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North-eastern Neo-Aramaic narrative techniques and their areal parallels (Kurdish and Arabic)

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The North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic (NENA) dialects form the largest surviving branch of the Aramaic languages family, consisting of over a hundred dialects native to northern Iraq, south-eastern Turkey, and north-western Iran. These are or were spoken by Christian and Jewish communities: the majority have now left their homeland and the surviving dialects are very endangered. Given their location, the NENA dialects have long been in contact with Kurdish and Arabic varieties, and show contact influences at all levels of the language. The type and intensity of contact influence, however, vary from dialect to dialect.

The Neo-Aramaic speaking communities have rich oral cultures, like their neighbours, consisting of folktales, songs, rhymes, proverbs and so on. Many of these have been documented, both from the Christian and Jewish communities, in a wide variety of dialects. They show a variety of techniques used in oral story-telling: the particular form these take vary from dialect to dialect, but there are clear commonalities across the dialects. As discussed in Coghill (2009) and Khan (2009), and illustrated in other oral texts published since then, they include:

set formulae (such as story-openings) repetition of wording in successive episodes connective repetition, where the last phrase of a short sequence of events is repeated at the beginning of the next sequence of events. the use of the historic present and related tenses the use of the narrative imperative devices to enhance the vividness of a scene, such as presentatives, deictic copulas, the present progressive and special intonation the non-phonemic lengthening of syllables to iconically indicate distance; repetition of motion verbs to indicate spatial and temporal distance covered the frequent use of ‘to rise, get up’ to indicate the beginning of a new series of actions the use of the indefinite specific article xa- to introduce a protagonist.

Some of these devices have parallels in Kurdish and/or Arabic narratives, for instance the story opening “there was and there wasn’t”, also shared by Turkish, the repetition of wording in successive episodes, the use of the historic present, and the frequent use of a verb ‘to rise, get up’ (all attested in the Kurdish folktales presented in Mackenzie 1962). This paper will investigate these and other possible parallels and discuss to what extent contact between the languages and cultures has cause a convergence in story-telling technique.

References Coghill, Eleanor. 2009a. ‘Four versions of a Neo-Aramaic children’s story’, ARAM Periodical 21, 251–280.

Khan, Geoffrey. 2009. ‘The syntax and discourse structure of Neo-Aramaic narrative texts’, ARAM Periodical 21, 163–178.

Mackenzie, David N. 1962. Kurdish Dialect Studies II. London: Oxford University Press.

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