I was browsing through ethnologue.com, a fabulous world languages website and I came across the following entries under Languages of Bahrain:
ARABIC, BAHARNA, SPOKEN: a language of Bahrain
Population: 300,000 (1995)
Region: Also spoken in Oman
Alternate names: BAHRAINI SHI’ITE ARABIC, BAHARNAH, BAHARNA
Classification: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Comments: Bilingualism in Gulf Spoken Arabic. Their dialect is stigmatized. Shi'a Muslim.
ARABIC, GULF SPOKEN (KHALIGI)
Population: 100,000 (1995)
Region: In and around Zubair and on the Fau Peninsula. Also spoken in Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen.
Alternate names: Khaligi, Gulf Arabic
Classification: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Central, South, Arabic.
Comments: Sunni Muslim.
At first, I was surprised to find those dialects listed on the website, but after skimming through the list of thousands and thousands of languages and their colloquial forms, I thought it was only normal to have the Bahraini variations included.
Now, if the population of Bahrain is 500,000 and we are to base our allocation on ethnologue’s statistics, we’ll have the Bahraini population divided as following: 300,000 speaking “Baharna”, 100,000 speaking Gulf Arabic (Khaligi), and the remaining 100,000 divided between those who speak Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, etc. This might not be a completely accurate allocation, but a fairly sufficient one perhaps.
Anyway, what really caught my attention though was this statement: “Their dialect is stigmatized,” which is a true, but an unfair statement at the same time, because technically, all local dialects across the Arab world are considered stigmatized in relation to the classical language and they become more so when spoken in a certain manner or by a particular group of people. But perhaps the reason for the inferiority of the Bahraani dialect is either because it has been associated with the poor uneducated class of villagers for so long or because it is spoken by the Shiite Arabs who are a minority in the Sunni Arab world. No matter what the reason is, what’s interesting is that while the Khaligi dialect is used in local soap operas, songs, and traditional/nabati poetry, the Bahraani dialect is not used in anything other than informal communication and perhaps in Azza and some religious songs. It is very unlikely to hear a song or watch a television series based entirely on the Bahraani dialect. I really find that fascinating... how different dialects, which are equally flawed and distant from the original classical language, end up having a varying level of significance due to past (and even present) societal hierarchies.
You may want to read about what I think of the Arabic language and local dialects in a previous post I wrote here.
Fortunately, I should say, the widespread use of dialects did not significantly (not yet, at least) affect the original classical form of the language and I don't think it will as long as the Quran is held in high esteem. At one point, I was convinced that dialectal Arabic could no way influence any other language linked to or influenced by Arabic in one way or another, and when I say influence I mean have an influence on the official/formal language of a particular country, not its dialectal lexicon. But anyway, I was wrong. The Maltese language is almost entirely derived from informal dialectal Arabic (particularly North African), which makes me wonder why Malta is a special case? Is it because it’s Roman Catholic and perfecting the language of the Quran is not of prime importance? Or is it because the “Arab invaders” were Berber and not Arabs? Interesting topic to research.
For now, let me teach you some Maltese ;-)
English: Maltese: Arabic
Book: ktieb: kitab
Dog: kelb: kalb
Sugar: zokkor: sukkar
Cat: qattus: qutta
Door: bieb: baab
Death: mewt: mawt
Money: flus: flus/floos (informal)
Lemon: lumija (pronounced as loo-mee-ya) Not very different from how it is pronounced in the aforementioned Bahraani dialect ;-)
The following Maltese proverbs are other strong indications of how Maltese is derived from dialectal Arabic:
Il-mara bhall-lumija taghsarha u tarmiha.
A woman is like a lemon; you squeeze her and throw her away.
Gebel ma gebel ma jiltaqa', izda wicc ma wicc jiltaqa'.
Mountain does not meet mountain, but a face meets another face.
Il-flus ghandhom il-gwienah.
Money has wings.
Bil-flus taghmel triq il-bahar.
With money you can make a road in the sea.
Mara ghandha sebat erwieh.
A woman has got seven souls.
I am almost certain that those dimwitted proverbs are not the most accurate representation of the Maltese language and so I decided to go into a more credible source, the government of Malta website, to see how much I can understand from the Maltese written over there! I randomly clicked on the Health section and voila:
Din il-ġabra toffri links għal sptarijiet u servizzi farmaċewtiċi u wkoll links għal servizzi provduti minn aġenziji oħra. Issib ukoll informazzjoni biex tgħinek tgħix ħajja b'saħħitha, u fatti nteressanti u statistika dwar is-saħħa. Hemm ukoll taqsima speċjali għall-Prattikanti tal-Mediċina.
This cluster offers links to hospitals and pharmaceutical services and also links to services provided by other agencies. Information to help you lead a healthy lifestyle and interesting health facts and statistics are also available here. There is also a special section for Medical Practitioners.
Obviously, this excerpt looks more sophisticated than the previous funny proverbs; it is also more difficult to understand for a native-Arabic speaker, however, there are certain phrases that can be easily understood by just relying on our Arabic knowledge and they are the following:
minn aġenziji oħra: by other agencies
ħajja b'saħħitha: healthy lifestyle
is-saħħa: the health
taqsima speċjali: special section
and then by relying on our knowledge of any Indo-European language we speak: English, French, Italian, etc. and some common sense, we should be able to understand another good chunk of it: farmaċewtiċi, servizzi, statistika, etc..
Apparently, the Maltese language is written using Latin alphabets, therefore, while an Arabic-speaking person would be able to understand some Maltese, the average Maltese speaker will not be able to read Arabic. It is also important to note here that both Maltese and English are the official languages of Malta. In fact, English is almost spoken by everyone that many people believe learning Maltese is virtually useless. If I remember correctly, one of the English teachers at my school back in Bahrain was Maltese! On the other hand, there are many people like this passionate guy, who believes that the Maltese language should be protected and cherished as a national heritage. He says:
It is true that English is also our official language. But we have only one national language that distinguishes us from all other people in the world, and that is Maltese.
If for no other reason we have to protect Maltese as part of our national heritage, of which every Maltese worth his name should be proud. English is an official working language for us, inherited through our colonial history. It could have been Italian, Spanish or French or any other used by colonisers. But what identifies us as Maltese is the Maltese language.
Hmmm. But wasn't the Muslim conquest of Malta a form of colonialism and the impact it had on the Maltese language, an unfavorable consequence of colonialism? *Ponders*