The doings of American philologasters are, in truth, a curious study.

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Periphrastic Perfect in Classical Mandaic

I was inspired by a recent inquiry (from my colleague Dr. Eleanor Coghill at the University of Konstanz) to dig up the information that I have thus far on qtil l- and related constructions in the Doctrine of John.  The qtil l- construction is an innovative means of rendering the perfect of transitive verbs in Aramaic. The action is rendered periphrastically, using the passive participle, and the agent is marked with the preposition l-, which is usually employed to indicate the patient of an action. This construction, which eventually replaces the old West Semitic “suffix conjugation” in Neo-Aramaic (save for Western Neo-Aramaic and, oddly enough, Neo-Mandaic), has been compared to the split ergative system of various Iranian languages (such as Pahlavi) as well as the perfect of Germanic languages and Romance languages such as Italian (ho mangiato “I have [something] eaten” = “I have eaten”) since Semitic languages like Aramaic also render possession with the preposition l-.

As portions of the Doctrine of John appear already in the Coptic Manichaean Psalm Book, and its final redaction probably occurred shortly after the Advent of Islam, the text provides a terminus ante quem for the appearance of this construction. I’ve found examples in two sections of the text so far. On page 26 of Lidzbarski’s edition, lines 1-5, Yoshamin, the rebellious Second Life, is speaking to the Messenger of the King of Light:

hakima ḏlahzilak dmutai
ubintai ulaštilak bkasa minai 
How long have you not seen (la-hzi-l-ak) my likeness
and my stature, and have you not drunk (la-šti-l-ak) from a cup with me?
hakima ḏlaekilak pihta mn paturai
ulagdilak klila ulatriṣlak brišak 
Have long have you not eaten (la-ekil-[l]-ak) the sacramental bread from my platter,
nor woven (la-gdil-[l]-ak) the wreath, nor set [it] (la-triṣ-l-ak) upon your head?
hakima ḏlahzilak dmutai 
uṣautai lašreia elak
How long have you not seen (la-hzi-l-ak) my form ‎
‎and my light has not shined over you?
With the exception of the last verb, these are all qtil l- constructions. The Messenger, by contrast, speaks according to the usual norms of Classical Mandaic.
On p. 33, lines 6-8, Yoshamin laments,
kḏ arza ḏhdirlẖ parzla 
minilia ḏbildbabai hidrun elai 
Like a cedar that iron has surrounded,
the words of my enemies surrounded me.
On p. 36, lns. 9-12 Yoshamin speaks again, this time to Knowledge-of-Life:
hinela smiklia simaka 
ḏiadana ḏlaiit balhudai 
Nevertheless, I took (smik-l-ia) solace in the fact
that I know that I am not alone.
ana šmilia mn ab ḏrurbia
ḏmitauzipia el dirdqia mištaiilia
bhaṭaiun uabahata lasania bnia
I heard (šmi-l-ia) from my father
that the great who are joined/added (?) to the little will be held responsible
for their sins, and fathers do not hate their sons.
 A few more examples of this construction can be found in the section that Lidzbarski dubbed “the Soul Fisher (der Seelenfischer).” On p. 153, lns. 7-9, the fishers of the swamp, who apparently represent demons hell-bent upon stealing souls, say to the protagonist,
ṣaida anat gadaia
ḏnunia ḏagma laṣidlak
You are a lucky fisher,
who did not catch (la-ṣid-l-ak) the fish of the marsh!
lahzilak ekilta ḏnunia
bgauaihun kanpia ekilta
You did not see (la-hzi-l-ak) the food of the fish
within its receptacles.
There are also some constructions involving an active participle plus l-plus the agent, not the expected patient; these appear to render a present or future tense:On p. 155, lns. 7-9, speaking of the fish that they will capture with their nets:
ṭaibilun mn qipia
uabihdia klila kalia
They will sink (ṭaib-i-l-un) under the surface
and be restrained (kalia) with the circlet.
darilun bdiguria
uṭarilun minẖ mn aṭaria
They will be carried off (dari-l-un) in droves
and beaten back (ṭari-l-un) from the circlet.
On p. 161, ln. 14, again in the mouths of the demonic fishers:
lahazilan ṣaidia ḏdamilak
We never see (la-hazi-l-an) fishers that resemble you.
And finally on p. 162, lns. 1-2:
sqiria mala lṣaida
usukana ḏnahnar bhauria
The fisher steers (mala) the sail-yard
and the rudder, which brings light to the marshes.
This sentence actually reads “the sail-yard steers the fisher,” but to render it in such a manner would defy logic and common sense.
All of the examples that I’ve been able to uncover thus far occur only in reported speech, suggesting that the use of this construction was considered by the author(s) of the Doctrine of John to be characteristic of a certain speech community. Combined with the fact that the qtil l- construction is not attested at all in Neo-Mandaic (alone among the Eastern Neo-Aramaic languages), these examples are probably best interpreted as a kind of “foreigner talk” placed in the mouths of non-Mandaeans, comparable to to the phrase “Me so horny, me love you long time” which Stanley Kubrick placed in the mouth of a Da Nang hooker, in his Full Metal Jacket.

kbastai mkaruastai

Yoshamin’s speech in the ninth buta ends on a cryptic note:

hazin kbastai mkaruastai

libai biblia umalia natra

This is my kbasa and my mkaruasa;

My heart sinks in wailing and lamentations.

Both kbastai and mkaruastai are hapaxes. They are evidently feminine nouns (as the enclitic possessive pronoun –ai indicates). Lidzbarski makes the eminently sensible suggestion that the first is somehow related to the Mandaic root k-b-ṣ, itself cognate with Syriac q-p-ṣ “to contract.” He has no suggestion for the second word, which appears to be derived from a root k-r-w-s.

Such a root does not exist in Mandaic or any other Aramaic dialect. There is, however, a Syriac root q-r-p-s, which is synonymous with q-p-ṣ, as required by the context. The shift from q to k presents no particular difficulties, but how does p become u? To explain this change, we must first assume that p assimilated in voice to the following s, becoming b, and was subsequently fricativized to u.  Phonetic spellings of etymological *are rare but not unattested; Macuch cites several examples (§32), such as ṣauta for *ṣibta “ornament” (Syriac ṣeḇtā), or sual for sbal “he has borne.” In later texts, such as the aspar maluašia, examples abound.

Literally, the first half of the verse could be translated “this is my oppression and constriction;” more freely, it might mean something like “this oppresses and constrains me.”

Progress Report 3

I’ve lately been occupied with other things, but I found the time today to complete pp. 32 and 33, the first 18 lines of the ninth buta.  As in earlier chapters, this chapter continues the story of Yoshamin from a first-person perspective. It is not entirely free of mysteries.

The manuscripts are somewhat inconsistent in parts, and there are clearly portions where something is missing. In line two of p. 33, Lidzbarski’s Manuscripts A and D read:

hašta akṣalia uakṣalẖ el

Now it pains me and it pains […]

Similarly, Lidzbarski’s MS B reads:

hašta akṣalia ukṣalẖ el

Now it pains me and it pains […]

Clearly there is a lacuna in these three manuscripts. MS C, on the other hand, reads

hašta akṣalẖ llibai

Now it pains my heart

The suggestion is that the line should be reconstructed

hašta akṣalia uakṣalẖ el libai

Now it pains me and it pains my heart.

This is a fairly minor fix.  There are, however, two extremely enigmatic expressions towards the end of the page.  Lidzbarski suggests, on the basis of MS C, the following

laahai ḏkariuta

ularahmai ḏrahmutai

adkar ḏpšaṭilẖ kušṭa

I’ve translated this as

Neither my brothers out of pity [kariuta],

nor my friends out of my friendship [rahmuta],

have mentioned that I pledged the truth.

Literally, the text reads “brothers of sorrow” and “friends of my friendship;” one would expect a preposition here, perhaps mn or b-, but neither appears.

The other manuscripts (A, B, and D) substitute elaha “God” for laahai “Neither my brother(s)” and replace ularahmai ḏrahmutai with simply ularahmutai “and no friendship.”  This is neither especially meaningful, nor does it match the meter (if indeed I have reconstructed the meter properly).

Finally, the last verse on the page reads:

enišiuia liuma ḏhamrai

uladakria mn iumai had

They forgot the day of my reckoning [?]

and do not recall [even] one of my days.

The manuscripts are unfortunately of little help here, at least as far as I can discern; A and D have hamra for the final word of the first half, and B has ḏhamra. B also adds  after iumai. Lidzbarski translates this phrase as “day of wine;” what that could possibly mean, in this context or any other context for that matter, outside of the Jack Lemmon film, is not immediately clear to me.  The Pahlavi word āmār “reckoning, consideration”  makes an appearance in Official Aramaic as hmr “account,” possibly on its own as well as in several compounds (see DNWSI, p. 284); Drower and Macuch also list the word amar “affairs, aspects, amount” in their dictionary, which they unconvincingly derive from the “Arabic” آمار (surely they mean أمور ? Or is this the Persian word آمار “numeration; statistics,” which is not actually Arabic in origin?) .  Perhaps “the day of my reckoning” is intended? Unfortunately we are no closer to a convincing translation.

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