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A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic

Esther-Miriam Wagner

II. Reader

35. A ‘Mandæo-Arabic’ letter from Lady Drower’s correspondence

Charles Häberl

Texte intégral


Arabic Transcription


1(1)MMay you have health !M (2)MI praise God with my pure heart.M (3) Makki says hello, he kisses your hand. (4) Klila Shishyan, Mmay you have good health.M Your letter (5) has arrived, and I am grateful. I brought a large, (6) ancient Treasure, a hundred years old, and an amulet, a Liturgical Prayerbook, (7) a ruling template, and a Book of Refrains. There are devotions in the Refrains and a collection of the Blessed (8) Oblation when we set up the mandi. We make the ṭaryāna, (9) and I read the collection and the banner hymns. Unfortunately, (10) your letter came to us when I was in Ḥalfaya, my brother (11) having died, and I left afterwards. My dear Klila, I swear by the House of Life (12) that I did not know it. (13) I came on Sunday to Baghdad, (14) the first day of the Mandaean month, which we celebrate on the eighth day of (15) the month of July, and I delivered the library [to] the Justice Inspector, (16) Mr Drower. (17) He was not at his office, and I had left Baghdad when (18) your letter came. As a result, you are saying, ‘I will examine the book with my eye’. (19) Dear Klila, I am not a liar, you say, ‘I’ll give 100 rupees’, (20) and I’ll be poor from it, and I truly love you, sister of the House of Life. (21) The library cost me 180 rupees. (22) From Qurna, W.Sh. Kumayt Rām bar Yasmīn.


2This is an undated letter from the personal correspondence of Stefana Drower (1879–1972) appearing here courtesy of Jorunn J. Buckley. The author of the letter is Sh. Kumayt Rām bar Yasmīn, a priest of the Mandowī family who was then resident in the city of al-ʿAmāra, roughly 340 km southeast of Baghdad. The letter details the purchase of the Drower Collection manuscripts 13, 14, and 22 (herein described as ‘the Treasure’), which are presently in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. The letter is written in a form of colloquial Arabic similar to the Iraqi standard, but with a few unexpected features, such as the use of the personal pronoun ʾana instead of ʾāni. Its orthography shares some features with Mandaic, such as the elimination of the preposition b- before the word bīt ‘house’ and the spelling of final -ī. Additionally, the author indiscriminately represents the vowels i, ō, and ē with the letter ہ , which possibly reflects the phenomenon of ʾimāla or raising, as this sound is often realized as a mid front [ɛ] in the received pronunciation of Mandaic in Iraq, corresponding to the articulation of historical /a/ (fatḥa) in the gelet Arabic dialects. In the transcription below, I have normalised the Mandaic words to conform to Arabic orthography, to reflect the traditional Iraqi pronunciation of Mandaic and to minimise potential confusion between the two systems.

3Line 1

4asūṯa nihwīliḵ. The first few lines consist of Classical Mandaic formulae. These particular formulae are employed to open many compositions, particularly letters. The verb is a base stem imperfective from the root h-w-w/y, in the 3ms form, with a 3ms enclitic indirect object, literally meaning ‘may it (health) be for you’.

5Line 2

6mšabba mārī b-libbī dakya. The first word is a passive participle from the causative stem of the verb √š-b-w/y ‘to praise’.

7Line 3

8Makkī yusallim ʿalēk yabūs ʾīdeek. Sh. Kumayt refers here to his son, the famous Iraqi actor Makkī Al-Badrī (16/6/1925– 5/8/2014), whom Drower first met when he was still a small child.

9Line 4

10klīla šīšyān asūṯa nihwīlḵun. The salutation returns to Mandaic, using the same standard formula found in ln. 1, albeit with the 2pl suffix (‘may there be health for [all of] you’). Klīla ‘crown’ is the Mandaic equivalent of Drower’s given name, Stefana; Šīšyān is the Mandaic form of her mother’s name.

11Lines 4–5

12maktūbič jā w-ana mamnūn. It is in the second of these lines that we find the first colloquial features of this text, namely the form of the 2fs possessive suffix -ič instead of the more standard -ki. Also noteworthy in this context is the apparent lenition of the glottal stop in ‘it came’ (< jāʾa) and w-ana ‘and I’ (<wa-ʾana). Lines 5–7

13jābit Ginza kabīra ʿatīqa tarīḫ miyyat sinna wa-zrazta wa-Qlasta wataṣṭīr ṣbāġa w-ʾAnyānī. Here one encounters the colloquial verb jāb ~ yjīb ‘to bring’ together with the names of some well-known Mandaic compositions, the Ginza Rabba or Great Treasure, and the Qulasta and Inyānī, which were published together as the Canonical Prayerbook of the Mandaeans (Drower 1959). The hundred-year-old Treasure mentioned here was likely accessioned into the Drower Collection as dc 22, which is dated to 1831 and was purchased by Drower in 1936 (Buckley 2010, 106–7). The words taṣtīr [sic] ṣbāġa ( ريطست ةغابص ) refer to the template used when ruling manuscript pages to ensure that the writing follows straight lines, a photo of which appears in Buckley (2010, Plate 8).

14Lines 7–8

15b-Anyānī rahmī wa-majmūʿa Zidqa Brīḫa min niṭras ʾil-manda, nsawwī ṭaryāna. The Blessed Oblation (Zidqa Briḫa) is a ritual performed on certain occasions, in this instance for the consecration of the mandī, the structure which is the site of many Mandaean rituals, and the making of the ṭaryāna, the clay table on which the ritual is performed. The use of min ‘at the time’ is another colloquial feature of this text. The verb derived from √t-r-ṣ (often √ṭ-r-s) ‘to consecrate’ derives from Mandaic and is particular to the Mandaean ritual vocabulary.

16Lines 8–9

17w-ana qrā ʾil-majmūʿa w-anyāni darafša. The word darafša or darfaš refers to the ritual banner employed during baptism, consisting of a length of white silk wrapped around a wooden crosspiece. Banner hymns (cf. Drower 1959, 330–47) are recited during the ritual of erecting, unfurling, and dismantling this banner in the Jordan.

18Lines 9–11

19maʿa-l-asaf maktūbič jāna w-ana b-il-Ḥalfaya w-ana ḫūyya māt waṭaḷḷit ʾaḫar. Ḥalfaya is a plateau 35 km southeast of al-ʿAmāra. The colloquial form ḫūyya ‘my brother’ appears here in place of the standard ʾaḫī. The colloquial form ṭaḷḷit replaces standard ṭalʿit, in which the ʿ has assimilated to the preceding l.

20Lines 11–12

21ʿazīztī klīla w-aʿad Bīt Hayya m-aʿlam bih. The House of Life is a location within the ‘lightworld’, although it often stands metonymically for the latter. While one would expect the preposition b-, in Mandaic texts this preposition is regularly not written before the word bīt.

22Lines 12–14

23jīt yōm il-aḥad ʿal-Baġdād, yōm rās šahar il-mandāya, yōm tāmin bšahar ngarraẓ šahar Tammūz. The form ngarraz is evidently nuqarraẓ ‘we celebrate, extol’. During the 24-year period in which Drower lived in Baghdad, the 8th of Tammūz (July) fell on a Sunday (yōm il-aḥad) in 1923, 1928, 1934, and finally in 1945. The aforementioned Treasure (dc 22) was the subject of a letter from another priest, Sh. Negm, who wrote Drower on 2 February 1936 to inform her that it had arrived and that he would send it with the next mail. Therefore, it seems likely that this letter was composed in 1934. In that year, the date 8 July indeed corresponded to the first day of Ṭābit / Gadyā, the twelfth month of the Mandaean calendar.

24Lines 15–16

25w-ana sallamit bēt il-ginzī li-mfattiš il-ʿadl Mistar Drawar. The phrase bēt il-ginzī ‘library’, an Arabic calque on Mandaic bīt ginzī, literally means ‘house of the treasures’ or ‘treasury’. Edwin Drower, Stefana Drower’s husband, served as the Inspector-General of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice from 1922 to 1946.

26Lines 17–18

27mū ʿamaktab [a] w-ana ṭaḷḷit Baġdād liman yajīni maktūbič. The first two words of this sentence appear to be miʿa maktūb, but this would be meaningless in this context. We know from context that Drower had not yet acquired the manuscript or paid for it. So they must mean something along the lines of ‘he was not at his office’. For ṭaḷḷit, see ln. 11 above.

28Line 18

29ʿād ʾintī tagūlīn ʾašawwif b-ʿēnī li-ktāb. The conjunction ʿād ‘but; therefore, as a result’ is another colloquial feature, as is the voicing of q in tagūlīn ‘you (f) say’.

30Line 19

31ʿazīztī klīla, ʾana mūš kaddāb. The negative particle mūš is a colloquial feature, as is the plosivisation of the fricative in kaddāb. Lines 19–20

32tagūlīn ʿāt miyyat rūbiyya w-ana minna faqīr w-anaḥibannič taranīḥayat Bīt Hayya. Drower glosses the verb ʿāt as ‘I will give’, probably reflecting standard Arabic ʾuʿati; in its place, one would expect ʾanṭi. If this is indeed the meaning, it is conjugated as if it came from a hollow root. The form ʾaḥibannič, standard Arabic ʾuḥibu-ki, is less problematic, save for the anomalous -n- before the object suffix. This may reflect an energic form. The colloquial form ḫayat ‘sister’ appears here in place of standard ʾuḫt. For Bīt Hayya, see ln. 11 above.

33Line 21

bēt l-ginzīintīī

34Line 22

35min qurna, walī šīeḫ Kmēt Rām bar Yasmīn.

36Sh. Kumayt closes his letter with a few words that have presented particular difficulties for its readers, including native speakers of Iraqi Arabic. The location from which (min) Sh. Kumayt writes is evidently Qurna, a town roughly 100 km due south of al-ʿAmāra and 74 km northwest of Basra, but he has written this word with the letter ےے (qirna) rather than the expected ےد (*qurna). The spelling of his title, šīeḫ (for standard Arabic šayḫ ‘old man; sheikh’) reflects the monophthongization of the historical diphthong and its subsequent division into two segments, which is characteristic of colloquial Arabic in this region. Between the two words is the word walī ‘guardian; authorized agent’, which possibly refers to Sh. Kumayt’s role in securing these documents on Drower’s behalf.


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