Team Nisreen video: البرقية (the Telegram)

This is a transcription of a very short section from an episode of one of my favourite Syrian TV shows, Maraaya, written by, starring, directed by, and for all I know single-handedly filmed by the unique comedian Yasser al Azma. The episode, if you want to watch all of it, is entitled il-Barqiyye (the telegram). Maraaya is often satirical and usually funny, at least in parts, although many of its episodes are based on works from Russian literature and have a more serious bent. Yasser al Azma has a very distinctive persona, and a lot of his comedy draws on his pretty amazing command of both MSA and colloquial Arabic in all their different forms, and many of his catchphrases – including 3aZiim jiddan, which pops up here – are very faSii7. You can see him giving an interview in perfect Fusha where he talks about this very subject (putting his much less eloquent interviewer to shame) here.

As you might be able to tell, I’m something of a Yasser al Azma fanboy. You can expect more Maraaya. Lots more. Whether you like it or not.

Anyway, as students of Arabic – and non-native speakers – you probably, realistically, hate Fusha. And you should. There’s no shame in it. But perhaps you’ll appreciate the admittedly powerfully tedious teaching methods espoused by al-Kitaab more once you see the ~traditional~ training method employed by this village Sheikh as he teaches his hapless student Fusha. And you might just learn some prepositions you never knew were prepositions along the way.

يلا يا رسلان. فرجيني شطارتك بحروف الجر
yalla yaa reslaan. Farjiini sha6aartak bi 7ruuf ijjarr
Come on then, Ruslan. Show me how good you are at prepositions.

– ‘your cleverness’. The idiomatic way to say ‘I’m good at…’ in Shami tends to be ana shaaTir bi- ‘I’m clever in’. shaaTir here really means ‘skilled’ and ‘talented’ rather than the narrower sense of ‘intelligent’ (which it tends to have on its own) and can be used for things we wouldn’t necessarily use ‘clever’ for in English, like football or singing. Also notable here for those transitioning from Fusha (or maybe even Egyptian) are the Shami predilection for consonant clusters (and the non-MSA plural pattern) exhibited by 7ruuf and the fact that jiim here is a sun letter. One of the points of comedy here comes from the fact that the Sheikh’s speech itself is in fact mostly solid Shami dialect.

فرجى farja is one of a number of variants for ‘show me’ in the Levant, including أرجى arja and ورجى warja. فرجى is the only one that seems to have any clear derivation, since it seems to be related to تفرج على ‘watch’. If this is a wazan, it’s not a very common one, and the only other verb I can think of on it is طعمى Ta3ma ‘feed’.

Also, for those not very familiar with Arabic grammatical terminology proper, the term حرف جر (which is often used a bit slippily for all prepositions when teaching English speakers) is limited to words which are not nouns with an accusative ending (like عقبَ ‘straight after’ which is probably a preposition, in English terms), but trigger the genitive (مجرور, from جر) in following nouns. Just in case you were wondering why some of your favourite prepositions didn’t make it on to the Sheikh’s list. As if you would.

حاضر شيخي
7aaDir sheekhi
Yes, sir.

حاضر means ‘ready’ or ‘present’, of course, but it’s also – in Shami and other dialects – a polite way of indicating your assent to a question.

ها ها. قبل ما نبدأ, بتعرف العلامة اللي رتب حروف الجر بشكل شعري جميل وعلى بحر الرجز؟
Ha ha. 2abl ma nébda2, @bta3ref él3allaame élli rattab @7ruuf éjjarr bi shek@l shi3ri jamiil w 3ala ba7r érrajaz?
Ha ha. Before we begin, do you know the ‘Allama who arranged the prepositions in a beautiful poetic form, in rajaz meter?

بحر is a technical term in poetry and as you have probably gathered doesn’t mean ‘sea’ here. علامة is a term for a particularly famous and knowledgeable religious scholar. Not much to note linguistically except قبل ما which always triggers a b-less present form even when used in the past (قبل ما فوت ع البلد ما كنت اعرف شي before I enter[ed] the country I didn’t know anything) and the liberal usage of helping vowels to break up those initial consonant clusters.

لأ شيخي ما بعرف
la2 sheekhi ma ba3ref
No, sir, I don’t know.

The a in ba3ref here is not the ‘I’ prefix per se (a- in MSA, as in أكتب aktubu). In most Syrian and Lebanese dialects (including Beiruti and Shami) the ‘I’ prefix on verbs is é- where followed by a consonant cluster and dropped otherwise (béddi éktob ‘I want to write’, béddi ruu7 ‘I want to go’). The vowel is then the same in all of the prefixes (téktob, yéktob, néktob etc). There are two exceptions to this: 3éref ‘to know’ and 3émel ‘to do’. These two verbs take the vowel a in all of their prefixes (presumably to make it easier to pronounce before the 3ayn: ba3ref, bta3ref, bya3ref, mna3ref, bta3rfu, bya3rfu.

This is not the case in Jordanian or Palestinian, where people say biddi aktob, biddi aruu7 instead and have regular prefixes for 3imel and 3irefba3raf, bti3raf, byi3raf, mni3raf etc.

عظيم جدا. اقرالي اسمو, مكتوب هون ع الكتاب
3aZiim jiddan. @2raali ismo, maktuub hoon 3a liktaab.
Very good. Read me his name, written here on the book.

عظيم جدا is one of Yasser al-Azma’s catchphrases, used by many of his characters. It’s important to note though that جدا is quite frequently used in Syrian colloquial when speaking in an elevated style; it can even be placed in front of the adjective (جدا عظيم) in the normal position of كتير, even though this would not be correct in MSA.

اقرالي – ‘read for me’. The final vowel of i2ra, which would normally be short, is pronounced long because a suffix is added.

الشيخ العلامة جمال الدين محمد بن مالك
ishheikh il3allama jamaaluddiin @m7ammad bin maalik
Sheikh ‘Allama Jamaluddin Muhammad bin Malik.

I don’t know if anyone else ever had to read the first portion of Taha Husayn’s autobiography Al-Ayyaam, but he mentions ibn Malik – one of the most famous grammarians of medieval Islam – as one of the sources he studied as a small boy. Ibn Malik is most famous for his Alfiyyaha thousand-verse poem about, and I’m not kidding, the grammar of classical Arabic, which used to be memorised by pretty much everyone who wanted to pursue their education as one of the fundamental texts. I don’t know whether the section here was actually really written by Ibn Malik, but you can listen to the section of the Alfiyyah on the prepositions here. I bet you never thought grammar could be so eerily beautiful.

Carry on.

Kammil means ‘complete’ or ‘finish’ but also ‘carry on’, ‘continue’. (You’ve probably heard this a hundred times before).

غفر الله ما تقدم وما تأخر من ذنبه (زنبه)
ghafara LLaahu maa taqaddam wa maa ta2akkhar min zanabih
May God forgive what has gone before and what may come after of his sin

غفر الله – the past is often used in fuSHaa to express wishes like this (‘may God forgive’) and this exists in Syrian too, although only in some set phrases (حياك الله ‘may God give you life’ etc).

The boy mispronounces Fusha dhanb as zanab (the Syrian colloquial pronunciation), although he hits the dropping-final-vowels-at-the-end-of-the-sentence waqf pronunciation spot on. This time around he avoids being slapped on his legs for his mispronunciation of the dhaal.

لك مو من ذنَبه هاي! من ذنْبه!
lak muu min dhanabih hayy! Min dhanbih!

Lak is a good word to start using. It’s essentially meaningless – you might say it’s an attention-grabber.

حاضر شيخي
7aaDir sheekhi

‫هات لشوف. درسنا اليوم عن حروف الجر. متل ما بقول بتقول:
haat lashuuf. Dar@sna élyoom 3an @7ruuf éjjarr. Mét@l ma b2uul bét2uul.
Give it here. Our lesson today is on the prepositions. As I say, you say.

haat lashuuf ‘give [it so] I [can] see’ is a very common expression which can mean ‘give it here so I can have a look’ (as it does here) and also, more broadly, ‘go on then’, ‘tell [the joke]’, ‘ask [the question]’, etc etc. In fact, la-shuuf is attached to imperatives quite a lot, like انقلع لشوف n2ale3 la-shuuf ‘get out of here!’

b2uul – see what I mean about there being no prefix? In Palestinian this would be said ba2uul.

متل ما – obviously from fuSHaa مثل, mét@l (and not zayy as in Palestinian and Jordanian) is the most common way of saying ‘like’. This maa is like the maa in fuSHaa كما, turning the preposition into something that can be followed by a whole sentence. mét@l ma is the Syrian equivalent to kamaa.

باء من إلى … قول!
Baa2 min 2ilaa… 2uul!
bi-, min, 2ilaa
– say it!

The one-letter prepositions are referred to in ~~~metalanguage~~~ (that is, language referring to language; I guess ‘metalanguage’ itself is metametalanguage) as the names of the letters, so baa2 here (the letter ‘b’) means the preposition بـ.

باء من إلى…
Baa2 min 2ilaa
bi- min 2ilaa

لا تفؤش انت! انا بفئش!
Laa téf2osh inte! Ana béf2osh!
Don’t click! I’m the one who clicks!

fa2ash yéf2osh = ‘to click your fingers’.

باء من إلى
Baa2 min 2ilaa

باء من إلى
Baa2 min 2ilaa

عن لام على
3an laam 3alaa

The laam here of course is the preposition li-.

عن لام على
3an laam 3alaa

علام على
3allaam 3alaa

The mistakes made by the boy in this video are largely ~true-to-life errors~. In normal speech, many combinations of n-l can assimilate in this way. The most obvious example is in the combination of كان and the la- suffixes. If you listen to this line from the show Sikkar WasaT, she says: سامحني. انت كتير كنت حاب يكون لك اخ او اخت ‘forgive me. You really wanted to have a brother or a sister’. Notice that ykuun-lak sounds like ykillak. I think I mentioned in a previous post that in most Syro-Lebanese dialects short stressed u and i merge into one vowel which sounds like i or u depending on the consonants around it (rather than having an independent sound of its own). In hollow verbs, the -li -lak etc suffixes trigger shortening of the long vowel in the stem. Ykuun-lak becomes ykun-lak becomes ykin-lak becomes ykil-lak. (Of course, this doesn’t always happen: check out Marcel Khalife’s pronunciation of what is written in the lyrics as ما يكن لك فكرة in the excellent song Ba3d Illi Kaan – there’s shortening, but no assimilation). Another example is أحسن لك a7sallak ‘it’d be better for you’: listen to professional Feyrouz impersonator Mayaade el Henawi in her song A7sallak truu7 ‘it’s better for you to go’.

لك شو علام, شو علام! عن لام على!
lak shu 3allaam! Shu 3allaam! 3an laam 3alaa!
What do you mean 3allaam?! 3an laam 3alaa!

عن لام على
3an laam 3alaa

في رُبَّ حتى واوٌ وتاء
fii rubba 7attaa waawun wa-taa2

Rubba as in ربَّما, waaw as in, I think, the wa- in Wa-llāhi ‘by God!’, the waaw of oaths.

في رُبَّ حتى واوٌ وتاء
fii rubba 7attaa waawun wa-taa2

مذ منذ حاشى كافٌ عدا
mudh mundhu 7aashaa kaafun 3adaa

7aashaa and 3adaa can mean ‘without’. 7aashaa is pretty classical, but I’ve heard عدا used in Syrian to mean ‘except’, and it’s quite common in the form ما عدا ‘except’.

بسبسو حاشى كافٌ عدا
bisbisu 7aashaa kaafun 3adaa

بسبسو؟ ما شفتها هاي! في حرف جر اسمو بسبسو؟!
bisbisu! Maa shifta haay! Fii 7arf jarr ismo bisbisu?!
I’ve never seen that! Is there a preposition bisbisu?!

شو بدي قول لكان؟
shu biddi 2uul lakaan?
What should I say then?

One of the many uses of بدي is ‘should’ in this sort of sentence. شو بدي اعمل؟ what should I do?

مذ, منذ!
Mudh, mundhu!

مز منز
Muz, munzu!

Most Syrians and Egyptians have to learn to distinguish th/dh from s/z; they pronounce ظ like z but with the back of the tongue raised (as with other.

‫لك حافظ ع اللثويات!
Lak 7aafiDH 3a llathawiyyaat!
Keep those dhs!

حافظ على – ‘keep, maintain, hold onto’. Also used here if you’re looking to learn vocab and want more examples. 3ala contracts to 3a- before the definite article.

لثويات lathawiyyaat are th, dh and DH sounds. لثوي is the nisbah adjective from لثة ‘gum’.

مذ منذ حاشى كافٌ عدا
mudh mundhu 7aashaa kaafun 3adaa

مذ منذ حاشى كافٌ عدا
mudh mundhu 7aashaa kaafun 3adaa

لولا لعلّ كي خلا
lawlaa la3alla kay khalaa

خلا is another quite CA preposition meaning ‘except’.

لولا لعل كول كلا
lawlaa la3alla kool khala

This is not just a mispronunciation, it’s one letter away from the expression kool khara ‘eat shit’ which is a commonly-used profanity with a meaning easily decipherable from its literal translation.

‫لك مو كول خلا هاي! مو كول خلا! كي خلا! انت على كل حال لازم تكتب حروف الجر خمسين مرة! حتى تحفظهن عن ظهر قلب!
lak muu kool khala hayy! Muu kool khala! Kay khalaa! Inte 3ala kull 7aal laazim téktob @7ruuf ijjarr khamsiin marra! 7atta té7féZon 3an DHahr qalb!
That’s not kool khala! Not kool khala! Kay khalaa! In any case, you have to write out the prepositions fifty times so you memorise them by heart!

عن ظهر قلب ‘by the back of the heart’ = ‘by heart’.

تحفظهن – this verb, 7afaZ yé7foZ, means ‘to memorise’. -hon (equivalent to fuSHaa -hum) and -ha are very often pronounced with no h but still usually trigger a stress shift to the syllable before them as if the h was still there.

حتى followed by a subjunctive verb (a verb without b-) can mean ‘until’ or ‘in order to’.

‫قوم انقبر فز من وجهي يلا!
2uum @n2aber fézz mén wésshi yalla!
Go on, get out of here, go on

قوم means ‘get up’, but it’s also used, largely empty of meaning, in a similar role to English ‘go’ in ‘go make me coffee’: قوم ساويلي قهوة. It’s also used in the past in narrations: قام ساوى قهوة ‘so he [went and] made tea’. فز من وجهي means, literally, ‘shake from my face’ and means ‘get away from here. The best and weirdest word here, in my view, is @n2aber. The perceptive will note that in2aber literally means ‘get buried!’ But – in line with the general morbid obsession of Syrian Arabic with burial (té2bérni ‘may you bury me’ is a term of endearment) – this is actually an expression used (largely by parents and relatives to children) to mean ‘go and do [what you’re supposed to be doing]!’ I have no idea what the origin of this is.

حاضر شيخي
7aaDir sheekhi
Yes, sir!