Description of Modern Chaldean.
 9783110812022, 3110812029

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N I C O L A I VAN WIJK D E D I C A T A edenda curai C. H. V A N S C H O O N E V E L D Indiana University

Series Practica,







© Copyright 1974 in The Netherlands Mouton & Co. N.V., Publishers, The Hague No part of this book may be translated or reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm or any other means, without written permission from the publishers.


Printed in Belgium by NICI, Ghent


This work is an attempt to describe Modern Chaldean from a functional-structural (Praguian) point of view. The introduction considers the place of Modern Chaldean within the Semitic family of languages and presents an ethnolinguistic profile of the Modern Chaldean speech community in Iraq. The functional-structural description treats the language as an entity which has its realization in speech events. Taking the criterion of identity and difference as the rule of any given communication, limiting eidetic characterization to the phonological primitives, this description seeks to explicate the complexity of the language as object, characterizing its structural parts in terms of their functions within the whole or their own internal structures. Structures are described by enumerating their parts, order groups, or syntagms and alternation or paradigms, and stating the relations between them. Section one presents a complete phonological description following the Prague School model, with the realizations of the phonemes characterized in articulatory terms and a distributional algorithm formulated. Section two is devoted to the description of the functionally simultaneous categories, i.e. to morphology. Paradigms of forms having the same lexical content are partitioned into mutually correct substitution groups, or proper state categories, and subparadigms of morphemic modalities alternating within each proper state. A clear distinction is made between morphological classes, — parts of speech determined by common inflectional possibilities, here designated as nomina, verba, adjectiva, etc. — and distributional classes or syntactic variables, here designated as nouns, verbs (of various types), adjectives, etc. Section three is concerned with the description of sequentially ordered groups of categories, i.e. with syntax. The structures of molecular expression, — expressions which need not or do not participate in the structures of more extensive expressions — are describable in terms of unit expressions, minimal syntagms, which are not further divisible into sequential combinations. The minimal molecular expression is the clause. The minimal syntagm, the unit complex, is the syntactic word here defined by the functional simultaneity of its moneme constituents. In modern Chaldean,



the verb itself is constitutive in most clause types, and is characterized by a remarkaable polysynthetism in which both subject and object of the verb may find expression within the ensemble of simultaneous monemes which constitute a single syntactic verb. This work has had the benefit of the wisdom and the encouragement of many friends and colleagues. I wish to thank in particular professor Don Graham Stuart of Georgetown University School of Languages and Linguistics for his interest in the work, his constant help, and his patience in making this description of Modern Chaldean possible.





0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7

An Ethnolinguistic Profile of Modern Chaldean Chaldean as a Spoken Language in Iraq Sector of the Community Represented in This Work Methodological Preliminaries Relations of Identity and Difference in Paradigm and Syntagm . . . . Categorization of the Inventory of Expressions Algorithmic Grammar

9 11 13 13 16 18 18


1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6

Phonology of the Word Vowel Phonemes Consonant Phonemes The Phonetic Realization of the Phonemes The Distribution of the Phonemes in Word Expressions Consonant Clusters Syllabification

22 22 24 34 36 41 47


2.0 2.01 2.1 2.2

Morphology Morphophonemics Nomina Adjectiva

49 49 52 57


2.3 2.4 2.5 2.51 2.52 2.53 2.54 2.55 2.56 2.57 2.6 2.7


Numeralia Pronomina Verba The infinitive The active participle The passive participle The imperative The indicative The conjunctive The factitive The Undeclinables Lexical Formation

60 63 65 66 66 66 67 67 73 74 87 88


3.0 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9

Syntax The period The sentence Clauses Primary constituents Clause Types The Noun Phrases The Adjective Phrases The Numeral Phrases The Post Adjectival Determiners Possession The Adverbial Phrases The Prepositional Phrases The Verb Phrase

91 91 92 93 94 95 98 104 104 104 105 105 106 106







0.11 Chaldean as the subject of this description This work gives a structural description of Modern Chaldean, a Semitic language that has progressively been receding into oblivion becasuse of the decline of its influence as a means of communication and culture in the national life of its speakers. It is the language of a minority that is being absorbed into the Arabic speaking majority. The place of Chaldean in the ethnolinguistic picture of Iraq, and its relation to the other Semitic languages is indicated below. 0.12 Chaldean as a dialect of Semitic To locate Modern Chaldean in the general linguistic picture of the related languages, the following brief schema showing the relationships of the Semitic languages is included in this work. This schema is based on Fleisch (1947), Moscati (1964), and Cohen (1968). Semitic languages are divided into three main groups according to the geographical distribution of their speakers: I. North East Semitic in Mesopotamia (Iraq), II. North West Semitic in Syria and Palestine, III. South West Semitic in Arabia and Ethiopia. 0.121. North East Semitic A. Old Akkadian B. Babylonian C. Assyrian 0.122 North West Semitic A. Canaanite i. Hebrew



ii. Phoenician and Punic iii. Moabite B. Aramaic i. Old Aramaic 1. Old Aramaic 2. Classical/Imperial Aramaic 3. Biblical Aramaic ii. West Aramaic 1. Nabataean 2. Palmyrene 3. Jewish Palestinian 4. Samaritan 5. Christian Palestinian 6. Modern Dialects a. MaSlula b. GubbSadin c. BafiSa iii. East Aramaic 1. Babylonian 2. Mandaean 3. Syriac a. Classical Syriac b. Modern dialects 1. Urmiah 2. TurSabdin 3. Mangesh: Modern Chaldean 0.123 South West Semitic A. North Arabic i. Pre-Classical North Arabic 1. Bamudic 2. Liftyanite 3. §afaitic ii. Classical North Arabic 1. Classical Arabic 2. Modern dialects: they are best named by their regional geographic grouping — Egyptian, Iraqi, etc. B. South Arabic and Ethiopic i. Ancient South Arabic 1. Sabaean 2. Minaean



3. Qatabanian 4. fiadrami 5. Awsanian ii. Ethiopic 1. Ancient 2. Modern dialects a. Tigiinya b. Tigre c. Amharic d. Harari e. Gurage f. Gafat g- Aragabba The specific dialect that is the subject of this study is the dialect of Mangesh, called in this work Modern Chaldean. Mangesh is a town situated in the northern part of Iraq near the Turkish border. Modern Chaldean is a contemporary dialect of East Aramaic which is of the North West Semitic group of languages. 0.2 CHALDEAN AS A SPOKEN LANGUAGE OF IRAQ

0.21 Chaldean in the total picture of the sociolinguistic community Geographically Iraq covers an area of 168,576 square miles with a total population of over 8,000,000 people. It is bounded by Iran on the east, by Turkey on the north, by Syria on the north west, by Jordan on the west, and by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the south. Following Ferguson (1966), a sociolinguistic profile of Iraq will fall into three language groups: major languages, minor languages, and special languages. 0.22 Major languages A. Arabic: Arabic is spoken by 79 percent of the population as a native language. It is practically the sole medium of education, and even though it is not constitutionally the official language of the country, its standard form is used in official business and the press. For ordinary conversation and communication, the market place, and other social and nonofficial occasions, the colloquial dialects are used. There is more than one colloquial dialect, and Haim has pointed some of them out (1960). These colloquial dialects are neither studied, written, nor taught anywhere in the country. Standard Arabic is used as a means of international communication among the Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa. The colloquial dialects are used only regionally. B. Kurdish: Kurdish is spoken by over a million speakers of the country as a native language (Statistical Abstracts 1962). Kurdish as of now is not a standard language, nor is there a superposed variety of Kurdish. Many books and newspapers



are being printed in Kurdish, mainly in the Sulaymania dialect, e.g. grammars (McCarus 1958) and dictionaries (Edmonds and Wahbi 1966), which indicate that this might become the standard dialect eventually. Kurdish is the means of instruction in the Kurdish primary schools, and it is taught and studied at this level ("Education in Iraq" 1966). Many Kurds learn and speak Arabic. Many Kurds are multilingual, and speak, in addition to Kurdish, Persian, Turkish, or Arabic. 0.23 Minor languages A. Persian: Persian is spoken by 3 percent of the total population. It is taught in the primary schools for Persians ("Education in Iraq" 1966). The standard Tehran dialect is used in the schools, while in ordinary life other dialects are used by the speakers, e.g. Lurs. Many of the speakers of Persian are also multilingual. B. Turkish: Turkish is spoken by 2 percent of the total population. It is also used in the primary schools on the same level as Kurdish. Most of the Turks speak Kurdish or Arabic or both. C. Chaldean: Chaldean is spoken by about 200,000 speakers in Iraq. All the speakers are Christians from a diversity of religious denominations who speak various dialects with differing degrees of mutual intelligibility. No formal analysis or classification of these dialects has been done except the attempt of Rhetore to give an overall grammar of the Mosul area (1912). Since this language is neither taught nor used in schools or for official business, the great majority of the Christians are variously multilingual, depending on their geographical location and sociolinguistic influences of the area. 0.24 Special languages A. Armenian: Armenian is spoken by more than 12,000 speakers who use it in their liturgy, daily conversations, and in the schools that are run by Armenians for Armenian children. Armenians are multilingual in the vast majority of cases. B. English: English is an officially required language in the school curricula. It is taught in all Iraqi schools beginning with the fifth grade up through the college years. It is the medium of instruction in the sciences on the graduate level. C. French: French is spoken by all the clergy and a good segment of the educated population aged forty or over. Due to the influence of the French nuns' schools for girls, many women are French speakers. D. Greek: Greek is used by the Greek minority in Iraq both in the liturgy and in ordinary conversation among themselves. E. Hebrew: Hebrew is used by the 10,000 Jews in Iraq. Biblical Hebrew is used in the liturgy. All the Jews in Iraq also speak Arabic. F. Latin: Latin is used in the liturgy of about 4,000 Latins in Iraq. Many more non-Latins have been exposed to the Latin liturgy through the Jesuit schools in Baghdad, and through their work in the local Christian churches.



G. Sabaean: Sabaean is used by the 20,000 Sabaeans in Iraq. It is primarily a liturgical language. Sabaeans also speak Arabic. H. Syriac: Syriac is the liturgical language for the Chaldeans, Nestorians, Syrians, and Jacobites. Both familiar classical dialects of the Syriac are used: the Nestorian or the Eastern Syriac is used by the Chaldeans and the Nestorians, and the Jacobite or the Western Syriac is used by the Syrians and the Jacobites.


The dialect subjected to analysis in this work is that of Mangesh, a town of about 10,000 speakers. It is located in the northern part of Iraq in the middle of Kurdish territory close to the Turkish border. All the speakers are Christians, as is the population of the whole town. The only major linguistic influence on the speakers is the Kermanji dialect of Kurdish. 0.31 Representative

of the


As a matter of convenience, and out of necessity, I am my own informant. Chaldean of Mangesh is the language of my childhood — the first language that I learned. I spoke it for twenty uninterrupted years. Arabic has been my second language since the beginning of my formal education when 1 was six years old, and I have spoken English on a steady basis since 1950. Latin was the medium of instruction during the study of philosophy and theology. Persian I have spoken for such short and interrupted intervals of time that it has had no lasting influence on my speech habits. A conscious and deliberate effort has been made in this work to exclude foreign words as much as possible.

0.4 METHODOLOGICAL PRELIMINARIES 0.41 The object of study of this work

A. External characterization The point of view in this work will be that languages are things which have their realizations in speech events. In contradistinction to de Saussure, one may not say that a language is a form, but rather that it is an object having both form and substance. As real things, languages recur rather than endure. Not all speech events belong to the same language: with the same reference or the same situation and, indeed, with the same speaker and hearer it is possible to realize speech events in different languages. Thus a language might be defined externally as that factor which is different in the totality of speech events belonging to one language as compared with those of another language. It is that which differs from one linguistic community to another that



constitutes what is linguistic; whatevei is universal to human communication is per se nonlinguistic. Since language must be considered to be an instrument of communication, all questions of identity and difference must be decided by the communicative function of the forms considered — according to whether a given form by its presence or absence or commutation with another form can change the meaning of a linguistic expression or not. The relevant simultaneity of two forms means that it is impossible to use their sequence to distinguish meaning: if ab is a linguistic expression, and either *ba is impossible or ba is semantically the same as ab, then a and b are said to be relevantly or functionally simultaneous. B. Internal characterization It will be the assumption of this work that a language is an artifact for communication differing from one linguistic community to another, and, to distinguish it from other culturally determined sign systems, characterized internally by its two layered complexity: its "double articulation". The assertion that a language is a system implies its complexity — its divisibility into parts in terms of which it may be described. A statement of the parts of a language and the relations which prevail among them describes its structure; thus, different things may have identical structures. Ultimately, to describe the language as an entity, the minimal constituents of the structure must themselves be described or at least defined. Since these minimal forms of the system have no internal structure within the system, they must be characterized in terms of their functions; any explication of their eidetic natures must depend on a complexity they have as a result of relations outside the system. In the favorable case, the ultimate minima of the system will be known by acquaintance, or will be discursively relatable to objects known by acquaintance. In the present work, the ultimate minima or elements on the phonological level will be distintive features, and it is assumed that their realizations can be discursively defined in reference to well known phonetic categories which may be taken as given. The elements on the level of the primary articulation will be minimal sign categories — monemes — definable in terms of their phonetic expressions and their signata. 0.42 The functional-structural


The objects which appear as constituents of complex objects can be described formally in two ways: a. by their functions in the structures of greater objects which contain them as constituents, and b. by their own internal structures expressed in terms of their constituents and the relations between them.



0.43 Paradigms and syntagms Two principal kinds of structures are manifested by the complexity of the language: alternation groups or paradigms, and order groups or syntagms. The organization of paradigms and syntagms differ in several important ways: a. the members of paradigms form unordered sets with no member repeated, i.e. the items in the lexicon occur only once; b. syntagms are ordered or potentially ordered groups, the constituents of which are also syntagms; the members of syntagms may be repeated: a very old very small house. 0.44 Units and elements A minimal syntagm — a syntagm which has no sequential constituents — is a unit. The constituents of a unit, which will be called elements, must be functionally simultaneous with each other. On the phonological level, the units will be phonemes and the elements distinctive features; on the grammatical level, the units will be called words and the elements monemes. 0.45 Maximal


A syntagm which is not a constituent of another syntagm is a maximal syntagm; this in phonology is a word expression, in grammar a sentence. 0.46 Constitutive parts If we consider complex syntagms, we see that there are some such that one or more of the constituents of the complex may alternate with the complex as a whole without destroying the well-formedness of the expression in which the complex syntagm itself functions. These constituents will be said to be constitutive or major terminals, and their cofunctives, to be accessory or minor terminals. In phonology the constitutive constituents of word expressions are major syllables, in grammar the constitutive parts of sentences are major clauses. 0.47 Overtly marked maximal


In most languages, specific signs are available to designate the maximal syntagms in both articulations. The sentence usually has a characteristic intonation pattern which when attached to a sequence of word expressions has the meaning that this sequence constitutes a sentence. We know from experience, however, that sentence intonation is not necessarily always correctly or consistently used, and that there may be lack of coincidence between constructive sentences and what may be overtly marked as a sentence. There is need, therefore, for a set of special terms to designate the expressions which bear the overt markers of the sentence or of the word. Let that



which is marked as a sentence be called a period, and that which is marked as a word a phonological word. Periods which are not well-formed sentences will be called elliptical sentences, and will not be treated in the present work. The criterion of wellformed sentences is attestation of their occurrence in situations with minimal context. Syntactic words which do not or cannot carry the phonological marks of a word will be called enclitics.

0.5 RELATIONS OF IDENTITY AND DIFFERENCE IN PARADIGM AND SYNTAGM If there is an environment X i . . .X2 in which both A and B appear, it is said that A and B commute in this environment, that they form, together with all other terms commuting here, the paradigm defined by this environment. A and B need not be different, however, if according to some well-defined criterion, here semantic relevance, they can be shown to be different, then it is said that they are opposed by commutation. If in the environment X i . . .X2, AB appear at the same time, then it is said that A and B cofunction. If A and B have different identities, then it is said that A and B contrast in the chain. Following Prague School and Neo-Prague School practice, the loss of opposition of distinct identity in the paradigm will be called neutralization, e.g. the checked unchecked opposition in English vowels by which we have [bit] ~ [bit] in closed syllables but only [bi] in open syllables; the loss of a contrast of distinct identity in the chain will be called accord, e.g. the loss of the possibility of fortis-lenis contrast in sibilant stop clusters in English, retaining the usual conditions attendant on the application of these concepts.

0.51 Paradigms and syntactic variables T w o or more expressions which commute in a given environment are members of the paradigm defined by that environment; it is not necessarily the case, however, that all the members of a paradigm are generally, i.e. in all environments, mutually correct substitutions for each other; e.g. Tom. Mary. a. I like

football. swimming, to swim.

b. T o m knows Mary. c. *To swim knows Mary. It is accordingly, necessary to give special status to classes of expressions which are generally mutually substitutable: the syntactic variables. Positional paradigms can always be expressed in terms of alternations of such variables, so that singular



nouns, infinitives, and gerunds, as in (a) above, are not coextensive with the noun singular in (b) above. The idea of syntactic variables underlies all of grammatical description: when we assert that a particular expiession of a given language has such-and-such a grammatical structure, we are actually taking account of all the correct substitutions permissible within it and representing it as a structure of substitution classes. The structure of any linguistic expression is the structure of the substitution classes or variables to which its internal constituents belong. 0.52 Lexemes and morphemes Some paradigms and some variables have only a small number of members: monemes which belong to such paradigms shall be called morphemes. Monemes which belong to paradigms or variables containing an unlimited or large number of members are lexemes. 0.53 Morphology and syntax The study of functionally simultaneous combinations of monemes, such as within a word, will be called morphology, while the study of sequential combinations of monemes will be called syntax. 0.54 The syntagmatic functions Following Hjemslev (1963), the parts of a syntagmatic complex may be called its derivates, while a well-formed combination of expressions will be called the arrivate of these expressions. In terms of the constitutiveness of its derivates, a general classification of syntagms and, at the same time, their internal relations is possible, as in the following table (fig. 1), where three types of arrivate syntagms are defined by the intersection of two sets of derivate characteristics. all derivates with the same constitutive status

at least one constitutive derivate (endocentric)

combination (coordination)

no constitutive derivate (exocentric)


fig. 1

derivates with different constitutive status

selection (modification)




In addition to the categorization of the inventory of expressions into syntactic variables, it will be possible to set up classes of expressions containing the same lexeme constituents, as well as classes having exactly the same morpheme constituents in common. The intersection of such lexeme classes and such morpheme classes is always either null or a constant value of a syntactic variable. It is obvious that the structure of a complex syntagm cannot be expressed in terms of lexeme classes unless these are in fact identical with the range of syntactic variables. The traditional parts ol speech are, of course, mixed classes; only the adverbs, prepositions, and interjections are coextensive with syntactic variables. Corresponding to a lexeme class will be a set of subclasses representing contextually determined ranges of variation. These positional subclasses will be called proper states of the lexeme class; they correspond to the positional allophones in phonology. A proper state is a syntactic variable whose values have the same lexemic constitution in common. Within each proper state there may be a range of modalities, in Martinet's sense (1960), or free choice variations which can be used to make different messages. Proper state categories are those which are imposed by a context, while modalities are categories relevant to the message. In many languages the difference between indicative and infinitive moods is dictated by the position of occurrence of the verb and is without meaning, while tense is available at the option of the speaker to provide for saying different things, e.g. a. Proper states: i. Tom hits Bill. ii. He wants Tom to hit Bill. iii. He knew Tom hit Bill. b. Modalities: i. Tom hits Bill. ii. Tom hit Bill. iii. Tom was hitting Bill. In this work, syntactic variables will be constantly designated by terms formed on the English pattern, while lexical classes will be referred to by the corresponding Latin terms. Thus, hit in Tom hit Bill is a singular third person indicative verb, while the inflectional paradigm built on the lexeme represented by this word will be termed verbum. Clearly, from the verbum, not only indicative verbs, but also proper state forms equivalent to nouns and adjectives may be derived.


A completely formalized grammatical description that would permit the construction of sentences from the lexicon automatically by the application of rules or by substitution in a set of axiomatic sentence structures is one of the eagerly pursued goals of modern linguistics. Obviously, linguists are far from arriving at it, and inspection of



some of the serious attempts at strict formalization of linguistic statements might indeed cause us to reconsider with Keifer (1968) if it is indeed a worthwhile goal. Many linguistic situations which are easily described in discursive language are expressed set-theoretically only after cumbersome difficulties. Nevertheless, the example of the physical sciences in general show us that formalistic methods do lead to a clarification of ideas, but do not necessarily demand puristic application. The purpose of this work has been to describe an empirical object, Modern Chaldean, rather than to develop a strictly formalistic deduction. The rudiments of intuitive formalism will, however, be seen emerging from the treatment of our object. In what follows, the development of this formalism deductively will be shown, always renewing our caution that the advantages of strict formalism in an empirical science will be gained only with judicious application: the elimination of judgement and intuition in the manipulation of the terms of descriptive formalism only pushes back their role to the level of application of data. There will be no objection to intuitive short cuts when these save logistic tedium. 0.71 A deductive formalism of structural description The description of Modern Chaldean presented in this work is couched in the terms of a metalanguage which presumes as given: a. an inventory of expressions b. partition of the inventory of expressions on the basis of such equivalent relations as being mutually substitutable, containing the same lexeme constituents, containing the same morpheme constituents, etc. The formation rules of this metalanguage will have as primitive the following: 0.72 Terms Terms will be either constants (expressions) or syntactic variables having as their range of values a paradigm of expiessions. Constants will be represented by the phonemic shape of the expressions, Latin majuscules will be used for molecular variables and their primary constituents, small Latin letters for units on the atomic level. 0.73 Lexical arguments Lexical arguments are sets of expressions all containing the same lexeme constituents. Lexical arguments will be represented by letter in paientheses: e.g. a transitive verb indicative = (vtr ind); a transitive verbum = (vtr). 0.74 Term forming operators a. Functors The functors are either proper state functors, which make syntactic variables out of lexical arguments, or modal functors (essential functors: have the relation of inter-



dependence with a proper state functor; or facultative functor: have the relation of determination with a proper state functor) which index the range of values of the variable. A lexical argument is a variable which must have its range of values specified or restricted to those occurring in certain environments before it can appear as a syntactic variable in the structures of actual linguistic expressions. Functors will be noted with Latin letters before the aigument, e.g. png(N) = the noun phrase which is inflected for person, number, and gender. Proper state functors are written as denominators, e.g. ng/impr(v) = the imperative mood of the verb form occurs only in the second person. Constant functors are put in italics, e.g. 3 sg w(N) = the third person singular masculine noun phrase. Essential and facultative modal functors will be separated by a colon with the facultative modal functors to the right of the colon, e.g. perf png:vt'o/ind(v) = the perfective form of the indicative mood is inflected for number, gender, and person, and may be or many not be past. b. Combinatory operators Combinatory operators form new terms out of one or more syntactic variables. The following types are distinguished : 1. The solidarity operator: S = a.b means that the syntagm 5 consists of combinations of the values of the variables a and b. 2. The selection operator: S = a ), a lambda functor which together with an expression (E) stands for that which is operated upon by () gives (E): thus, A = X 4> (E). The argument A is thus defined as the determiner with ( adj = adj adjective /nafiaq/ 'unjust' /naxoj"/ 'unwell' /nacar/ 'hopeless'

b. affixes that form nouns: 1. /-ci/ 'pertaining to' noun 'caravan' /karwan/ /cayi/ 'tea' /maxzan/ 'store'