January Books 29) Juba Arabic – English Dictionary, by Ian Smith and Morris T. Ama

I got home to find this waiting for me (would have been nice if it had arrived before I went to Juba) and skimmed through it to get the most important points. Juba Arabic is used as a lingua franca across Southern Sudan (where the official language is [sometimes] English, and most speak their own tribal language). I haven’t as yet particularly felt the lack of it in Juba itself, where I stay at an Ethiopian hotel and hire a Kenyan driver, but making the effort is important.

From Smith and Ama’s account, it is a pretty simple language (like most creole languages) but has some interesting twists, like interrogatives going at the end of questions (“You did what?” “We are going where?”) and surviving without infinitives (“It is good to eat” “Food is good”). I know that some of you are interested in language construction – this seemed to me an interesting example of a language constructed over the last 200 years of Arab-speakers’ influence on the region.

Particularly useful – a section listing and explaining traditional foods, though it might not have killed the authors to provide the correct English names of the various types of fish and vegetables rather than just describing them. I was particularly amused that the samak yabis from Bor are named after the former political leader Abel Alier, while those from Nimule are named for his rival Lagu.

The book is also aimed at Juba Arabic speakers who want to improve their English. The very first sentence provided for them is the translation of the Juba Arabic Human azib-o lehaadi huwa worii le-oman sir: “They tortured him until he told them the secret”. I winced when I saw that, but then realised that in fact it is illustrating subtleties of translation of the verb azibu, which has a rather less dramatic meaning in the sentence Kelib de gi-azib ana: “That dog is bothering me”. I guess context is everything.

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1 Response to January Books 29) Juba Arabic – English Dictionary, by Ian Smith and Morris T. Ama

  1. filigree10 says:

    It was the middle book of a series: The Godmother (1994), The Godmother’s Apprentice (1995), and The Godmother’s Web (1998). I remember reading it when it first came out, and I thought her portrayal of County Wicklow (where I live myself) was pretty good. But I certainly got the sense that a lot of it was filtered through Anne McCaffrey’s perception – they’d been collaborators on some other books, and I assumed McCaffrey had hosted Scarborough during her stay in Ireland. The setting was not just County Wicklow but very much McCaffrey’s stamping grounds in Newcastle/Kilquade.

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