For six months I read Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta to my wife at bedtime, and Friday night we finally got him to Jidda and a respite from dates and danger. To celebrate his, and our, deliverance, here are some quotes of linguistic interest from Vol. II (I quoted an earlier one here):
And there are phrases which, like their brand-marks, declare the tribes of nomads: these were, I believe, northern men. One, as I came, showed me to his rafik, with this word: Urraie urraie, hu hu! ‘Look there! he (is) he, this is the Nasrâny.’ — Cheyf Nasrâny? (I heard the other answer, with the hollow drought of the desert in his manly throat), agûl! weysh yúnsurhu? He would say, “How is this man victorious, what giveth him the victory?” In this strange word to him the poor Beduwy thought he heard nasr, which is victory. (p. 69)
…And opening the sheet, which was folded in our manner, I found a letter from the Pasha of Medina! written (imperfectly) as follows, in the French language; with the date of the Christian year, and signed in the end with his name, — Sabry. [Ad literam.] Le 11 janvier 1878 [Medine] D’après l’avertissement de l’autorité local, nous sommes saché votre arrivée a Khaiber… Mohammed asked ‘What had the Pasha written? he would hear me read his letter in the Nasrâny language:’ and he stood to listen with great admiration. ‘Pitta-pitta-pitta! is such their speech?’ laughed he; and this was his new mirth in the next coffee meetings. (pp. 221-3)
Finally the good Sherîf said, I spoke well in Arabic: where had I learned? (I pronounced, in the Nejd manner, the nûn in the end of nouns used indifferently, and sometimes the Beduin plurals; which might be pleasant in a townsman’s hearing.) (p. 555)
The living language of the Arabs dispersed through so vast regions is without end, and can never be all learned; the colocynth gourd hámthal of the western Arabians, shérry in middle Nejd, is here [at Taif] called el-hádduj. (pp. 560-1)
And there were all manner of unusual words and meanings to send me to the dictionary, such as anatomy ‘skeleton,’ nonage ‘legal infancy,’ and mawkish ‘nauseating,’ not to mention “the enigmatology of Solomon.”
Of historical rather than linguistic interest, this mistaken prophecy sent a shiver down my spine:
By the loss of the horses [in a battle with ‘Uteyba] the Waháby rule, which had lasted an hundred years, was weakened to death; never — such is the opinion in Nejd — to rise again! (p. 454)
Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud proved that opinion wrong in 1902.
After over 1,200 pages of Doughty, we thought about switching to some lightweight book to cleanse our palates, but then we decided no, the heck with it, let’s go for broke. So last night we started on Proust.