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The Arabic of Malʿabat al-Kafīf az-Zarhūnī (Morocco, 14th century)

Mike Turner

Pages 40 - 67

The malʿaba ‘play-poem’ of Abdullah al-Kafīf of Zarhūn, who lived in the latter half of the 14th century, is a long poetic text composed in a variety of medieval North African colloquial Arabic. It narrates the events of 1347-1348 from the perspective of the Merinids, who in 1347 invaded the Hafsid kingdom of Ifriqiya under the leadership of Sultan Abu Hasan ‘Ali bin Uthman (r. 1331-1348). Alongside its outstanding historical value, the poem’s linguistic character is significant in that it represents a partial record of the spoken Arabic of the time period, a major dialectological and historical linguistic lacuna. In this article I present a sketch of the most salient linguistic features of the text, many of which are known in modern North African varieties, but others of which are rare or unattested. These features are of clear interest to dialectologists and historical linguists who have had, to date, little in the way of diachronic textual sources to complement their work.


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