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

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.

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2 thoughts on “Periphrastic Perfect in Classical Mandaic

  1. Pingback: Progress Report 4 « Philologastry

  2. Pingback: How Can You Date a Text? « Philologastry

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