Il-Cantilena of Malta: How much can a modern day Arab decipher from the oldest Maltese literature?

Also known as Il-Kantilena ...

In a previous article on Arab heritage in Malta, I touched upon how the Maltese language (Ilsan Malti) is definitely derived from Arabic, and more specifically, from the North African dialect of Arabic.

A visitor to the site raised a nice challenge which was very interesting to me: He started on the off note and having his comment titled "Maltest are not arab", and by saying:

For those Arabs that try to find commonality with Maltese is just as
pathetic as those Maltese that try to find commonality with Europeans.

The reality is each isnow so far removed that the identity is clear
albeit very common with the mediterranean. How the language survived
and its real roots is very interesting.

Let us not confuse ethnicity and genetics with language.

Why is it "pathetic" to find commonality between Maltese and Arabic while all the evidence points to Maltese being derived from an Arabic dialect. 

They are not far removed at all.

He then adds:

I would appreciate an arabic perspective of the oldest known Maltese
verses of il Cantelina. Please do read it before looking at the actual
english translation and see how much of it you can actually understand.
The funny thing is I as a Maltese can barely understand it:

Now that is a good idea!

He then lists the modern orthography of Maltese:

Modern orthography
Maltese orthography was not standardised until the 20th century; there
were many variant spelling conventions in texts written before this
time.

here's a table with the letter equivalents of modern maltese sounds

għ = ﻉ ʻayn but silent mostly elongates the following vowel
ħ = ﺡ ḥ very brief though as in 'help'
h = silent slightly elongates the following vowel
x = ﺵ sh as in ship
z = ﺯ as in zebra
j = ﺝ as in yellow
ie = a vowel, but a long ij
ż = ﻅ tz or ts
ġ = as in george
g = as get

e.g. a’ = the ’ signifies a dropped għ

I have heard about the Cantilena before, as the first literature written in Malti.

I decided not to look it up on Wikipedia or other sources, and attempt to translate it independently and directly,
first from the modern orthography, then trying to read the old
orthography and fill in the gaps. The sole source here is my own knowledge of Arabic, and exposure to North African dialects of Arabic.

The result of this effort can be found below: First the line in the verse in modern Maltese orthography, then
my Arabic translation in Arabic letters, and then my English translation, without referring to any articles or the internet or any other reference.This is then followed by a word by word dissection of the verse.

There are a few cases where I did not stick to the orthography because the Arabic letter confirms better to what the word is.

After I hear from a few Maltese about how successful/unsuccesful the translation is, I will look up the relevant sources on the Cantilena and its English translation, in a future comment or amendment to this article.

The feminine is because Arabic and Malti has everything as either
masculine (he) and feminine (she), but no gender neutrality (it).

1. Xidew il-qada, ja ġirieni, talli nħadditkom,
شدوا القادة ? يا جيراني تاللي نحدتكم
... Oh My Neighbors, come/so-that we can tell [a story] to you

Xidew شدوا: This means "pull". Can also be from "Shadw" meaning singing or reciting poetry.

il-qada القادة:This means "the leaders, the commanders, but it is unclear what the exact meaning is in the context.

ja يا : this is an appleration in Arabic, when calling someone. Preceeds the appellant.

ġirieni جيراني : My neighbors, from singular جار and plural جيران. The -i at the end is possessive ("my...").

talli تاللي: Could be the same as slang Arabic تعالوا "come over here", otherwise, it is obscure in Arabic.

nħadditkom نحدتكم: From The n- means "we are going to ...", and the -kom prefix is "you"

 

2. Ma nsab fil-weri u la nsab f’għomorkom
ما نصاب في الوري و لا نصاب في عمركم
May I not be [punished] in [...?], nor I be punished in your life [age]
[Note: original orthography: gueri: جواري means little girls]

Ma: This is for negation of what follows.

nsab: the n- indicates plural, but that can be figurative. The "sab" part i derived from moseeba مصيبة which means "catastrophe" or calamity. nsab means "we have a calamity befall us".

fil-: is actually two things: fi menaing "in" and "il" meaning "the".

weri: was unclear until I checked the old orthography which had "gueri". This is a plural of "garia"which  means little girl as well as slave girl as well. Given the context, it must refer to little girls.

u: this is Arabic "wa-" meaning "and" and is still shortened to "u" in some present daydialects (e.g. in the Levant).

la: means "not".

nsab: same as above.

f’: is shortened form of "fi" meaning "in".

għomorkom: is a composite of "Omor" meaning "age" and also "life". The kom suffix is second person plural.

 

3. Qalb m’għandha ħakem, sultan u la mula
قلب ما عندها حاكم سلطان و لا موليأ
Her heart is ruler, a Sultan or a mawla

Qalb: is heart.

m’: can be possessive or negative. I lean towards the former.

għand: is "having" or "at"

ha: is feminine possessive. Unsure who it refers to, a female love interest of the poet, or the land.

ħakem: is ruler.

sultan:  Arabic term for king, ruler.

u la: this is the same as the previous verse, but can also be subtly different. The "u" can be أو which means "or". The entire "u la" can be the same as colloquial Egyptian و اللا also meaning "or".

mula: is a word with many meanings in Arabic, but "master" is what fits the context here.

 

4. Bir imgħammiq irmietni, b’turġien muħsula,
بير مغمق رميتني بترجين محصلة
A deep well you cast me in, with [?two drawers ...?]


Bir
: is the colloquial term for "well" in many dialects of today. The classical Arabic version is "bi'r"بئر

imgħammiq: is interesting. The Maltese "għ" indicates a ع but can also be غ gh as well. Either way it indicates depth, the first being closer to classical usage, and the latter from colloquial usage in Egypt and the Levant (unsure if it is North Africa too).

irmietni: is composed of the root "rmi" ("to throw, cast"), and the -ni is "me"


b’turġien
:This is an unclear term to me.


muħsula
:
This is an unclear term to me.

 

5. Fejn ħajran għall-għarqa, ninżel f’taraġ minżeli
فين حيران عالغرقى ننزل في درج منزلي
Where am I, lost/disoriented, I descend the stairs on my house


Fejn:
This is a colloquial term in Arabic in Egypt and elsewhere, meaning "Where". It is not a classical Arabic term, whereas "Ayn" is.


ħajran:
Means disoriented or lost the way.


għall-:
the suffix is identitical to colloquial Arabic in Egypt, meaning "On the".

għarqa: If we use the orthography, this would start with a ع . Not sure what it means in the context. With a  غ instead, it could mean "those who drowned"


ninżel
: "I/we go down"


f’
: is "in"

taraġ: Substituting the"t" by a "d" makes it Darag, which means stair case.

minżeli: My house.

 

6. Nitla’ u nerġa’ ninżel dejjem fil-baħar il-għoli.
نطلع و نرجع ننزل دايم في البحر العالي
We go out, and come back, and go out always in the rough sea

Nitla’: "ascend", or "go out"


u
: "and"


nerġa’
: "we come back", or "we return"


ninżel
: "go down"


dejjem
: This is a variant of the classical Arabic دائما (da'iman) meaning "always", which in Egyptian is "dayman", and in Tunisian "deema"


fil-baħar
: "In the sea"


il-għoli
:
literally means "high", with a bit of skew of the "a" sound into "o". In colloquial Arabic this means "choppy", "stormy" or "rough" when describing the sea.

 

7. Waqgħet hi, imrammti, l’ili żmien nibni,
وقعت هي مرمتي لإلي زمان نبني
Fell [? ...] my repair/restoration, I have been building for a long time


Waqgħet
:"She/it fell [down]"


hi
:"she/it"

imrammti: "my repair/restoration". Not sure what this refers to: a house that the poet is building and fell down during repairs?


l’ili
:the initial "L" is "for", the "ili" could be similar to Egyptian colloquial إللي which is used to refer to something or someone.


żmien
: Means "time".


nibni
:
"We build" or "Have been building".

 

8. Ma ħtatlix mgħallmin, ’mma qatagħli tafal merħi;
ما حطتليش معلمين إما قطعلي طفل مرحي
She did not put for me masters [builders?], or cut for me [clay?] [?]


Ma
:This is a negation in Arabic.

ħtatlix: a composite of colloquial Arabic identical to what is used in Egypt and elsewere, starting with  حط mean "put" , then  ت for feminine (she put), then   لي meaning "for me", and finally ش  for negation (she did not put for me).


mgħallmin
: plural for معلم meaning "master" or "teacher", as well as an expert in any craft.Probably refers to a master builder/mason here.


’mma
: means "or" or "either"


qatagħli
: "cut for me", but in masculine as opposed to the first part of the verse.


tafal
: given the context, this is most probably a special kind of clay used in adobe style bricks and building.


merħi
:
It is unclear what this means. If the letter is خ  instead of  ح, then it could mean "weak/soft bricks".

 

9. Fejn tmajt insib il-ġebel, sibt tafal merħi;
فين تميت نسيب الجبل سبت طفل مرحي
Where have I left the mountain, left [clay?] [?]


Fejn
:"where" in colloquial Arabic.


tmajt
: "finished"?


insib
: "I/we leave/let go"


il-ġebel
: "the mountain"


sibt
: "I left/let go"


tafal
: see previous verse.


merħi
:
see previous verse.

 

10. Waqgħet hi, imrammti.
وقعت هي مرمتي
She [fell?] my repair

Explained above in verse 7.

 

11. Waqgħet hi, imrammti, niżżlet hi s-sisien,
وقعت هي مرمتي نزلت هي سسيسن
She [fell?] my repair, she went down [...?]

Waqgħet hi imrammti:
Explained above in verse 7.


niżżlet
: "She descended/went down"


hi
: She/her.


s-sisien
: Unclear to me.

 

12. Ma ħtatlix l-imgħallmin, ’mma qatagħli l-ġebel;
ما حططليش معلمين إما قطعلي للجبل
She did not put for me masters [builders?] or cutting [stones] from the mountain


Ma ħtatlix l-imgħallmin
: See verse 8. The only difference is that 


’mma qatagħli
: See verse 8.


l-ġebel
:
"the mountain".

 

13. Fejn tmajt insib il-ġebel, sibt tafal merħi;
فين تميت نسيب الجبل سبت طفل مرحي
Where have I left the mountain, left [clay?] [?]

See verses 8 and 9.

 

14. Waqgħet hi, imrammti, l’ili żmien nibni.
وقعت هي مرمتي لإلي زمان نبني
[Fell? ...] repair/restoration, I have been building for a long time

Same as verse 7.

 

15. U hekk waqgħet hi, imrammti! w erġa’ ibniha!
و هيك وقعت هي مرمتي و ارجع ابنيها
And like that she fell, my repair, and I go [back] and [re]build it


U
: "And"


hekk
: A colloquial in Levant countries for "Like so" or "like that". Not used in Egypt, nor classical Arabic.


waqgħet
:"It/She fell"


hi
: "She"


imrammti
: "my repair/restoration"


w
: "And", seems interchangeable with "u" in Maltese orthography.


erġa’
: "repeat" or "go back" and redo.


ibniha!
: "Build it"

16. Biddilha inti l-imkien illi jewtiha;
بدلها انتي المكان اللي جوتيها
You replace the place that is inside it


Biddilha
: "Replace [it]". It could also be Biddliha and not Biddilha, which would be second person feminine "You replace it".


inti
: feminine "you".


l-imkien
: "The place". The inflection deviates from both classical and Egyptian colloquial (Al Makan or El Makan), and follows North African dialects by changing the last "a" to a "ie".


illi
: Same as what is in verse 7.


jewtiha
: "Jowwa" is colloquial for "inside", and not classical Arabic. Here it is "inside it".

 

17. Min ibiddel l-imkien ibiddel il-vintura;
مين يبدل المكان يبدل الفنتورا
He who replaces the place replaces the fortune(s)


Min
: "who"


ibiddel
: "change/replace"


l-imkien
: "the place"


ibiddel
: "Change/replace"


il-vintura
:Ventura is fortune in Latin/Romance. Obviously a non-Arab word.


18. Għaliex l-iradi għal kull xiber sura:
على إيش الاراضي عال كل شبر صورة
What of the lands, on every hand-span there is a picture


Għaliex
: Literally: "On what"


l-iradi
: "The lands", plural of "ard"

għal: could be على or derivative of it meaning "on".


kull
: "every"


xiber
: a measre used in the Middle East: a hand span, about 20 cm.


sura
: "picture/image"

19. Hemm art bajda, w hemm art sewda u ħamra.
هم ارض بيضاء و هم ارض سوداء و حمراء
[...] white land, and black land, and red


Hemm
: Unclear what this is.


art
: "Land". Another example where the "d" sound is replaced with a "t" in Maltese.


bajda
: "white" feminine.


w
: "and"

hemm: Unclear, again.


art
: "Land"

sewda: "Black", feminine.


u
: "and", again interchangeable with "w".

ħamra: "red" feminine.

20. Aktar minn hedawn hemm trid minnha tmarra.
اكثر من هادون عم تريد منها تمرة
More than those [...] you want from it a fruit (or dates?)


Aktar
: "More"


minn
: "than"


hedawn
: "those", again a colloquialism used in the Levant and North African, but not Egyptian cities.


hemm
: unclear to me, but close to عم in Arabic, but not conforming to the orthography given.


trid
: "you want". Classical Arabic is "tureed",but "trid" is colloquial in North Africa.


minnha
: "From it"


tmarra
: "fruit" or "dates"

The North African Arabic dialect is clearer and clearer to me as I see more examples of Malti.

For example:

  • Preceeding the classical Arabic word by "I", e.g. imghamiq [would be Mughamiq in classical Arabic], i-nsib.
  • Transposing some sounds: e.g. 'Omorkom [would be 'Omrokom in classical Arabic].
  • Reducing "Al" (The) to l- as a prefix. e.g. l-iradi.
  • Arabic orthography is evident, where prefixes and suffixes are part of the word , and this carried over to Malti (e.g. f'-something, ...etc.)

Here is a detailed discussion of terms, a glossary of sorts, in the Cantilena:
How close was my translation?

Notes

  • Kamal Chaouachi, a Tunisian author mentions the Cantilena as evidence of the proximity of Tunisian and Maltese, in this Malta Independent Article.
  • A recitation of the Cantilena poem bu Dr Martin Zammit on Youtube.
  • An interview with Professor Manwel Mifsud on Il-Kantilena.

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Comments

Amazing

I find that the extent of twisting that goes on by some Maltese to wiggle out of the Arabic origin of Maltese.

You claimed that the translation is "totally wrong", yet others have confirmed that my translation is very close, with a few shifts in meaning, as languages drift over time and isolation.

You invented a non-existent "Neo-Arabic", and made it the basis of Maltese.

You claim you are bilingual, yet this is a fairly recent phenomenon, because of British occupation.

No one is claiming that Maltest was 100% classical Arabic. In fact, I have noticed the similarity to North African Arabic dialects early on. And that led me to hypothesize that Arabic in North Africa in 9th and 10th century CE has already drifted away from classical enough, perhaps via the Arab tribes that settled there, who had their own dialect different from Quraysh (what classical Arabic is based on).

Food for discussion

Reading Al Himyari may make one speculte if the Maltese Language [Ilsien Malti] was probably imported from Sicily by immigrants speaking the an arabic then current spoken in the zone from where these migrants originated. Could it have been a sort of Tunisian arabic as, correct me if i am wrong, Scily had been conqured by arabs invading from Tunisia?

One may speculate further and ask if after seemingly having been depopulated for around a hundred years Malta was repopulated by descendants of Maltese who had been displaced to Scicily earlier on.

That might account for a Phoneacian DNA element in modern Maltese genes, an arabic Maltese language that has few Berber words like fekruna and ghendus [bull.]

one has to remember that there was probably a Chartagenian DNA element [Phonecian?]already on the island before the harb mentioned by Al Hymyari's.

One last thing, it is worth noting that most aold Maltese place names are Arabic. I do not recall that there are any place name except for Tarxien which may be pre arabic. Even a place name very like Tarxien may be found in Libya.

It is futile to argue about ventura and that we say gwerra and not harb. Word usage chane with time. We used to say tifel now we say boy, gharusa and now fiancee, even the basic numbers are not always any longer Maltese but rediculously one two three etc.

a recent study concluded that

a recent study concluded that 70% of Maltese males have Phoenician DNA

Translation of Cantilena seemingly by ME Arab

With all due respect, my dear friend. You don't have a clue! You have hardly understood one word of the whole cantilena. In order to understand the poem, the words and their connotations you must first become familiar with Andalusi Arabia (that is the lingua franca spoken in Jezirat al-Andalus) or with Siculo-Arabic, AND with the poetry known as zajal, as opposed to the qasida, the saj` and so forth with which you are probably familiar because you appear to know Fusha and so forth. Before you do that, my Suri friend, sorry you can't tackle this poem.

You are wrong

Well, you just came to the discussion with wrong preassumptions.

First, you are throwig around technical terms, but did not point out where the translation is actually wrong. More substance will make your comment relevant, not just objections without detailed proof.

Second, you assumed that I used used Fusha only, and that I am Syrian, while I made it clear that Maltese is very similar to North African dialects spoken today. The every day dialect I speak is Egyptian, which has many aspects I see in Maltese.

Third, other Maltese have commented that my translation is more or less correct, minus a few mistakes.

Well, although you are

Well, although you are Egyptian you were using Middle Eastern words which you tried to fit in with Maltese; secondly, you assert that Andalusi Arabic does not exist. Of course it no longer exists in the Iberian Peninsula; it was put an end to with the Reconquista and subsequent developments of which the Maltese were spared because Malta became an autonomous (indepdent, really) principality which was outside Spanish jurisdiction. For this reason Andalusi Arabic as well as its twin language Siculo-Arabic survived in Malta. Maltese is a (glorious)remnant of both. You accuse me of wilfully separating Maltese from fusha. I did not do that. It happened under the Almoravids and so on in Arab Spain. There is no doubt that Aa and Sa are similar to Maghribi Arabic. In no way does that diminish the fact that Maltese IS the neo-Arabic you thought did not exist. You seem to be totally oblivious also of the fact that the cantilena is too akin to Ibn Quzman's tradition; how much do you honestly know about Ibn Quzman? You claim many Maltese agreed with your two-bit translation of the cantilena. Who are they? Are they linguists or amateurs like you?

Still: dialects

I am not claiming that I am an expert on Maltese. The main point here is that as an Arab speaker in the 21st century I was able to understand and translate the Cantilena and other Maltese texts.

So Maltese strongly resembles a dialect of Arabic just like southern US English is still English. Add to that the present infusion of Italian then English, and you get modern day Maltese.

Siculo Arabic and Andalusi Arabic are still Arabic, again dialects within the larger language. Why is this hard to understand?

I will patiently repeat what

I will patiently repeat what I said, in the hope you will finally understand my point. Maltese is the sole remnant of Andalusi Arabic (or neo-Arabic) the existence of which you have denied on several occasions above. For the umpteenth time Maltese is NOT Classical Arabic. This does not mean it can challenge that language,which is much larger, much richer and so forth. Your ignorance of Andalusi Arabic hindered you from understanding practically all the words of the zajal under review:

“xidew” – in Andalusi Arabic and Siculo-Arabic which is cautiously regarded as its twin sister, the verb “XDW” meant “to sing and say”.

“qada” is found in Vassalli (18th century) and even in Dun Karm (early 20th century) as “misfortune”; it lies also in the semantic area along with “predestination” and “preordainment” in Andalusi Arabic; whereas the former is different from Classical Arabic, the latter is not, which goes to show the real derivation of Maltese.

“nħadditkom” – “I talk, narrate, tell you”. The meaning of this archaic form of the verb is still too near to the modern one to need much explanation other than the fact that it was specifically used, even in Classical Arabic, in the context of songs and poems related to cruel predestination.

“weri” – being written as “gueri” in Brandano’s transcription, it offered some difficulty to the historians who unearthed the poem when it should not have since it obviously is “weri” very much as “Guadalquivir” derives from “Wadi al-Kabir” (Maltese: “Wied il-Kbir”). In Andalusi Arabic it means “hidden, concealed” from the verb “jiwari” – “to hide behind oneself”. Indeed the word was employed in the azjāl which the Italians would call cantilena by none other than the presumed inventor of this kind of poetry, Ibn Quzmān and should offer students of Maltese no difficulty since Maltese romantic poets, like Dun Karm and Rużar Briffa too use the word “warrani” for “the past”, as in “għanjiet taż-żmien warrani” (“songs of times past”) in Briffa’s Ballatella tal-Funtana.

“mula” – is still esaily recognizable in modern Maltese although the more widely used form today is “Mulej” (“Mula + ej”, “my lord”). In Andalusi Arabic, though not in Maltese, the verb “amli” from where the noun “mula” derives” meant “”to dictate” as it appears in Ibn Quzmān’s azjāl;

“muħsula” – certainly not a verb to be found in Classical Arabic, but used by Ibn Quzmān with the meaning of “fallen”, hence past participle of the verb “ħasal” (“to fall”, “to trip”);

“ħajran” – Vassalli gives a very different meaning from the one intended in the poem: “longing, yearning for” demonstrating the semantic changes wrought over the centuries or else the way the same word could move into another language in a different sense; the meaning meant in the poem lies in Andalusi Arabic: “confused, perplexed, not knowing what to do next;” Ibn Quzmān uses the verb “ħajjar” in the sense of “to confuse, to perplex;”

“minżeli” – at first blush this word could be assumed to be the Classical Arabic منزل (“minżel” – “house”) a meaning the poet may have brought in too in order to connect to his main metaphor since Corriente too points out the number of Classical Arabic words entering Andalusi Arabic, but the meaning of “minżeli”, another mimated noun from “niżel” plus the first person singular pronoun “i” (“minżel+i”) is equally useful to denote the fall of the singer/persona in the collapsed stairs;

“il-baħar il-għali” – in the Semitic structure this could mean only “the high water” and the still prevailing interpretation based on Vassalli’s dictionary entry “għali” for “għoli” that the poet could have meant “distress or anguish” is entirely flawed: had the poet intended “the sea of distress” he would have been obliged to write “baħar il-għali” in the construct state – indeed such an interpretation does not point to much linguistic prowess in whoever upholds it;

“mrammti” – is a common noun in modern Maltese still denoting what Vassalli gave as “muro doppio” ; it evidently derives from the Classical Arabic رمم (“ramma” – “to repair”), yet Corriente gives it also as “loom” which carries the connotation of “weaving together” – a meaning that fits both the description of the method applied to build a “mramma” in the construction of a solid house as well as the setting up of a strong relationship between two human beings; the poet is lamenting the disarray that has befallen this construct because his lover has either abandoned or jilted him thereby pulling down the material (“ġebel” as in fabricated bricks, not the modern Maltese “stones”) he himself has fashioned over a period of time as pointed out in the verb “nibni” presently coming up in the same line;

“ma ħtatlix l-imgħallmin” – looking up the verb in any dictionary of Classical Arabic خطأ produces the following results: “verb: stumble, noun: error, misconception, mistake, fault, flaw, inaccuracy, miss, balk”, all of which meanings recur in Andalusi Arabic as attested by several lexicographers endorsed by Corriente: “to make a mistake,” “to fault,” “to sin,” to the extent that “muħtija / maħati” signifies “harlot,” this latter meaning crying out to be identified as signifying the poet’s calculated choice of words through which his treatment of the theme constantly accrues its store of implications along the unfolding of the surface narrative; the blame for this fault the poet intends to place on the “tafal merħi” for which read his relationship with this woman whose heart knows neither “ħākem” (it must be noted here that this noun comes comes from the verb “ħakem” which in both Andalusi and Maltese means also “to subdue” and “to hold firmly onto” apart from “to rule over”) nor “sultan” (in old Maltese “prince” as in “is-Sultan Dirwan”, Grand Master Rohan, who was actually a prince or head of a principality, in modern Maltese through the avuncular involvement of 19th century Romantic poets, “king”) or “mula” as per its early introduction in the third line of the first stanza; the poet reiterates the blame for the collapse of the “mramma” on the “tafal merħi” – the irresolute fabric that could not weave a strong relationship;

“qatgħatli l-ġebel” – Caxaro could not obviously be using “ġebel” as mountain as was in his time one of the meanings of the word in Maltese as in Classical Arabic جبل and Andalusi Arabic, e.g. Ġebel Akħal, Sierra Morena (cf Ġebel Ciantar as opposed to Ħaġar Qim, the former denoting a hill, the latter the Erect Stones or Boulders of the famous neolithic temples); the exact meaning of this word may be found in Denizau who describes it as the mixture of lime, fragments of rock kneaded with water forming a brick for construction purposes – modern Maltese ignores the meaning of “mountain” as well as the difference between “stone” and “brick” since “stone” is “ġebla / ġebel” and “brick” is “brikk”; Brandano obviously knowing his contemporary Maltese very well realized the action word of this phrase is “qata’” not “ħata” as in “ħtatlix” even though the two consonants “q” and “ħ” must have been closer to each other than is the case today, except in some Cottonera and Gozitan areas, recognizing also the play on the similar sounds that subtly follow the poet’s line of thought echoed in his verbal rendition of it;

“jewtiha” – the Arabic roots /w-t-j/ yield action words that denote “levelling” in the positive sense and “knocking down” in the negative sense, not too different from the English “to cut down to size”; in modern Maltese the Second Form “witta” belongs rather to the former meaning although it may refer to the second as well; in the poem under review the modern Maltese verb agrees precisely with “jewtiha”, in the sense of “pulling down”; Corriente gives both meanings in accordance with Ibn Quzmān who mentions the other meaning in Andalusi Arabic, “to take possession of woman by knocking down her feisty attitude” – hence the euphemism used in the poem along with similar instances of the literary mechanism associated with the master of the zajal;

“il-vintura” – Agius de Soldanis lists the word but Vassalli does not follow suit, not because it had become extinct but due to the lexicographer’s preference for Semitic entries over Romance ones; this word actually appears in the poem not through the author’s divergence with any Vassalli-like approach to Maltese but due to the “rule” in Andalusi popular poetry to include words of Latin origin at the end of their songs – it may be noted here that such words abounded in Andalusi Arabic, among them words that are very similar to Maltese, for instance “arċidijakun” (“arċidjaknu”) “bjatku” (“vjatku”), “qabitlu” (“kapitlu” in the sense of “cathedral chapter”) which indicate that many Romance Maltese words are not of local formation, as supposed by Aquilina among others, but entered the scene along with their users either from Al-Andalus or from Sicily who were speakers of either one or the other; the reason why this question cannot readily be solved is provided by Professor Dionisius A. Agius: “Andalusi Arabic is much richer so far as documents are concerned.” Some Arabists who, like Michele Amari, Francesco Gabrieli, Illuminato Peri, produced highly scientific works concerning the Arab era concentrated their efforts on the political aspect of Sicilian history ignoring almost completely the everyday life of the inhabitants of the Island, and Arab travellers like Ibn Hawqal were more interested in finding out (perhaps for practical political purposes, being under cover agents of their governments apart from claiming to be embrace and their related allegiance to their overlords; this dearth of information on Siculo-Arabic is admitted by none other than Denis Mack Smith who laments also that very little can be said with certainty regarding the contribution the Arabs made to the history of Sicily;
“l-iradi” – the word exists as such in the spoken Arabic of Algeria and Tunisia and can easily be understood by modern Maltese speakers who pronounce the word as “art”; it is also found written with this orthography by Corriente and Ferrando, however, this does not necessarily mean that it was not pronounced as “art” as it is today since it was always the custom among the Maltese who were familiar with Classical Arabic to write Maltese words in a transliteration of the older, official, language, so did Vassalli and other writers who reckoned it was the most correct and prestigious way to write Maltese as a Semitic language and not as a wretched dialect;

“sura” – Sir Temi Zammit was still using this idiom in the early 20th century;

“ard/art bajda” – in Andalusi Arabic it means exactly that: uncultivated land;”

“hedan” – today pronounced exclusively as “dan”, already in Vassalli’s times “hedan” sounded affected, in fact he confesses that once while hearing Mass he could endure the priest using the words “hedan” and “hedak” repeatedly and had to leave church before the end of the Mass;

You have to understand that I

You have to understand that I am reading from an orthography that I am not familiar with, that maps into the Arabic sounds. Moreover, I have found that at least in some cases, the orthography is not consistent, with the same letter used for two different consonants.

I hope that your insistence on making Maltese rooted in Siculo Arabic and Andalusian Arabic seems to be driven by nationalistic tendency and the desire to distance it from Arabic. Again, all these are just variants of Arabic, just like modern Egyptian or Iraqi is a descendant of Arabic. Classical Arabic is still used widely, just not in day to day conversations.

Here are some comments:

“xidew” – in Andalusi Arabic and Siculo-Arabic which is cautiously regarded as its twin sister, the verb “XDW” meant “to sing and say”.

The Sh-D-W root is definitely Arabic, and not Andalusian at all. It is in the Qamoos, one of the most well respected dictionaries, saying:

الشِعْرَ‏:‏ غَنَّى به، أو تَرَنَّمَ، وأنْشَدَ بَيْتاً أو بَيْتَيْن بالغِناءِ، وأخَذَ طَرَفاً من الأدَبِ‏.

i.e. "Poetry, singing or chanting, and reciting a verse or two [of poetry] in song ..."

In Al 'Iqd Al Farid by Ibn Abd Rabbih, mentioning the rhymes of peotry, he says:

الضرب التاسع المجزوء المقطوع إلا من سلامة الثاني

أطفت شرَارةَ لَهوي ولوتْ بشدّة عَدْوِي
لما سلكت عَروضَها ذهب الزحاف بحذوي
يا أيها الشادي صه ليست بساعة شدو

The last verse says: "Oh you singer [Shadi] be quiet, this is not a time for song [sh-d-w]"

Another variant, Yatimat Al Dahr by Al-Tha'alibi, which probably copied Ibn Abd Rabbih:

أطفت شرارة لهوي ... ولوت بشرّة عدوي
شعل علون مفارقي ... ومضت ببهجة سروي
لما شككت عروضها ... ذهب الزحاف بحزوي
يا أيها الشاديّ صه ... ليست بساعة شدو

Note that Ibn Abd Rabbih despite being an Andalusian, has not quoted any Andalusi literature in his book, hence the above poetry must be from Mashriq.

The proper male name Shadi شادي is quite common today in Egypt, Iran and elsewhere. The feminine form is Shadia, the stage name of a famous singer actress in Egypt.

Shadi has ancient usage, for example the grandfather of Saladin (Yusuf ibn Ayub ibn Shadi) from the 11-12th century, as well as Al Muzaffar Shadi the Mameluke ruler of Hama in Syria a century after that.

The word Shadw was sung by Farid al-Atrash in the 20th century saying:

شدو البلابل نواح والورد لون الجراح

i.e. "The song of the bulbuls are wailing, and the roses are colored like wounds".

A contemporary nursery rhyme goes sung today is:

جئنا نشدو جئنا نشهد إن رسول الله محمد

i.e. "We came chanting, we came witnessing, that Muhammad is a messenger of God".

So, there is no point in claiming this is anything but pure Arabic, used everywhere in ancient and modern times.

“qada” is found in Vassalli (18th century) and even in Dun Karm (early 20th century) as “misfortune”; it lies also in the semantic area along with “predestination” and “preordainment” in Andalusi Arabic; whereas the former is different from Classical Arabic, the latter is not, which goes to show the real derivation of Maltese.

This is now clearer, it is a direct mapping of قضاء (God's decree) which is again a pure Arabic word, and an Islamic concept and creed.

“weri” – being written as “gueri” in Brandano’s transcription, it offered some difficulty to the historians who unearthed the poem when it should not have since it obviously is “weri” very much as “Guadalquivir” derives from “Wadi al-Kabir” (Maltese: “Wied il-Kbir”). In Andalusi Arabic it means “hidden, concealed” from the verb “jiwari” – “to hide behind oneself”. Indeed the word was employed in the azjāl which the Italians would call cantilena by none other than the presumed inventor of this kind of poetry, Ibn Quzmān and should offer students of Maltese no difficulty since Maltese romantic poets, like Dun Karm and Rużar Briffa too use the word “warrani” for “the past”, as in “għanjiet taż-żmien warrani” (“songs of times past”) in Briffa’s Ballatella tal-Funtana.

From what you said, this maps to Arabic again: يواري. It is used as "cover" or "hide", as in يواري جثمانه الثرى "Cover his body in sand" i.e. to bury someone who died).

“mula” – is still esaily recognizable in modern Maltese although the more widely used form today is “Mulej” (“Mula + ej”, “my lord”). In Andalusi Arabic, though not in Maltese, the verb “amli” from where the noun “mula” derives” meant “”to dictate” as it appears in Ibn Quzmān’s azjāl;

Again used in Arabic مولى initially in the Quran as a name/attribute of God, then later as an honorific for kings/sultans, and hence Master/Lord.

“muħsula” – certainly not a verb to be found in Classical Arabic, but used by Ibn Quzmān with the meaning of “fallen”, hence past participle of the verb “ħasal” (“to fall”, “to trip”);

From Gakbu's reading above, the H like character is GH, so it would be مغسولة, which is Arabic for "washed". Unless your reading maps to another consonant.

“ħajran” – Vassalli gives a very different meaning from the one intended in the poem: “longing, yearning for” demonstrating the semantic changes wrought over the centuries or else the way the same word could move into another language in a different sense; the meaning meant in the poem lies in Andalusi Arabic: “confused, perplexed, not knowing what to do next;” Ibn Quzmān uses the verb “ħajjar” in the sense of “to confuse, to perplex;”

حيران is Arabic with the same meaning of confused/perplexed. It is found in the Quran by that meaning.

Agreed that meanings drift over centuries. This is seen in all languages and dialects. Maltese, being a dialect isolate of Arabic that evolved into a national language, must have had a lot of this.

“minżeli” – at first blush this word could be assumed to be the Classical Arabic منزل (“minżel” – “house”) a meaning the poet may have brought in too in order to connect to his main metaphor since Corriente too points out the number of Classical Arabic words entering Andalusi Arabic, but the meaning of “minżeli”, another mimated noun from “niżel” plus the first person singular pronoun “i” (“minżel+i”) is equally useful to denote the fall of the singer/persona in the collapsed stairs;

The concept that Andalusi Arabic had Classical Arabic introduced to it later is disingenuous. Classical Arabic is the origin of all dialects of Arabic, ancient and modern, and Andalusi is one of them. So Andalusi Arabic was derived from Classical Arabic originally. Please explain how Classical would be "introduced" on a derivative.

“il-baħar il-għali” – in the Semitic structure this could mean only “the high water” and the still prevailing interpretation based on Vassalli’s dictionary entry “għali” for “għoli” that the poet could have meant “distress or anguish” is entirely flawed: had the poet intended “the sea of distress” he would have been obliged to write “baħar il-għali” in the construct state – indeed such an interpretation does not point to much linguistic prowess in whoever upholds it;

I can't speculate on what the poet meant, but the literal term is used in Egyptian coastal communities to mean "rough sea". It is interesting that "بحر bahr" meaning shifts depending on whether the community is coastal or not. For coastal communities, e.g. a port city like Alexandria, bahr can only mean the saltwater sea. For inland communities, the meaning is for large canals, e.g. Bahr Moweis in al-Sharqeya. Even as far south as in Sudan, there is Bahr Al-Ghazal ("Sea of Gazelles") which is a tributary of the Nile River.

“ma ħtatlix l-imgħallmin” – looking up the verb in any dictionary of Classical Arabic خطأ produces the following results: “verb: stumble, noun: error, misconception, mistake, fault, flaw, inaccuracy, miss, balk”, all of which meanings recur in Andalusi Arabic as attested by several lexicographers endorsed by Corriente: “to make a mistake,” “to fault,” “to sin,” to the extent that “muħtija / maħati” signifies “harlot,” this latter meaning crying out to be identified as signifying the poet’s calculated choice of words through which his treatment of the theme constantly accrues its store of implications along the unfolding of the surface narrative; the blame for this fault the poet intends to place on the “tafal merħi” for which read his relationship with this woman whose heart knows neither “ħākem” (it must be noted here that this noun comes comes from the verb “ħakem” which in both Andalusi and Maltese means also “to subdue” and “to hold firmly onto” apart from “to rule over”) nor “sultan” (in old Maltese “prince” as in “is-Sultan Dirwan”, Grand Master Rohan, who was actually a prince or head of a principality, in modern Maltese through the avuncular involvement of 19th century Romantic poets, “king”) or “mula” as per its early introduction in the third line of the first stanza; the poet reiterates the blame for the collapse of the “mramma” on the “tafal merħi” – the irresolute fabric that could not weave a strong relationship;

The H like character seems to me to be sometimes خ and some other times ح, hence the confusion.

“jewtiha” – the Arabic roots /w-t-j/ yield action words that denote “levelling” in the positive sense and “knocking down” in the negative sense, not too different from the English “to cut down to size”; in modern Maltese the Second Form “witta” belongs rather to the former meaning although it may refer to the second as well; in the poem under review the modern Maltese verb agrees precisely with “jewtiha”, in the sense of “pulling down”; Corriente gives both meanings in accordance with Ibn Quzmān who mentions the other meaning in Andalusi Arabic, “to take possession of woman by knocking down her feisty attitude” – hence the euphemism used in the poem along with similar instances of the literary mechanism associated with the master of the zajal;

Seems to be from Arabic وطي "to bow down", "low".

The opinion of a Tunisian guy

Hi,

As a Tunisian, I did understand many of the words you couldn't decipher being Egyptian since Egyptian has almost nothing to do with Tunisian. Even when I found out the meaning of the few words of Semitic origin that I couldn't understand at first, I admit it made me laugh since those were words last used by my Grandfather's generation... but it was still understandable.

All I want to say is that Maltese isn't a mixture of Arabic, Italian and English.. It is rather TUNISIAN, Italian and English. I do think all of the dialects of Arabic should be treated as proper languages and hence standardized. I mean, you can't call all those dialects the same when an Egyptian speaker has a hard time understanding what a man from Libya, the neighbour country, is saying! Because for me, the mother tongue is Tunisian, which is as distant from Arabic as French or Portuguese are from Latin.

Arabic nowadays is in the exact same situation as Latin in the 15th century, a language of books and administration, used in extremely formal situations. On the other side we have the "vulgar" forms of Arabic, spoken by the people, considered of less value and beauty than the Classical Arabic. Only in the case of Latin, those vulgar tongues evolved into some of the most used languages today in the world : Spanish, French, Italian, Portugues. Each language has its own beauty and history, while being much simpler than the original Latin.

As for the Tunisian substratum, I think that at the time when the Arabs ruled Sicily and Malta, the same exact language was used in Tunisia, Sicily and Malta, fairly different from the Lybian or Algerian variants. And through Maltese, I can see that my own language is still pretty much unchanged since the 10th century. I came across the "Maltese proverbs" page on Wikiquote and I was able to decipher more than 90% of it without looking at the english translation. And some of those proverbs are still in use in Tunisia, in the exact same form, such as "Alla jagħlaq bieb u jiftaħ mija" "Bil-flus tagħmel triq fl-baħar" "Għin ruħek biex Alla jgħinek" etc.

One last thing, the word sisien, which gave you all so much trouble relating it to sinsla and silsila, is in Tunisia simply the plural of saas which means foundation, basis, fundament. And for you Khalid, it comes from the Arabic word "Asaas" as in "7ajar al asaas"... I dont know, though, if the plural "sisen" is used outside of Tunisia (and Malta, obviously).

Hope all this tension disappears, it's ridiculous, we are only talking about language here..

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