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

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

The word dibna, “sheep-fold”

The word dibna is fairly well-attested in the Mandaic corpus, and almost completely unattested elsewhere.  The Drower and Macuch entry for it (p. 106) reads,

dibna (Ar. loan-w. دبن Jb ii 45 n. 1) sheepfold. kḏ raia ṭaba laqnẖ ḏ-ldibnaihun dabarlun Gy 177:21 like a good shepherd that guideth his sheep to their fold; aqna ldiblaihun Gs 10:23 ; dibna ṭaba Jb 40:12; ladiba šauar dibnan Jb 41:5 no wolf leapeth into our sheepfold; laiil ganaba ldibnaiin Jb 41:7 a thief doth not enter their fold; alit ldibna Jb 42:5 I entered the sheepfold; baba ḏ-dibna Jb 42:11; tata ḏ-pašra unapqa mn dibnẖ JRAS 1937 592:27 a sheep which is loosed and comes forth from its fold.

At no point does it make clear whether the word was borrowed from Arabic or by Arabic. In his translation, Lidzbarski (1915, p. 45, fn. 1) suggests that the word has entered Arabic, and points to the Lisān al-ʿArab vol. XVII, p. 2 for confirmation, where it is described as a kind of “enclosure of canes made for sheep.” The Lisān‘s compiler, Ibn Manẓūr, identifies it as being of Persian origin.

In terms of the Orientalist literature, neither Wehr nor Lane mention the word. Charles Wilkins’ 1806 edition of John Richardson’s Dictionary, Persian, Arabic, and English includes this word (vol. 1, p. 425), as does Steingass’ 1884 Student’s Arabic-English Dictionary (p. 353), but Steingass neglects to include it in his Persian dictionary. The word seems to be utterly unattested outside of Mandaic and Arabic, save for Jacques Eugène Manna’s 1900 Vocabulaire chaldéen-arabe, which identifies deḇnā as “a dialect word of certain Aramaeans” for a sheep-pen.  There, the trail runs cold until we come to Lidzbarski’s translation and the Drower and Macuch dictionary.

Progress Report 5

The final chapter of the tractate on Yoshamin is now available at the project website.

This chapter consists entirely of Yoshamin speaking in the first person, lamenting his fate and his estrangement from his family. In his laments, he seems to accept some responsibility for his actions, describing himself (p. 39, lns. 8-9) as,

uai dilia ḏpumai ašplan

ulišanai hualia ridpa

Woe is me, whose mouth brought him down,

and whose tongue was an affliction to him.

On the whole, there are some interesting features of the language of this chapter as well, that suggest that it may be relatively late.  In p. 39, lns. 6-7, we find the modern form abadiun “they did” in the phrase,

mn kulhun eutria ḏabadiun husrana

ana šilmun husrana labdit

Among all the aeons that did wrong,

‎‎they repaid me with the wrong [that] I did not do.

The -iun ending, which is characteristic of Neo-Mandaic, but rare in Classical Mandaic texts (bare 3rd plural forms typically being indistinguishable from singular forms). That having been said, another such form appears on the following page, p. 40, lns. 1-2,

ala kulhun niṭubiata ḏhualia ldilia

kulhin he kulhin rgazian elai brugza rba

Woe to me, all of the consorts that I had,

all of them, yes all of them are greatly enraged with me!

The form rgazian has an extremely rare 3rd feminine plural morpheme, -ian.  While this morpheme is not typical of the Neo-Mandaic dialect of Khorramshahr, Macuch claims to have recorded some examples in the speech of his informants from Ahvāz. Finally, Lidzbarski discerns an Arabic loanword on p. 39, ln. 10:

besura autbun radaia qrun

They clapped me in irons, called me a “wanderer” […]

In a footnote to his translation, he acknowledges that radaia “wanderer” is occasionally a synonym for “planet,” and that it appears elsewhere in this text (p. 150, ln. 9), but argues that Yoshamin could not be a “wanderer” as he has been clapped in irons (literally, “settled down in a bond”). He translates it as Heruntergekommen “run down” and suggests that the word might actually be derived from Arabic رد radin from the root meaning “to perish” or “be destroyed.”

Given that Yoshamin elsewhere (p. 38, ln. 13) claims that he is being called “the Eighth” (as in, the eighth planet, the demonic equivalent of being the fifth Beatle), and the text is otherwise free from Arabic loans, I can’t endorse this interpretation.

Mandaic Aphorisms

On p. 38, lns. 10-12, we encounter a nugget of wisdom from Yoshamin:

haidin uhaidin timiṭiẖ lkul gabra ḏriṭna ḏanania šama

In such and such a manner it happens to every man  ‎‎that listens to the muttering of women.

eutra ḏšama riṭnaiun ḏanania mištpil minẖ mn alma

The aeon who listens to the mutterings of women will be cast down from the (MS C: his) world.

He appears to be blaming his troubles on his wives. Of course, that might explain why later (p. 39 lns. 3-4) he says,

baiina lzauai uzauai bainai lanapla

I seek out my wives, and my wives do not meet my glance.

and then (p. 40, lns. 1-2),

ala kulhun niṭubiata ḏhualia ldilia kulhin he kulhin rgazian elai brugza rba

Woe to me, all of the consorts that I had, all of them, yes all of them are greatly enraged with me!

I can’t really say that I’m surprised.

Additions to Drower and Macuch 1

Although I haven’t been keeping track of them thus far, I’ve found within the Draša ḏ-Iahia occasional lexemes that aren’t represented. For the most part, as in the present example, they’re examples of verbs in stems that aren’t represented in A Mandaic Dictionary. I felt that this is as good a place as any to archive them.

On p. 38, lns. 4-5, the text reads:

kḏ kšira huit umkašra

alma nsisa balma qrun

When I was diligent and accomplished,

why did they call me feckless in the world?

The root of kšira umkašra is the same root found in the English word kosher, of Hebrew origin. Drower and Macuch list a G-stem, a C-stem, and their reflexives for this root, but not a D-stem, which mkašra clearly is. Strangely, this very word is cited under the entry for kšira. This root is found in the D-stem in Syriac, where it means “to do with success, accomplish successfully,” on which grounds I’ve translated it as “accomplished” here.

Progress Report 4

The ninth buta of the Doctrine of John has finally been completed and posted to the project website.

This consists of the text running from ln. 6, p. 32 to ln. 12, p. 37, and is one of the longer chapters that I’ve posted.  It’s remarkable for its use of the periphrastic perfect (mentioned in an earlier post below), but in other respects resembles the preceding few chapters, involving the same characters (Yoshamin, his son N’ṣab, the Great Life, and Knowledge-of-Life).

The chapter begins with one of Yoshamin’s laments, which earns him some sharp words from Knowledge-of-Life.  Yoshamin rebukes Knowledge-of-Life, which delights the Great Life (for reasons that are left to the imagination).  The Great Life dispatches Yoshamin’s son N’ṣab to calm Yoshamin down and promise him that he will be restored.

Mendeley Desktop

Over the course of the past weekend, I’ve been moving my collection of PDFs and ebooks over to a new desktop computer, and updating my Mendeley archive to accommodate the move. Unfortunately, I don’t have a paid account, so when I migrated the files from one computer to the next (via Dropbox), the actual digital files were no longer associated with their entries in Mendeley.

This is a serious problem when you have over 1000 entries. As of yesterday, I had managed to associate most of the files with the 1004 existing entries, with another 220 to be added.

The majority of these files are journal articles that I xeroxed as a grad student, and which I have been gradually digitizing and OCRing over the past two or three years. There are also a number of PDFs that I have downloaded from Google Books (for works that are in the public domain) or JSTOR (for works that are not). Most of the references that I use are not available through either; these include manuscripts (obviously), monographs from expensive presses, and articles from obscure journals that never made the leap to digital or perished before this became a possibility. Consequently, I’ve needed to feed the better part of an entire filing cabinet full of moldy (and unfortunately neglected) xeroxes into an automatic document feeder, bulk-scan them to PDF, and run Adobe Acrobat’s ClearScan OCR on the scanned files.

Obviously, this is a laborious, time-intensive, and painstaking process, replete with paper jams and other scanning complications, but the result is well-worth it.

Having entered all of these files into Mendeley and updated their publication information, I can quickly search my archive (including the contents of every file that has been successfully OCRed) for information about a research topic and generating a pretty comprehensive bibliography of works. On top of this, Mendeley will provide complete citations for any of the entries I use, according to all of the most common formats (Chicago, MLA, etc.). There is also a social aspect to Mendeley, allowing you to “friend” other researchers and search other archives, but I haven’t made much use of this aspect.

I do not think I exaggerate when I say that Mendeley has been a “game-changer” for my research. It has taken two of the most tedious aspects of publication (reviewing the literature, especially my own files, and formatting citations), and automated them.  When I am writing an article or when a colleague asks me a question over email, I no longer have to wonder whether I have anything on the topic filed somewhere in the cabinet in my office in New Brunswick, NJ; I can merely run a quick search on my own files and produce a PDF.

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