Maronite Arabic in Cyprus

Cyprus, though quirks of history, has been more sanguine about linguistic diversity than Greece has been. I remember my Cypriot father's shrugged "yeah, there were some Armenians too, and a village of Maronites", vs my Cretan mother's astonished retelling of her first encounter with her sister's new (Arvanite) in-laws: "And all of a sudden... they started speaking another language!"

I'd like to think (though I have no reason to) that this sanguine attitude is helped by how far the local variants in Cyprus have diverged from the metropoles, precisely because Cyprus is so far away. You'd be hard to put to say that the basilect of Cypriot Greek is mutually intelligible with Standard Greek. Cypriot Turkish (or as some would have it, Gibrizlija) has also travelled far from Standard Turkish, and there is apparent typological convergence between the two. The Classicists here will know that Cyprus was a late holdout for the pre-Hellenic Eteocypriot, and for the most archaic dialect of Greek around after that.

H/t Language Hat, for his note of Bulbul Lameem Souag @ Jabal al-Lughat's posting on the Maronite Arabic spoken in Cyprus (see also Wikipedia). With a link to a teacher's site to help preserve the language (with a level of Government support that, through reasons of quirks of history, is unthinkable in Greece.)

The cute thing about the posting is the remark by Bulbul that (not unlike Greek and, I suspect, Turkish) this Cypriot variant is the most deviant form of Arabic he has ever heard:
My scale (1-10, lowest to highest intelligibility): if Levantine Arabic is 10 and Moroccan Arabic is 8, Chadic is 6, Nigerian is 5. Cypriot Arabic is 2. It's pretty difficult to even read, perhaps on par with the basilect of some English-based creoles.

He goes on to note that "Consequently, Borg postulates a sort-of Syrian-Anatolian koine as the direct ancestor of CMA. ... Contrary to popular opinion, CMA doesn't really show any particular affinity with Lebanese dialects of Arabic, but shows evidence of Aramaic adstratum or even substratum."

I'm afraid I can't say much intelligent about this, but I pass it on. There must be something in the water in that island...


  1. Sorry, got confused: the poster and the commenter at Jabal al-Lughat, Souag and "Bulbul", are two distinct Semiticists...

  2. No, not the water. It's that Cyprus is a Roach Motel: your Greeks, Turks, and Vlachs check in, but they don't check out....

  3. It'd be nice if the Vlachs had made it across to Cyprus. :-) Dunno; that explains the typological convergence of Cypriot Greek and Cypriot Turkish (both VSO), but not where on earth the VSO came from in the first place. Greece was a Roach Motel too. So was much of Europe. But the typological oddities? I still think that's more the isolation of this particular Motel that does it.

    It's not explored enough, btw, but Cyprus was Eastern-facing for a fair while—including being under the control of the Patriarch of Antioch. When Makhairas complained famously in the 1430s "they do not know in the world what we speak", his complaint was about the multilingualism of Cyprus, which included not only Greek and the Old French of its rulers, but formerly also the Syriac of church authorities.

    §158: For there are two natural masters, one secular and one spiritual, which this little island had in the world: the emperor of Constantinople and the patriarch of Great Antioch, before the Latins conquered it. For that reason it was the custom that we should know Universal Greek [proper Greek? ρωμαῖκα καθολικά], to send letters to the emperor, and correct Syriac, and that's how they would educate their children. And the council (?) went on with Syriac and Greek, until the Lousignans conquered the land. And they started learning French, and barbarised their Greek, as to this day, and we write French and Greek, for they do not know in the world what we speak."

  4. Nick, there used to be 4 Maronite villages (today only 3 still exist - Ayia Marina has been turned to a military base by the Turkish occupying forces) and Arabic Cypriot is only spoken in Kormakitis. Today, nearly 3/4 of the Maronites of Cyprus leave in Nicosia. You can get many info on the community, its history, etc. here - you may also find their journal Κοινοτικό Βήμα where sometimes interesting info regarding both history and language is published (unfortunately, for those who don't speak it, it's all in Greek).

    I have a postgraduate student working on issues of identity in Cypriot Maronite literature (more accurately Greek literature written by the Maronites of Cyprus). Her father comes from Kormakitis and her mother from Ayia Marina (and she cannot understand her in-laws when they speak the language...). Anw, from my student's findings I can tell you that Father Antonios Frangiskou has published poetry in Cypriot Arabic (in Greek script and also with Greek translations) and uses (or, at least, used thus far) the Greek script in his publications (e.g in his Dictionary of the Arabic Dialect of Kormakitis published in Nicosia in 2000 or his Grammar of the Arabic Language of Kormakitis , Nicosia 2007 - in case there are readers interested in these or any other books relating to Cyprus they can try the MAM Bookshop - Ms. Thelma, the owner, is usually very helpful).

    I too believe it's mostly the isolation and distance that have allowed for the linguistic diversity that may still be found on the island (things are rapidly changing though...).


  5. Many thanks, Godfather! The googlage I report on at Language Hat (from the Kormakitis.net forum) indicates that Frangiskou is now reluctantly using the new Roman script in the community newsletter, following their policy.

  6. I meant to say Arabs, of course. Chalk it up to being distracted by my grandson.

    As for isolation, umm, that's what a Roach Motel does; it isolates the trapped roaches from the greater community.