-darya region I have fixed formation of Immediate Future by means of the prefix rāḥ: rāḥ iktub ‘he will write quickly’, ‘let him write quickly’: سوف يكتب او سيكتب فوراً :

zōk arabča, lafzi arap ma idriya, rāḥ tuktub!
‘He does not know Arabic, [thus] you write!’

24As for ḫalli, this is also a common form for producing of Immediate Future in Eastern Arabic dialects. The meaning of ḫallā (خلّى) is “to vacate, evacuate (ھ; to leave, leave alone (ه s.o.); to release, let go (ه s.o., ھ; to desist, abstain, refrain (عن from), give up (عن ǀ خلى سبيله (sabīlahū) to let s.o. off, let s.o. go, release s.o.; خلى بين فلان وبين الشىء to give s.o. a free hand in, let s.o. have his own way with or in, let s.o. alone with; to open the way for s.o. to; خل عنك هذه الميول ḵalli ʿanka h. l-muyūla desist from such desires! خل عنك هذا الهراء (hurā’a) stop this nonsense!” (Wehr 1994: 301). Based on my long life experience in Syria, namely in Homs and Damascus, I can say, that in Syrian Arabic dialect ḫalli is one of the most widespread forms to produce future. In this case, it is important that unlike Classical Arabic Imperfective, which simultaneously conveys Present and Future according to the context, in the dialects through different elements eventually had developed the formation of future tense. Sometimes in Syrian dialect ḫalli adds the pronominal suffix:

ḫallina nuʿūl ʿinnu ǧuwa.
‘Let’s say that he is inside [in the house].’

25In Qashqa-darya dialect are also fixed some cases of producing future by means of ḫalli:

xalli nušrub šāy, awalāni nōkul ugūb gappāt nuzrub nugāʿid. hek imši: awal ṭaʿōm, ugub kalōm!
‘Let’s [at first] drink tea, first of all let’s eat, and then talk (throw words). So [well] it will work: ‘Eat first [and] then talk!’

26The existence in Central Asian Arabic of the elements of Eastern Arabic dialects (ta, rāḥ, ḫalli) indicates the following: the ancestors of Qashqa-darya and Bukhara Arabs were from different geographic regions and preserved their speech peculiarities. It should be assumed that in VII-VIII centuries the Arab warrior soldiers spreading Islam as well as the Arabs captured by Timur Lang in XIV century were of different tribes. They gathered and localized in those regions of Qashqa-darya and Bukhara where their descendants live at present.

2. Present definite

27The Present Definite Tense (present of the given moment) in Bukhara and Qashqa-darya Arabic dialects conveys a continuous prolonged action. It is formed by adding of nāyim to a verb in the imperfect, e.g.: iṭbuḫ nāyim ‘(smb.) is now baking (smth.)’, nōkul nāyimínni ‘we’re now eating’. The auxiliary verbal form nāyim is frequently provided with a pronominal suffix: ieš ithamlūnāt nayiminkumāt? ‘What are you carrying?’

28By the opinion of Prof. G. Tsereteli (1937) and V. Akhvlediani (1985) nāyim has originated from Arabic nām ‘to sleep’. Previously, I also shared this opinion (Chikovani 2002a: 252). In iǧi nāyim ‘he is coming’ nāyim is a particle form. It has the function of an auxiliary verb. In his article ‘Dialect Differences in Uzbekistan Arabic’ Prof. O. Jastrow also connected nāyim with the verbal form nām the meaning of which is referred to ‘sleeping’ (Jastrow 2014: 210).

29The origination of nāyim from Arabic نام (to sleep) has become doubtful for me. As a result of my recent observations, I came to the conclusion that it is more expectable this auxiliary verb to be related with nāʿim ناعم .

30iǧi nayim means – yatafaddal يَتَفَدَّلُhe is coming with God’s mercy, by the will of God (بإذن أللّه)

31In Arabic naʿima (ianʿam) means to live in comfort and luxury, lead a life of ease, lead a comfortable and carefree life; to be delighted ( بby), be happy, be glad ( بabout, at), be pleased (ب with), delight, take pleasure ( ب in); to enjoy, savor, taste, experience ( ب | نعم بالا ب (naʿima bālan) to feel serene and confident about...; - naʿima a (naʿam) to be green and tender (twig); to be or become fine, powdery; - naʿuma u ( نعومةnuʿūma) to be soft, tender, smooth” (Wehr 1994). So, the meaning of nāʿim is ‘to be happy’, ‘to be glad’, ‘be pleased’, ‘take pleasure’, ‘to enjoy’, which is very important. See also ناعم: أى ذو نعمة (بطرس البستانى) (Ul-Bustani 1977: 904).

32In the speech of Qashqa-darya and Bukhara Arabs nāʿim sometimes expresses satisfaction and respect: hā iǧi nāyim ‘look at him (he is so kind to be coming)’.

33In Lane’s Arabic-English dictionary we find varieties of meanings of niʿma, mostly expressing favor:

34It is important that Arabic naʿam (نَعم) ‘Yes!’, ‘Yes indeed!’, ‘Certainly!’ also originated from “nʿm”.

35By the opinion of D. Testen Northwest Semitic na and Ethiopic naʿ originated from proto-form *nʿam (Testen 1997: 178).

36nʿm ‘to be good’ gives na as a result of dropping of nazal m in Hebrew and Ethiopic.

37In Ethiopic (Geez) naʿ (< nʿm) was transformed into auxiliary verb by the adopted meaning ‘come’ (Testen 1997: 179).

38In Geez is fixed an auxiliary verb naʿa with the meaning ‘to come’: neʿ ‘Come!’ (Imperative), naʿā ‘He has come’ (masc.), neʿi – ‘She has come’ (fem.), neʿū: pl. masq., naʿā: pl. fem. (Lambdin 2006: 418).

39In W. Leslau’s ‘Comparative Dictionary of Classical Ethiopic’ we find the same meaning: naʿa, naʿā - ‘Come! Come now! Up! (Leslau 1987: 382).

40I think the same transformation of nāʿim into auxiliary form expressing the continuation of an action we have in Central Asian Arabic dialects. Examples:

naḥnāt hamīk zēn yōm inšūf i ̮nayminna (Chikovani, 2007: 66, 2).
‘Today we live [so] well [today our life goes so well].’

ugūb kokōyata iġadū nayminkin i ̮pōšō (Chikovani, 2007: 25, 4).
‘Then (meanwhile) the brothers go to the Pasha.’

fad yōm pōšō harōn rašīd fad šiāten ǧaġanda labas, i ̮madīna mad, kōne ademiyāt ieš isūn naymīn (Chikovani, 2007: 29, 4).
‘One day the Pasha Harun al-Rashid put on old clothes and went to the town. [He was eager to know how the people lived] (what the people were doing now).’

min darb fad ademin aswad kēyn iǧī nāym (Chikovani, 2007: 31, 6).
‘[Suddenly, I saw] a black man walking on the road.’

min ḥōyịṭak min foga walt sawdagar ʿabar-ǧāʿ. zōka i ̮ʿand bintak ǧāy, i ̮ʿand bintak iǧi nāyim (Chikovani, 2007: 32, 2).
‘Sowdagar’s son jumped down from [the fence of] your palace (from above). He is visiting your daughter. [He came to your daughter even now].’

rusṭōm min ʿaskarāt sayal: -ies ithamlūnāt naiminkumāt intuwāt? (Chikovani, 2007: 37, 6).
‘Rustom asked the soldiers, ‘What are you carrying in this chest?’

min bēt äfändi kōn ademiyat itlaʿū naimīn (Chikovani, 2007: 52, 1).
[The Pasha sees]: People gathered at Effendi’s house.’

41In Qashqa-darya Arabic the continuity of an action in the present tense is also conveyed by gāʿid, which is used with the imperfective of the verb: ibki gāʿid ‘is crying’. The same production is found in Iraqi dialect. Let me recall one occasion in Iraq. During my visit to Baghdad, at the end of one of the meetings, someone called my Iraqi colleague on a mobile phone. From the conversation it seemed that he was asked where he was. He replied thus: anā emši gāʿid ‘I'm coming now [I'm coming out; I'm coming back; I’m moving]’. In Baghdad they say anā akūl gāʿid ‘I'm eating now’, and in Qashqa-darya’s Jeinau anā okul gāʿid. In both cases is conveyed the continuity of an action in the present.

42In most cases the element gāʿid is placed in the postposition and follows the imperfective of a verb (لاحقة فعلية): išrub gāʿid ‘he drinks [tea] now’. Rarely gāʿid is found in the preposition (سابقة فعلية): gāʿid inšūf ‘looks’.

43Sometimes, mentioned construction can also convey Immediate Future as well. It mainly happens when gāʿid is found in the preposition: gāʿid iktub ‘Let him write immediately!’

44In the Literary Arabic one of the meanings of qaʿada is ‘to start’, ‘to begin’: قعد يتكلّم ‘started talking’ (Baranov 2007: 650). In my opinion among the variety of meanings of qaʿada ‘starting of an action’ is a noteworthy one in our case. This meaning should have played an important role in establishing of qaʿada as an auxiliary element of the verb’s active participle.

45Rarely, in the discussed construction, gāʿid can be replaced by verbal form gaʿad and the following verb instead of imperfective can stand in the perfective. In this case, the action takes place in the past in a certain, definite time specified by context. For example: zōka i ̮hama gufur ǧaʿ gaʿad ‘[Meanwhile] he came to the well.’

46There are cases when Continuous tense is presented in the past. In this case, the construction is preceded by kān:

fad yōm mullō mim füg mačīt ozōn kēyin yenti igāʿịd (Chikovani, 2007: 73, 1).
Once a Mullah was [standing] on the top of the mosque [minaret] and performing a prayer (Azan).’

47Below are examples of the Present Continuous from Central Asian Arabic:

adrūn ḫōyịt fad nāb ademi ibki gāʿid (Chikovani, 2007: 45, 7).
‘In the house (inside the house) one old man is crying constantly.’

pōšō i ̮rūha gāl-ki, -i ̮bēt ḫaldōr aġaddi, ieš kōr isī gāʿid ašūfa (Chikovani, 2007: 48, 10).
‘The Pasha thought, [let me] go to Khaldor (Khaldor’s house) and see what he is doing.’

pōšō igūl-ki: -min i ̮füq hoyiṭ iṭlaʿ, libōsāta agar ienzaʿa, ǧoʿōn fad leyla ikæn gāʿid la imūt agar, pōšō i ̮hama ādemi alf-hazōr ṭanga ienṭi (Chikovani, 2007: 52, 1).
‘The Pasha says, ‘The one, who will climb up (ascend) the roof of the palace, take off his clothes [undress and] spend [the whole] night hungry [in the coldness], if he does not die, the Pasha will give him (that person) one thousand tanga.’

ka fad yōm i ̮hawlīta ḫizma n isi igāʿịd (Chikovani, 2007: 77, 1).
One day he was working in his yard [homestead].’

diqōn ḫizma kān isi igāʿịd i ̮bōġa (Chikovani, 2007: 77, 2).
The peasant [at this time] was working in his garden.’

fad yōm i ̮füg ġarabta fad laglag fār ǧay gāʿịd (Chikovani, 2007: 77, 3).
‘One day a stork flew up [he saw how it flew up] on the top of his garden [agricultural site].’

čūpōn ugūb ḫūm ḫaza, i ̮pōšō mad. pōšō i ̮bēta kēn gāʿid (Chikovani, 2007: 84, 3).
Then the shepherd took the pot [and] went to the Pasha. [At this time] the Pasha was [sitting] in (his) house [palace].’


48According to the material presented, we can conclude that the usage of Present Continuous in Central Asian Arabic is productive. To convey the mentioned time Qashqa-darya dialect currently uses two ways of morphological production clearly reflected in the texts of Qashqa-darya Arabic recorded by me in the kishlak Jeinau.


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1 Some examples are given from unpublished dialectological material recorded by me in Central Asia.

2 In round brackets are given verbatim translations and in square brackets – explanations.

3 The texts in the indicated book are divided into pieces. With the number of the page I indicate the number of the piece.

4 Here taʿāl expresses a call to an immediate action. It is a good example to illustrate that the prefix ta- should be a shortened form of taʿāl.

5 The meaning of zat is ‘fat’, but in this particular case it means ‘pilaf’.

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