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Theme, convention, and prosody in the vernacular poetry Of North Africa1 John Wansbrough

Theme, convention, and prosody in the vernacular poetry Of North Africa1 John Wansbrough

Though not invariably susceptible of demonstration, the influence of Classical Arabic upon the popular literature of Arabic-speaking Muslims in North Africa may safely be assumed. ‘Popular’, indeed, the early Islamic verse forms (ši'r mawzūn) and the later stanzaic compositions (klam or ālat al-andalus) have remained, and in these, even when modified by local tradition, the source of inspiration is easily recognized. Less clear is the transfer pattern of classical elements in the strictly vernacular poetry (klam melḥūn) of the same people. It is this category of composition with which the following observations are concerned, and wḥich suggested selection of the term ‘vernacular’ rather than ‘popular’. A further factor contributory to isolation of this topic is the existence of a vernacular literature amongst non-Muslim Arabic speakers in North Africa: the Jewish communities. There, owing both to Judaeo-Arabic orthography and to confessional motives in the selection of theme, the tyranny of Classical Arabic is considerably weakened, to some extent a consequence of social (educational) lines of demarcation. Important, however, are the affinities between the vernacular compositions of both groups, especially in matters relating to rhetorical convention and prosodic structure.


1 This paper was presented on 31 October 1968 to a meeting of the Centre of African Studies, SOAS.

John Wansbrough (1969).
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Volume 32, Issue 03, October 1969 pp 477-495

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