Arabic Grammar – 77

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§a. A later development of completely different nature than what was described in the previous section is the pausal shortening of unstressed terminal long vowels. This phenomenon is probably analogous to the pausal apocope of terminal short vowels (§II.17.). After this shortening the formerly terminal long vowels became (in some dialects) short both at junction and pause. Thus, the orthography indicating terminal long vowels lost its meaning. This is the reason why grammarians called a terminal vowel-denoting ʔalif by the name the shortened ʔalif  اَلْأَلِفُ اَلْمَقْصُوْرَةُ . In the modern spoken dialects (at least the ones I am familiar with) there is no noticeable difference between the shortened ʔalif and the short vowel a. In Aleppo Arabic the pronoun ʔanȃ أَنَاْ is always pronounced ʔana, with an unstressed short vowel in the end.

§b. The shortened terminal long vowels were sometimes affected by the pausal apocope described in §II.17., that is, they were completely dropped at pause like original short vowels. For this reason such vowels are sometimes spelled in the Qurʔȃn as short vowels. For example, the attached object pronoun –(n)ȋ ــِـيْ/ــنِيْ “me” is sometimes written in the Qurʔȃn without its terminal yȃʔ, e.g. the Qurʔȃnic word ʔakrama-ni أَكْرَمَنِ “[God] is generous with me,” in Sura LXXXIX:15; this is pronounced at pause ʔakrama-n. Another example is the Qurʔȃnic phrase ʔ·ibna ʔumm-i اِبْنَ أُمِّ in Sura VII:150, which is a shortened variant of ʔ·ibna ʔumm-ȋ اِبْنَ أُمِّيْ “son of my mother;” this is pronounced at pause ʔ·ibna ʔumm. (Some readings of the Qurʔȃn render this phrase ʔ·ibna ʔumm-a اِبْنَ أُمَّ , a shortened version of ʔ·ibna ʔumm-ȃ اِبْنَ أُمَّاْ “son of my mother.”) See Sibawayh volume IV, p. 186 for more examples.

The connected object pronouns –ka ــــكَ “you(masc. sing.)” and –ki ــــكِ “you(fem. sing.),” and the connected subject pronoun –ti ــــتِ “you(fem. sing.)” are always written in the Qurʔȃn with short vowels, but Sibawayh says (in vol. IV, p. 200) that “some Arabs” pronounced these pronouns with long vowels when they were followed by other connected pronouns, e.g. ʔuʕṭȋ-kȃ-hu أُعْطِيْكَاْهُ “I give him to you(masc. sing.),” ʔuʕṭȋ-kȃ-hȃ أُعْطِيْكَاْهَاْ “I give her to you(masc. sing.),” ʔuʕṭȋ-kȋ-hi أُعْطِيْكِيْهِ “I give him to you(fem. sing.),” ʔuʕṭȋ-kȋ-hȃ أُعْطِيْكِيْهَاْ “I give her to you(fem. sing.),” and ḍarab-tȋ-hi ضَرَبْتِيْهِ “you(fem. sing.) hit him.”

The nominative and genitive case-vowels must have been originally long at pause, but in the dialect of Mecca they were shortened and then apocopated. The accusative vowel –ȃ was spared, and so it is spelled in the Qurʔȃn with an ʔalif. The reason why –ȃ was spared is probably because it is more sonorant than ȋ and ȗ, and so it is easier to pronounce. This was correctly guessed by Sibawayh (in vol. IV, p. 187):

وأما الأَلِفاتُ التي تَذْهَبُ في الوصلِ فإنها لا تُحَذَفُ في الوقفِ، لأن الفتحةَ والألفَ أَخَفُّ عليهم‏.‏ ألا تراهم يفرون إلى الألف من الياء والواو إذا كانت الْعَيْنُ [أي الحرف الثاني من الجذر] قبل واحدة منهما مفتوحة؟

§c. Not rarely were unstressed terminal long vowels elided even at junction. According to the old linguists, the Meccan pronoun ʔanȃ أَنَاْ “I” was in some dialects reduced to ʔana أَنَ (the variant ʔȃna آنَ existed in the dialect of Quḍȃʕa·t قُضَاْعَةُ , which was a large tribe of northern Ħiǵȃz). The form ʔana أَنَ was in some dialects further reduced to ʔan أَنْ , that is, it completely lost its terminal vowel.

The Meccan pronoun hum هُمْ “they (masc.)” is in fact shortened from the longer variant humȗ هُمُوْ . This was first shortened to humu هُمُ , and next it lost its terminal vowel. Following is what the linguist الكسائي says about the 3rd person masculine singular pronoun (quoted in the Lisȃn under ها ):

وتَثْنِيَتُهُ “هُمَاْ” وَجَمْعُهُ “هُمُوْ”، فَأَمَّاْ قَوْلُهُ “هُم” فَمَحْذُوْفَةٌ مِنْ “هُمُوْ”

Similarly, the pronoun ʔantum أَنْتُمْ “you(masc. plur.)” is shortened from ʔantumȗ أَنْتُمُوْ . The connected pronouns –tum and –kum “you(masc. plur.)” are shortened from –tumȗ and –kumȗ (see Sibawayh vol. IV, p. 191). Interestingly, Sibawayh says that “countless Arabs” (مَنْ لا يُحْصَىْ مِنَ الْعَرَبِ) said kun-tumȗ كُنْتُمُوْ for the Qurʔȃnic kun-tum كُنْتُمْ “you(masc. plur.) were.” He appears to be talking about a junctional form, not a pausal one. This makes me wonder why some grammarians considered the junctional forms with long vowels “bad language.” It seems that in Proto-Semitic all terminal open syllables contained long vowels CVV, at junction as well as at pause.

In poetry, the endings ȋ and ȗ of imperfective verbs III=w/y can be dropped at pause, e.g. yaqḍ for yaqḍȋ يَقْضِيْ “[he] judges, decides” and yaɣz for yaɣzȗ يَغْزُوْ “[he] raids” (Sibawayh vol. IV, p. 209). According to Sibawayh, in the poetry of many of the Qaysu قَيْسُ (the tribes of western Naǵd) and ʔAsadu أَسَدُ (a tribe that inhabited northeastern Naǵd) the connected subject pronoun ȗ “they(masc. plur.)” was elided at pause, e.g. ṣanaʕ for ṣanaʕȗ صَنَعُوْا “[they](masc. plur.) made” (c.f. Syriac qə.ˈṭal for older qə.ˈṭal.ȗ ܩܛܰܠܘ “[they](masc. plur.) killed”). They also elided the ending ȋ of the feminine imperfective conjugation, e.g. takallam for takallamȋ تَكَلَّمِيْ “speak [you](fem. sing.).”

The elision of unstressed terminal long vowels is regular in the Syriac language (see Theodor Nöldeke, “Compendious Syriac Grammar,” p. 35, §50). Given the historical connection between the kingdom of Edessa and the Arabs, Chaim Rabin wonders whether the similarity between Syriac and the speech of Classical north-central Arabians was a mere coincidence (p. 119 §ii).

The elision of unstressed terminal long vowels is common in the modern spoken dialects. For example, the word šī “thing” (from šayʔuṋ شَيْءٌ “thing”) is reduced to š in the common interrogative word ʔayš “what” (from ʔayya šayʔiṋ أَيَّ شَيْءِ “what thing”), and in the negative suffix –š < –ši that is used in many dialects. The word for “here” is in many dialects hāna, hēna, or hōna (all of these probably come from hȃ-hinȃ/hȃ-hunȃ هَاْهِنَاْ/هَاْهُنَاْ “here”), but these are commonly reduced to hān, hēn, or hōn. The word hā-ðȃ هَذَاْ “this” is pronounced in Aleppo (and other Syrian dialects) hāda or hād (in Jordan hāð̣a or hāð̣).


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