Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Haim Blanc (1926-1984)

Haim Blanc, whom I mentioned in yesterday's post on Sasson Somekh's lecture, looks like a remarkable figure in his own right. Somekh told me that Blanc went from Romania to France and then the U.S. He was attached to the U.S. army forces after the war, according to Somekh in France. I wonder if he was also with the occupation forces in Germany. Apparently, he was born in Czernowitz, a detail that Somekh neglected to inform me about. I am sure he grew up speaking either German or Yiddish and I wonder if his original name was not Weiss. He went to Harvard after the war, then went to fight with the Palmach in 1948, was wounded in action. For more, see the Hebrew Wikipedia entry on him.

Somekh told me that Blanc's doctorate was on the Arabic of the Druze in Israel. The consensus then had been that they spoke a different dialect of Arabic (than non-Druze). He proved that this was incorrect and that they did not speak a different dialect at all. Remarkable: as far as I understand, Blanc only started studying Arabic when he came to Israel.

His 1964 work on Communal Dialects in Baghdad discussed the "qiltu" and "gilit" Arabic dialects. Jews spoke the former, Muslims the latter. I am a complete ignoramus on these matters though - perhaps there were some differences among Muslims, and I don't know what the various Christian groups spoke. "Qiltu" and "gilit" both mean "I say." If I recall correctly, qiltu is less prestigious and comes from northern Iraq.


Noam said...

Interesting stuff. If I'd known Prof. Somekh was in the area, I'd have made the BART trip over!

Re: qeltu vs gilit, the word means I said (past tense). From what I recall of Blanc's book, the qeltu dialects were/are spoken by the Jews and Christians of Baghdad, but also by northern Iraqis [Mosul being a notable example].

The Muslim gilit dialect became the prestigious dialect in Baghdad only in the early 20th century, with the mass assimilation of Bedouin tribes from the south. Supposedly qeltu varieties had been spoken by all the ethnic groups in Baghdad prior to this change.

Amos said...

Yes, sorry, I meant "I said." There is another lecture next week and the week thereafter.

Noam said...

I'll probably be make the lecture on the 27th - thanks for the info, Amos!
By the way, I know your brother from my year abroad at BGU, so I'll keep my eyes peeled for his doppelganger.


P.S. My dad's an Iraqi Jew. I'm a glossophile Arabist. Pretty excited about this topic ;)