An Omani Evolving Lexicon: From Carl Reinhardt (1894) to the Present Day

Ph.d. Roberta Morano

Résumé

Oman is a country in constant evolution linguistically, economically and socially. Most of the linguistic studies carried out so far in the Sultanate are located in specific areas of the country and date back to the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Carl Reinhardt’s work – Ein arabischer Dialekt gesprochen in ‘Oman und Zanzibar, dated 1894 – is one of the most detailed and richest descriptions of Omani Arabic, specifically of the grammar, including the phonology and morphology, of the Banū Kharūṣ vernacular, spoken in the area of Nizwa and Rustāq (northern Oman), but also among the élite of Zanzibar island. The main purpose of his work was to provide a valuable linguistic guide to the German soldiers quartered on the island and in the Tanganyka region, which were an imperial German colony for a short time. The material supplied by Reinhardt still plays an absolutely essential role for neo-Arabic linguistics and dialectology, although it has some significant issues, such as the lack of Arabic original script and of a comprehensive glossary.

Reinhardt’s lexical data, nevertheless, is extremely rich and characterized by some specific traits which make this vernacular different from any other Southern Arabic dialect.

In this paper, I will try to outline this richness of Omani lexicon, starting from some examples in Reinhardt’s nineteenth-century core and exploring the variety and changes they underwent over time. These examples will be presented for specific semantic categories (e.g. body parts, food, animals), following the same format as that of the Behnstedt and Woidich's Word Atlas of Arabic dialects / Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte (2011). Furthermore, a group of specific variations between the original meaning of a root and its different use in the Banū Kharūṣ vernacular, and a few borrowings from foreign languages will be presented and analysed.

1. Carl Reinhardt and his work

1Carl Reinhardt’s work – Ein arabischer Dialekt gesprochen in ‘Oman und Zanzibar, dated 1894 – still plays a very prominent role in the linguistic and neo-Arabic dialectological field. In fact, the Omani variety that he describes is different both from the one spoken in the Capital area (described by Jayakar 1889) and the one spoken on the coast.

2In the introduction (Reinhardt 1894: VII-XVI), Reinhardt states that it took him five years of hard work to collect all the material presented in the book and that – due to illness – he almost would have given up if his teacher Professor Theodor Noeldeke (1836-1930), the famous orientalist, had not encouraged him to continue. According to Noeldeke, only Reinhardt’s data provide a clear overview of Omani Arabic, despite the high value of Jayakar’s repertoire.

3The dialect described by Reinhardt is the one spoken in Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ, today in the al-ʿAwābī district (northern Oman). The people he employed as informants (ʿAbdallāh Ḫarūṣī and ʿAlī al-ʿAbrī from al-ʿAwābī) were natives from Oman who had only been in Zanzibar for a short while. Furthermore, Reinhardt states that this vernacular was spoken, at his time, by the Omani court and 2/3 of the Arabs living in Zanzibar. Thus, we can presume that it was so widespread as to require the writing of a practical and quick guide for German soldiers quartered on the East African colonies.

  • 1 One of the major Ḫariǧite branches, named after its founder ʿAbd Allah b. Ibāḍ al-Murri al-Tamīmi.
  • 2 The highest peak in the chain that also includes the Ǧabal al-Šamm (3018m).
  • 3 The Omani dynasty that reigned between 1024/1615 and 1164/1749.

4The Banū Ḫarūṣ played an important role throughout Omani history, primarily in Ibāḍīyya1: descendants of the Yaḥmad tribe – a branch of al-ʾAzd –, they moved to Oman during the pre-Islamic period, settling in a valley named after them Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ. The valley is situated among the western heights of the Ḫaǧar Mountains and is 26 km long, ending in the Ǧabal Aḫḍār2. The Yaḥmad provided most of the Ibāḍi imams of Oman until the arrival of the Yaʿrubi3 dynasty in XI/XVII century.

5Reinhardt’s work is divided into four parts: 1. Phonology; 2. Morphology; 3. Remarks on the syntax and 4. Texts and stories (including some war songs). The feature that distinguishes this book from other teaching material is the fact that it is almost exclusively written in the Latin alphabet.

6While, on the whole, appreciating the usefulness of Reinhardt’s work, the reviews published by experienced Semitic scholars and Arabists such as Theodor Noeldeke (1895a/b) and Karl Vollers (1895) pointed out a few obscure points in his description. Vollers, in particular, voiced some doubts as to the reliability of Reinhardt’s book because of its educational rather than descriptive purpose.

7Regarding morphology and syntax, Reinhardt’s analysis is fairly accurate and detailed, though the lack of a lexical repertoire somewhat decreases its clarity.

2. Classification of Omani Arabic

8Clive Holes, in his paper on Omani Arabic classification (Holes 1989), analyses features shared by all Omani dialects, both ḥaḍari and badu:

  • The 2nd feminine singular possessive/object suffix is universally -/š/, not -/č/, except some Bedouin dialects of North-East where it is realised as -/č/ and the al-Wahība dialect, where it is not affricated and is realised as -/k/;

  • An -/in(n)/- infix is obligatorily inserted in all Omani dialects between an active participle having verbal force and a following object pronoun. Some Omani speakers also insert this infix between the imperfect verb and the suffix object, in particular on the Bāṭina coast (Holes 1989: 448);

    • 4 It is a syllabic readjustment: the tonic syllable CaC, where C2 is a guttural /ḫ ġ ḥ ʿ h/, becomes (...)

    The absence of the “ghawa syndrome”4, peculiar of some central, northern and eastern Arabic dialects. Exceptions are some Bedouin vernaculars spoken in the areas at the UAE border (e.g. Buraymi, Oman);

    • 5 This feature is shared with some dialects of central and southern Arabia and make them distinctive (...)

    Feminine plural verb, adjective and pronoun forms occur regularly5;

  • The internal passive of verbs Form I and II is of common occurrence. Holes (1989: 452) classification goes further subdividing these dialects in four main groups, two sedentary (S) and two Bedouin (B), which have some substantial differences, as shown in Table 1:

Table 1. Holes’ classification of Omani Arabic

Table 1. Holes’ classification of Omani Arabic

9According to this classification, the al-ʿAwābī district vernacular belongs to the system S1.

3. Location, methodology and participants

10The al-ʿAwābī district is located in the Bāṭina region, north of Oman and consists of al-ʿAwābī itself, a town with a population of about 15000, and twenty-four little villages spread between it and the Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ.

11Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ is about 26 km long deep in al-Ḫaǧar mountains and ends at Ǧabal Aḫḍar, the highest summit of Oman. The area is famous because of its heritage and history: in fact, in the Wādī there are many antique mosques and cave inscriptions, telling the story of great and famous imams of Ibāḍīyya.

12The collection and analysis of lexical items has been one of the richest areas of investigation of al-ʿAwābī vernacular. The fieldwork was conducted in the al-ʿAwābī district between the months of February and April 2017. Participants were mainly from the al-Ḫarūṣī family, consisting of eleven women between twenty-eight and seventy-five years old, all of them school or university educated. They were born and still live in al-ʿAwābī.

13Other participants were from the Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ, which has a slightly older population (between fifty and sixty-five years old). Some of them were originally from the Wādī and then moved to al-ʿAwābī, some others remained in the mountains or in the valleys of the Wādī.

14Participants were chosen according to three main criteria: age, gender and level of education. Based on the age of speakers, people has been divided in three main groups: 20-35 years old (young), 35-60 years old (middle-aged) and over 60 (elders).

15Informants were always ready to provide various items and discuss them with each other. Some of the speakers recalled some items as very old and not in use anymore, or used by their parents’ or grandparents’ generation.

16People living in the Wādī are usually not university educated and conduct a more traditional lifestyle, farming or breeding goats and sometimes camels.

17Accessing men was more difficult for the researcher, except for elderly ones.

18The research was conducted by submitting word lists divided by categories (food, body parts, plants, animals, tools and diseases) to participants, recording free speech and by direct questions. In some cases, vocal messages on WhatsApp were also used.

4. Omani lexicon

19Lexical data presented by Reinhardt is extremely rich and characterized throughout by some specific traits which make this vernacular different from any other Southern Arabic dialect, mainly due to the geographic position of the country and to its linguistic contacts with different populations during its history.

20Among Reinhardt’s lexical items there are some archaic features in the semantics, such as rām “to be able to” from the Semitic root RYM, which means “to be high, raise” and also nouns known in other dialects but presented here with unusual meanings (e.g. the root ǦMʿ “to gather” stands in this variety for “to sweep” and mǧummaʿ for “broom”).

21An example is provided by fieldwork data:

(a) mā yrūm miṭlaʿ li-inna mā fī daraǧ
“He couldn’t go up because there weren’t any stairs”

In the vernacular the use of the Arabic verb SYR to mean “to go” alongside the dialectal form RWḤ is also attested, as follows:

(b) sāyir martīn ʾilā l-mustašfi
“He went to the hospital twice”

(c) taww asīr ilā l-Rustāq
“I am now going to Rustaq”

22The lexical items discussed in this paper are presented according to the format of Behnstedt and Woidich’s Word Atlas of Arabic dialects / Wortatlas der arabischen Dialekte of 2011. The categories chosen are: food, house, weather, animals, body and disease.

4.1 Food

23In this category names of spices, seafood, vegetables and fruit are presented.

24Among the spices, we find: zangabīl for “ginger”, ḫardāl for “mustard”, qranfel for “clove”, naʿnaʿ for “mint”, hīl for “cardamom”, zayt for “oil” and ḫall for “vinegar”.

25Ḥobbār is the general term used for “squid”, but in its plural form ḥobbārāt it also means “seafood”. The names for “sardines” are interesting to note in this group: alongside the use of the most common sardīn and ʿūma, some elder speakers still use the word barriyya, which has been recognised among the youngsters as old and, in some cases, completely unknown.

26Names of fruit and vegetables present many interesting peculiarities of al-ʿAwābī vernacular. Examples are the use of the Arabic noun zaytūn as “guava”, whilst in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world it means “olive” and the presence of ancient and uncommon words, such as suḥḥ for “dates”. There are also nouns specifically used in the al-ʿAwābī district, such as gūḥ for “watermelon” and ġurġūr for “peas” (outside al-ʿAwābī people tend to use the Arabic bāsīlla to be clearer). Table 2 shows the most common names of fruit and vegetables in the al-ʿAwābī district:

Table 2. Names of fruit and vegetables in the al-ʿAwābī district

Table 2. Names of fruit and vegetables in the al-ʿAwābī district

4.2 House and Utensils

27Nouns indicating house parts and kitchen stuff tend to differ between al-ʿAwābī and Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ. Usually in the Wādī it is more likely to find older words or words recognised in the village as ancient. An example of this is the word used for “room”: in al-ʿAwābī the noun ġurfa is commonly used, whereas in the Wādī the noun ḥigra is used instead. The “sitting room” is usually ṣala or ḍahrīz, but elder people and people from the Wādī call it barza.

28ʿarīš is used in the Wādī to name “open hut made of palm tree branches”, a very common shelter in the mountains. Table 3 shows names of utensils:

Table 3. Names of utensils in the al-ʿAwābī district

Table 3. Names of utensils in the al-ʿAwābī district

4.3 Weather

29In the al-ʿAwābī district some specific names for the cardinal points North and South are used. “North” can be realised as šamāl or ʿālī in al-ʿAwābī, whilst people in Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ use the word sāfil, generally recognised as old. “South” is ganūb or ḥadrā in al-ʿAwābī and ʿilwā in Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ.

30The names for “rainbow” (qūs ar-raḥma / qūs allāh) and for “rain” (sēl and maṭar) are also interesting: sēl is more commonly used to indicate the heavy rains of cold season, when wadis floods and big rivers comes down from the mountains, whilst maṭar is the noun used generally for “rain” . “Cloud” is realised both as saḥāb and ġamma, with no difference in the use. Finally, the noun bill, which indicates specifically the blossom of a lemon tree, is also used to mean “spring”.

4.4 Animals

  • 6 For further details, see works of Shahina Ghazanfar (1994) and Dionisius Agius (2002, 2005).

31There are a few studies on the flora and fauna of Oman, especially in recent decades6. Specific types of animals and plants are widespread across the entirety of Oman, but others are more peculiar to individual areas of the country. Table 4 presents a list of the most common names for animals and insects in the al-ʿAwābī district:

Table 4. Names of animals and insects in the al-ʿAwābī district

Table 4. Names of animals and insects in the al-ʿAwābī district

32The most common name used for “cat” is certainly sannūr, but sometimes children and kids up to fifteen or sixteen years old name it qaṭ. In al-ʿAwābī there are some specific names used for “grasshopper” (šangūb) and for a “small and not poisonous lizard” (abū barīṣ), which is called šaḥlūb in other parts of Oman. Finally, the use in al-ʿAwābī of a specific word for “crab” (šangūb al-baḥr) is peculiar, since the al-ʿAwābī district is in the mountainous region of Northern Oman.

4.5 Body and diseases

33Most of the lexical items presented in this section have been collected in Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ, where the wasm, the traditional method of healing by cauterisation, is still in use. This practice is common among the people living in remote areas of Oman and it consists of cauterizing specific parts of the body in relation to the disease or the illness presented.

34Table 5 shows a list of words used in this practice and in everyday life:

Table 5. Names of parts of the body and disease in the al-ʿAwābī district

Table 5. Names of parts of the body and disease in the al-ʿAwābī district

5. Remarks

35During the collection of the data, many elderly speakers were able to recognise and detect old words not in use anymore or used much less nowadays. A clear example of this is the verb yšūm, only used in its imperfective form, which means “to go (inland)”. The origin of the verb is not certain, a hypothesis might be the Classical Arabic root ŠYM “to go to Syria (Bilād aš-šām)” since “going inland” from Oman would necessarily mean “going north” (towards Syria).

36The adverb hest is still in use to mean “very, many”, although not much among young people any more. It comes from the Persian verb hast “to exist” and the correlation between the two might also be valid for the more widespread adverb, wāgid (“many, much”) and the Arabic root WǦD (“to exist”).

37Guḏri is a name of Hindi origin used in the past to indicate a “woollen blanket”, nowadays it has been replaced by the noun baṭṭāniyyah.

6. Conclusion

38The main purpose of this paper was to analyse some interesting lexical data collected during the fieldwork and match them with Reinhardt’s lexical core. Going further into the analysis of these data it has been clear that many of them were not valid anymore, since they were recognised only by elder speakers and almost completely unknown to people from middle-age or young groups.

39Broadly speaking, speakers from Wādī Banī Ḫarūṣ tend to use words perceived as old-fashioned by people in al-ʿAwābī or young people in general. Moreover, not school or university educated speakers use nouns sometimes considered outdated or totally unknown.

40In more recent times, influences from other Omani vernaculars came into use as well as many more English loanwords and expressions.

41The brief description given in this paper wants to be preliminary to a wider study on Omani lexicon, which will involve other semantic categories (e.g. poetic lexicon). Truth is that it does not exist a systematic study of Omani lexicon, which would allow us to have a clear lexical and semantic classification of its varieties. Thus, a deeper and renovated interest in the Omani lexicon is desirable.

Bibliographie

Agius, Dionisius. 2005. Seafaring in the Arabian Gulf and Oman: the People of the  Dhow, London: Kegan Paul.

Agius, Dionisius. 2002. In the Wake of the Dhow: the Arabian Gulf and Oman. London: Ithaca Press.

Behnstedt, Peter, & Woidich, Manfred. 2011a. Wortatlas der Arabischen Dialekte, Volume I. Mensch, Natur, Flora und Fauna. Leiden: Brill.

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Notes

1 One of the major Ḫariǧite branches, named after its founder ʿAbd Allah b. Ibāḍ al-Murri al-Tamīmi.

2 The highest peak in the chain that also includes the Ǧabal al-Šamm (3018m).

3 The Omani dynasty that reigned between 1024/1615 and 1164/1749.

4 It is a syllabic readjustment: the tonic syllable CaC, where C2 is a guttural /ḫ ġ ḥ ʿ h/, becomes CCa (e.g. qahwa “coffee” [CA] becomes ghawa in Bedouin dialects of Najd). In some other Bedouin varieties, it is possible to find the form gahawa, but essential is the insertion of the stressed vowel -a- after the guttural consonant.

5 This feature is shared with some dialects of central and southern Arabia and make them distinctive from other Gulf dialects, where the gender distinction has been neutralized.

6 For further details, see works of Shahina Ghazanfar (1994) and Dionisius Agius (2002, 2005).

Auteur

Ph.d. Roberta Morano

University of Leeds