Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Mehri Language of Oman

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Mehri Language of Oman

Article excerpt

The Mehri Language of Oman. By AARON D. RUBIN. Studies in Semitic Languages and Linguistics, vol. 58. Leiden: BRILL, 2010. Pp. xix + 362. $153.

This book represents a meticulous grammatical analysis of the 106 Mehri texts collected by T.M. Johnstone in Mehri Lexicon and English--Mehri Word-List (1987, henceforth ML), and is a welcome addition to the small body of books published on the Modern South Arabian languages. The layout is very clear, making it straightforward to use. After an introduction to the Mehri language in general and the dialect spoken in Oman in particular, the book continues with thirteen chapters: "Phonology," "Pronouns," "Nouns," "Adjectives," "Verbs: Stems," "Verbs: Tenses and Forms," "Prepositions," "Numerals," "Adverbs," "Interrogatives," "Particles," and "Some Syntactic Features." The final chapter is a brief, three-page section entitled "On Arabic Forms." There then follows a twenty-page appendix of corrections to Harry Stroomer's edition of Johnstone's texts (1996), a bibliography, an index of passages, which lists the source of the textual examples given in the book, and a useful two-page index of select Mehri words, which cross-references grammatical particles that are treated in more than one section. Disentangling the inconsistencies of transcriptions in both the texts and the ML, noting and listing these in detail for Stroomer's edition of the texts, and managing to trace the original 1970s recordings for eighty-seven of the 106 texts is a mammoth task. It must have been disappointing that these turned out to be of limited value, consisting not of recorded natural speech as hoped, but of someone struggling awkwardly to read from a transcript. We must all be very grateful to Aaron Rubin for having undertaken it and for publishing the fruits of all his hard work in the form of this valuable and user-friendly book.

For the specialized reader, I follow with some general observations, minor quibbles, specific comments, and typographical errors.

General observations:

(1) In "A Note on Transcription" (p. xix) the lack of consistency in Johnstone's transcription, in both typewritten and handwritten material, is noted, as is the fact that this is also evident in the material published by Stroomer. There is no doubt that the inconsistencies catch the eye and niggle away at the mind as one reads through the book, but no preferable alternative comes to mind, short of a unilateral decision on Rubin's part to employ one system of transcription and to impose it on another's material. Looking through my own transcriptions of Modern South Arabian material throughout the years, it is clear that I have been equally culpable in this regard. Some of my inconsistencies can be explained as reflecting a particular individual's ideolect, or they represent changing views on how to most legitimately transcribe a particular sound or group of sounds, or they are a result of forgetting earlier decisions, or they are, of course, just sloppiness. But I well remember, when working on Johnstone's handwritten material for my Ph.D., asking him why the transcription was so variable, and being taken aback by his reply that he "had not yet finally decided." Now I understand only too well what he meant. 1 am quite sure that had Johnstone been given more time he would have reached those final decisions and would have developed a consistent method of transcription.

(2) In the first paragraph of his introduction (p. 1), Rubin follows Johnstone and others in stating that Mehri is spoken in the al-Mahra governorate of Yemen as well as "across the border in Oman, in the western part of the Governorate of Dhufar, in the high desert plateau (Nagd) north of the coastal mountains." I think this is misleading; even today Mehri continues to be spoken in the coastal settlements of Zufar (at Mirbat, Sidh and, especially, in Hasik); it is also spoken in the al-Wusta region, east of Zufar, in and around Shelim and Marmul, and even as far as Jiddat al-Harasis. …

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