Language and Identity in Late Spanish Islam

by Consuelo López-Morillas
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Title:
Language and Identity in Late Spanish Islam
Author:
Consuelo López-Morillas
Year: 
1995
Publication: 
Hispanic Review
Volume: 
63
Issue: 
2
Start Page: 
193
End Page: 
210
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English
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Abstract:

 

LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY IN LATE SPANISH ISLAM!
CONSUELO LOPEZ-MORILLAS
Indiana University
=~=~'!!!!f.1I HE last representatives of the Muslim world in
Spain, the Moriscos of the sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries, have been widely regarded
as the pathetic remnant of a once-brilliant civilization.
Both historians and literary scholars
t.. have lamented the sorry state to which Spanish ===::;;::::!" Islam had declined by this period, and indeed
there is much contemporary evidence to support their view. In the
political arena, of course, the days of Arab dominance of any part
of the Peninsula were finished. Economically, the Moriscos belonged
almost exclusively to the ranks of agricultural laborers and craftspeople,
with only the most exiguous glimmerings of a middle class
(Dominguez Ortiz and Vincent 109-28). The vast majority, and almost
all of the women, were illiterate in both Spanish and Arabic.
The Moriscos produced few written texts, and these were for the
most part translations and adaptations of earlier Arabic sources,
particularly on religious subjects; their works that can be classified
as literary have more historical than aesthetic value. And perhaps
most important of all, these Spaniards practiced Islam in an impoverished
form. Arabic prayers were often a garble of misunder-
1 An earlier version of this paper was read at the conference "Textual and
Cultural Convergences: 1492 and Beyond" at Rutgers University in March 1992.
I wish to thank Maria Teresa Narvaez for providing me with a copy of her
Ph.D. dissertation and forgiving me permission to quote from it.
193
194 Consuelo Lopez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
stood syllables, doctrine was supplemented or replaced by superstition,
and the fast and the pilgrimage were abandoned through
poverty and persecution.f
I quote, as examples of the tone of much present-day writing
about the Moriscos, the following gloomy characterizations: "Ia
agonia y Iiquidacion final del pueblo musulman espafiol" (LopezBaralt
19); "estos tristes descendientes de los hispanoarabes"
(19); "deterioro intelectual rampante" (28); "la extincion de los
moriscos como comunidad cultural" (33); "literatura agonizante"
(35); "pobreza intelectual y teologica" (37); "estan perdiendo su
identidad y su patrimonio cultural" (41); "pueblo en descomposicion"
(43); "el mundo hispanoarabe se desvanece" (43). Curiously
enough the author of all these negative statements, Luce
Lopez-Baralt, is a brilliantly sensitive and sympathetic scholar
of Morisco literature. But if she represents the Moriscos' intellectual
output as weak and moribund, it is because she has structured
her article to contrast the shrinking world of Spanish Islam
with the expanding, ever-enriched one of the discoverers of the
Indies. (Hence the title "Cronica de la destruccion de un
mundo," which plays on the Chronicles of the New World.) The
juxtaposition is, of course, all the more poignant in that
the two "worlds" are contemporary with each other. In LopezBaralt's
view:
[en las cronicas de Indias] el lenguaje castellano queda indudablemente
enriquecido porque los referentes de esta lengua son, frente a America,
indudablemente novedosos y los vocablos antiguos aplicados a la nueva
realidad se ensanchan semanticamente. (30)
On the other hand, "los 'cronistas' moriscos nos describen su paulatino
sentido de manquedad y de desgracia cultural con un lenguaje
... cada vez mas limitado" (24). Lopez-Baralt is further concerned
with the Moriscos' imperfect grasp of the exquisitely subtle, allusive
language of the great Andalusian mystics such as Ibn "Arabi of
Murcia and Ibn "Abbad of Ronda:
Cuando los moriscos someten su castellano aljamiado a la tarea ingente
de traducir otra cuItura, la arabe, que. . . ahora va quedando reducida a
un palido recuerdo, su romance exhibe un empobrecimiento semantico.
(31).
2 For the history of the Moriscos see Dominguez Ortiz and Vincent; GarciaArenal;
and Wiegers "Moriscos."
Language and Identity 195
In sum, "Ellenguaje de los moriscos aljamiados. . . se va limitando
y empobreciendo" (34).
One cannot deny that there is a great deal of justification for
painting the portrait of these last Spanish Muslims in the darkest
of shades. Their precarious lives, their forced sense of unbelonging,
their lost wars of rebellion, and the inhuman misery of their expulsion
from Spain all demand compassion. But I dissent from the
prevailing view, and especially from Lopez-Baralt's view, in this:
rather than finding the Moriscos' language as debased as their
economic and cultural state, I see it as the one sign of their continuing
vitality as a people. It was not only the New World chroniclers
who had to stretch language to the bursting-point in order
to encompass the new reality of their discoveries; their Spanish
Muslim contemporaries were performing a parallel feat in accommodating
the language to their own reality, which was Islam. Far
from undergoing what Lopez-Baralt terms "este lento proceso de
des-semitizacion" (24), Mudejar and Morisco Spanish was in fact
becoming actively re-Semiticized, and specifically Islamicized, the
better to serve the needs of its speakers (Lopez-Morillas "Aljamiado").
The creative force required by this process calls for a
mitigation of the image of the Morisco as a hapless victim of circumstance;
it certainly testifies to a strong sense of cultural and
religious identity.
Let us recall the historical circumstances in which this population
came to be termed "Morisco" and eventually to be seen
as a distinct and problematic minority. As the Christian Reconquest
progressed southward, the subject Muslim population came
under "el estatuto mudejar," with clearly defined rights to protection
of its religious, legal, and cultural institutions. The resulting
convivencia was not broken until 1502 when the Catholic
Monarchs rescinded the capitulations of Granada and imposed
on all the Mudejares of Castile (which included Granada) the
choice of baptism, exile, or death (Dominguez Ortiz and Vincent
17-19; Wiegers, "Moriscos" 242). Those of Aragon received a brief
reprieve, for the choice was not forced upon them until 1526. It
is from these dates of forced conversion that the former Mudejares
begin to be termed Moriscos. (The term, though applied by Christians,
was occasionally used, together with moro, by the Moriscos
in their own writings. Their preferred name for themselves, however,
was muclimes or creyentes; they never accepted the most
196 Consuelo Lopez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
common contemporary designation, cristianos nuevos de moros)
(Epalza, "Identite" 275).
Throughout the sixteenth century the Crown issued a stream
of edicts designed to assimilate the Moriscos into the mainstream
of Spanish society. All their children, of course, had to be baptized
and instructed in the rudiments of the Christian faith. They were
forbidden their traditional dress (including veils for women), festivals,
music, and dances; their butchers could not turn an animal's
head eastward, toward Mecca, before slaughtering it; the doors of
their houses had to be left open on Fridays to ensure that no clandestine
prayers were being conducted within. Christian neighbors
were quick to report any evidence of fasting during Ramadan or a
reluctance to taste pork or wine (Cardaillac, Morisques 13-21). And
the Arabic language, in either spoken or written form, was likewise
proscribed (Dominguez Ortiz and Vincent 19-26).
The fact that several of these prohibitions were issued more
than once during the century testifies to the Moriscos' powers of
resistance. In 1528, with the treaty of Monzon, those of Valencia
negotiated a forty-year grace period during which the Christian
authorities agreed to leave them alone while they prepared themselves
to meet the demands; but when the reprieve ended in 1568
it was clear that no progress had been made (Brarnon, "Una llengua"
34-36). The Moriscos remained, for the most part, unshakably
attached to Islam and its related cultural traditions. In some ways,
in response to Christian pressure, they entrenched themselves in
it even more deeply. A ceremony they practiced widely was las
fadas, a sort of counter-baptism in which they brought a newly
baptized infant home from church, scrubbed the holy water and
oil from its body, and rededicated it to Islam with prayers and
blessings, and the bestowing of an Arabic name (Braman,
"Rito" 33).
By the beginning of Philip Ill's reign it seemed to many that
the Moriscos were never going to become good Catholics and loyal
subjects; there was additional fear that they were conspiring with
the Ottoman Turks, and they had for some time been forbidden to
live along the coasts. For years the idea of expulsion had been
circulating, but moderate voices opposed it. Were not the Moriscos
(unlike the Jews of 1492) baptized Christians? And would not their
banishment to Arab lands ensure their reversion to Islam and the
loss of innumerable souls for the Church? The Pope himself, to say
Language and Identity 197
nothing of more tolerant figures within Spain, urged patience and
more effective attempts at assimilation. But the forces of intransigence
prevailed, and the solution eventually decreed was the most
drastic one possible. Under the edict of expulsion of 1609 virtually
the entire Morisco population, some three hundred thousand, was
herded to the Mediterranean ports and embarked for North Africa.
By 1614 Spanish Islam was no more (Boase 9-28).
The focus of the present paper is the attachment of the Moriscos
to their language; it is a theme that presents two faces, for the
Moriscos experienced their two languages, Spanish and Arabic, in
divergent ways. I will begin with Arabic, since it constitutes on
the whole a more straightforward case. Unlike their coreligionists
in Castile and Aragon, the Muslims of Valencia spoke Arabic, often
exclusively, up to the end of their residence in Spain. In pleading
for their forty-year moratorium in 1528, they alleged as one of
their principal problems that "en el dicho Reyno la mayor parte
de los moros y casi todas las moras no saben hablar aljamia"
(meaning, in this case, Valencian) (Fuster 124). The same was true
many decades later: we have preserved, for example, a private letter
in Arabic written by a Valencian Morisco as late as 1595 (Harvey,
"Arabic Dialect" 85). Large numbers of Muslims being examined
by the Inquisition required interpreters, and since Arabic and Islam
were virtually synonymous, we must assume that had these victims
been able to protest their innocence in Spanish they would certainly
have done so (Vincent, "Langue" 179). It was a common practice
of Aragonese Moriscos to send their sons to Valencia to further
their Arabic education. This dogged persistence in the use of Arabic
exasperated the Christian authorities, who recognized its motives
very well. "Su lengua les es impedimento de su conversion," claimed
Dr. Esteve, and the royal council of 1595 believed that if they "recivian
la doctrina, dexarian voluntariamente l'idioma" (Fuster 142).
No sooner had the Moriscos been expelled than the vicar-general
of the diocese exulted, "Hago gracias a Dios que en Valencia ya no
se siente hablar en lengua araviga" (Fuster 146).
A curious paradox is the contrast between the forceful attempts
of the Spanish Church to proselytize American Indians in their
own languages, and the almost total absence of such efforts toward
the Valencian Moriscos during the very same period (Marquez Villanueva
131). While grammars and dictionaries of Nahuatl, Quechua,
and Guarani went hand in hand with translations of Holy
198 Consuelo Lopez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
Scripture into those tongues, the better to spread the Christian
message, the Arabic still spoken in Spain was scorned as a vehicle
for the Word of God. Juan Ribera, Archbishop of Valencia in the
late sixteenth century, saw Arabic as synonymous with heresy,
and was personally responsible for persuading Philip II not to permit
publication of an Arabic catechism nor the founding of a university
chair in that language. Materials that his predecessor had
conceived as a bilingual catechism for the Moriscos emerged under
Ribera's rule as a set of instructions in Castilian only, intended
for use by local priests (Marquez Villanueva 206).
One consequence of the daily use of Arabic in Valencia was that
the Muslims of this region never adopted the custom of writing in
Aljamiado, or Spanish in Arabic characters," The Aljamiado phenomenon,
so characteristic of the Castilian and Aragonese Muslims,
has its roots in the Mudejar period: the earliest dated manuscript
known is of 1424, and some undated ones must go back to the 1300s
(Wiegers, "clsa b. Yabir" 178-83). By about 1450 it was an established
practice for the Mudejares of central Spain to "draw up
short documents ... [and] also to copy out translations of complete
works on [jurisprudence], liturgical treatises, polemical works and
popular stories" in their Hispanic dialects, often in the Arabic
alphabet (183). The Poema de YUf;uf, perhaps the best-known Aljamiado
work by virtue of being composed in cuaderna via, may
belong to this period. The use of Spanish for Islamic works gained
a sort of official status when clsa ibn Jabir, alfaqui mayor of the
Mudejar community of Segovia, produced a Spanish Koran and a
Spanish compendium of Islamic doctrine between 1456 and 1462
(on this important figure see Wiegers, "clsa b. Yabir" and "Yca
Gidelli"). Resorting to Spanish nonetheless brought with it a degree
of anxiety and guilt, in light of the traditional prohibition in Islam
against translating the Koran. clsa justified the practice in his own
case "reconociendo estar esta isla tan escura a causa de perdimiento
de los sabios," and stating that "los que oy viven y por tiempos
veviran por gracia de Allah . . . an perdido las luzes y escuelas y
el "arabi"; he writes for "los flacos de ceneia" and for "el que no
llegare a saber leer [e]l alqur'an" (Wiegers, "Manuscritos" 183-84).
3 The most recent bibliography of studies on Aljamiado is Bernabe Pons; see
also the occasional sections on "Aljamiado Literature" in The Years Work in Modern
Language Studies.
Language and Identity 199
If the need to shift to Spanish was obvious, given the Mudejares'
ignorance of Arabic, why retain the Arabic alphabet? Early students
of Aljamiado suggested that the motive was concealment,
an intent to hide the content of Islamic works from the Inquisition.
But there was as yet no Inquisition when Aljamiado was first devised;
and later, when its tribunals were in force, the Arabic letters
provided no protection-they merely branded a book as forbidden
irrespective of its content (Fournel-Guerin 241-42). The alphabet
was retained because the Arabic language, and by extension its
written form, are objects of veneration to Muslims. In Islamic belief
the Arabic language and script are a gift from God (Chejne 8-13),
who deliberately chose to reveal His message in that tongue, as
several Koranic passages attest (e.g., 26:192, 42:5, 43:1-2). It has
often been remarked that the role of the Koran in Islam has its
Christian parallel not in the Bible, but in the figure of Jesus himself.
The astonishingly lavish calligraphy and ornamentation of some
manuscript Korans, and the use of Arabic script as a decorative
motif in architecture, textiles, and porcelain, are familiar manifestations
of this attitude of reverence. Islamic folk belief attributes
magical powers to the letters: the Moriscos, to cure illness, used to
write prayers on scraps of paper, dissolve the words in water, and
then have the patient drink the inky brew (Labarta 176). As late
as 1606, a Morisco apologized as follows to his readers for transferring
an Aljamiado Koran translation from Arabic into Latin
letters:
no ay meter en ello duda ninguna porque esta escrito en letra de cristianos;
que el que 10saco . . . 10tenia prestado de una onrrada gente para copiarlo
en tiempo asignado, y era corto. Y porque si quisiese Allah darle gracia
de cumplir con su promesa de volverselo en dicha asignacion, por tanto 10
escribio en letra de cristianos. Pero haze verdad el escribano que esta
rectamente copiado como 10 hallo, y que el sabe la letra de los cristianos
y de los muclimes . . . Ruega y suplica que por estar en dicha letra no 10
tengan en menos de 10 ques, antes en mucho; porque pues esta asi declarado,
esta mas a vista de los muelimes que saben leer el cristiano y no la letra
de los muelimes . . . esto se entiende aunque siempre confieso que su perfeccion
es la del arabigo. (Lopez-Morillas, "Trilingual" 499-500)
This extended and abject apology dramatizes the copyist's unease
at. dispensing with-please note-not the Arabic language itself,
but simply its letters.
In short, the Arabic alphabet was far too precious to give up,
200 Consuelo Lopez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
even when the language itself was virtually lost. But a writing
system is neither neutral nor inert: it is not merely an alternative
vehicle for saying the same thing. On the one hand it can, as in
the Morisco case, constitute an outward sign of group identity, of
community and differentiation from the norm. An alphabet has
political implications: Atatiirk replaced Arabic script with Roman
as an emblem of modernization; the former Soviet republics are
now thinking of marking their independence from all things Russian
by abandoning Cyrillic. The phenomenon of a language couched
in the alphabet of another has a long history in the Islamic world,
as the examples of Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Urdu attest. A
parallel case occurs in Judaism, where Spanish, German, Italian,
Arabic, and many other languages have been written by Jews in
Hebrew letters. In all of these cases the motivation is similar: the
script in question becomes an outward and visible sign of the religious
and cultural cohesion of the linguistic group. But the matter
extends far beyond the mere representation of a given set of sounds
by a particular series of letters. In all of the cases named, use of
the Arabic alphabet brings with it a marked Arabization and Islamization
of the original language, just as use of the Hebrew alphabet
implies a Judaizing and Hebraizing of the original (LopezMorillas,
"Hispano-Semitic" 111-14). The Aljamiado Spanish of
the Moriscos was truly, in Ottmar Hegyi's phrase, "una variante
islamica del espaiiol" (Hegyi, "Variante" 647).
The Mudejares and Moriscos had to refashion Spanish in large
part because so many of their works were direct translations from
the Arabic, a Semitic language profoundly different from their
own in vocabulary, structure, and modes of thought. In what follows
I will offer some examples of the solutions that they found. But in
a wider sense it was Islam that shaped their linguistic usage, because
that religion made up the "universe of discourse" in which
they moved (the phrase is that of Coseriu, Teoria 318). Hegyi
("Tradition" 385-86) has provided us with a beautiful illustration
in the Aljamiado noun dormitamca, obviously a derivative of dormir
but one not developed by the standard language. Further, it is not
a synonym of sueno. The passage where the word appears clearly
identifies dormiiomca as a sin: "desvia de tu persona gula y pereza
y dorrnitanca y soperbia"-all forms of indulgence in bodily or
worldly delights. It is not the simple act of sleeping that is being
condemned-sueno would have covered that-but a sleep enjoyed
Language and Identity 201
to sinful excess, perhaps in lieu of other duties: part of the muezzin's
call to the dawn prayer is, "Prayer is better than sleep!" Since no
existing Spanish term corresponded to such a negative concept of
sleeping, Muslims, for whom the need for one was obvious, coined
the felicitous new word.
Many other neologisms of vocabulary, form, and structure responded,
as I have mentioned, to the need to render Arabic texts,
usually of Islamic content, into Spanish. One simple expedient was
to leave terms of special religious significance untranslated: AIjamiado
invariably speaks of Allah, dln, al-malak, al-janna, al-uxulii,
for example, never of their Spanish counterparts Dios, religiOn,
angel, paraiso, abluciOn. A second solution was a very superficial
adaptation of the new lexicon to Romance morphology, providing
Arabic nouns with Spanish plurals (los alquitebes 'the books,' las
olhacomas 'the good deeds') and Arabic verbs with the proper endings
(haleqar, haleqado from khalaqa 'to create,' ocaidaree from
sajada 'to prostrate oneself). Some bizarre extensions of this latter
technique result in new adverbs like muc;liminadamente (from
muslimin, the plural of muslim), adjectives such as almusibario
'unfortunate' (al-musiba means 'misfortune'), and even "buen
muclim fisabilado" from the Arabic phrase Ii eobili-Lldh. 'on the
path of God,' that is, 'engaged in holy war' (all from Narvaez, "Tafsira").
Modern Spanish, of course, still contains many hundreds of
words of Arabic origin that have been assimilated morphologically
in the same way. But these particular Arabisms found in Aljamiado
have not survived because the Spanish Islamic world to which they
belonged has perished.
Aljamiado is also full of semantic calques: expressions all of
whose words are Romance, but which constitute such literal translations
of an Arabic term that they are unintelligible without
knowledge of the original language. Some examples are la isla de
al-Andalus for 'the Iberian Peninsula,' since Arabic jazira means
both 'peninsula' and 'island' (as when elsa ibn Jjibir speaks of "esta
isla," above); cacar peces 'to fish,' because Arabic siida embraces
the meanings of both 'hunting' and 'fishing' (Kontzi, "Calcos" 321);
and lancer trascuestas 'to memorize,' a calque on ramii can zahri
qalbihi, literally 'to throw behind the back of one's heart' (Corriente
Cordoba 203). Syntactic calques are a parallel phenomenon in which
the Spanish sentence follows narrowly the pattern of an Arabic
one. In Semitic languages, for instance, present participles can be
202 Consuelo Lopez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
employed with verbal force, so that one would say not "he does
thus-and-so" but "he is a doer of thus-and-so." Therefore we find
in Aljamiado es hiziente az-zinii 'he is a practicer of adultery,' and
sed sobre ella guardantes 'be guarders of it.' In the structure known
as paranomasia, Arabic follows a verb with a direct object derived
from the same root, for emphasis: darobahni darbam 'he hit him a
hitting,' that is, 'he hit him hard.' That exact phrase occurs in
Aljamiado, que las firdis feridas; other examples are oleosu altura
and lloro Fatima lloro fuerte. Arabic expresses the concept "one of
several" by repeating the noun, and as a consequence in Aljamiado
trasoro de los trasoros means 'one of the treasures,' and rio de los
rios del al-janna 'one of the rivers of Paradise.' All these are faithful
reproductions of syntactic structures of a Semitic tongue. (All occur
in Lopes-Morillas, Profeta.)
The illustrations I have given demonstrate that when Spanishspeaking
Muslims modelled their written language closely on Arabic,
especially when inspired by direct translation, they produced
a heavily Semiticized prose unlike anything that Spanish Christians
wrote at the same period. Aljamiado does, however, find a parallel
in Ladino, the form of Judeo-Spanish employed for translating the
Pentateuch and other sacred texts; in fact, since Arabic and Hebrew
are so closely related, many of the syntactic structures of Aljamiado
and Ladino are the same. It is important to stress the status of
both systems as written languages, rigidly circumscribed in their
use. Translation implies in any event a certain artificiality, doubly
so if the works translated are seen as holy. Spanish Muslims and
Jews probably spoke, in their daily exchanges with their Christian
neighbors, exactly like everyone else; but their total linguistic experience
included a written culture in which they used language
differently from the majority, and in which their identity as nonChristians
was affirmed (Lopez- Morillas, "Hispano-Semitic" 117).
Lopez-Baralt's claim, then, that the language and culture of the
Moriscos underwent "[un] lento proceso de des-semitizacion" is,
certainly in the linguistic sense, unfounded. The examples adduced
testify to the opposite. While standard Spanish displays a considerable
Semitic overlay in its vocabulary, Islamic Spanish has gone
much further in Arabizing its syntax and semantics as well. The
effort that Muslims devoted to this process was a conscious one,
though enforced by necessity: they created, over time, a novel variety
of Spanish uniquely adapted to their needs. So far, I have
Language and Identity 203
shown that the principal way they did so was to adapt Arabic
elements. But the point I wish to argue goes somewhat further
than that: as a counterpoise to the statements I have quoted earlier
about the intellectual and cultural decadence of the Moriscos, I
offer the view that their ability to create a new form of language
was a sign of continuing intellectual vigor. Mikel de Epalza poses
an apposite question: "How to designate-with the aid of what
nouns, what adjectives, what verbs-in a language so marked by
Christianity, Islamic realities whose original and only adequate
expression was Arabic?" ("Lexique" 52, translation mine.) The
Spanish language of religion was, in effect, wholly monopolized by
Christianity. To rethink that language, to reconstruct it so as to
make it serve the purposes of Islam, required an immense effort
of the imagination. However, I would be making but a poor case
for the Moriscos' linguistic creativity were I to argue it wholly on
the basis of texts that they translated from Arabic. It is easy to
concoct new forms if one has ready at hand a mold on which to
shape them. I now turn, therefore, to an original Aljamiado worknot
a translation-in which the Moriscos' refashioning of Spanish
reaches its utmost expression.
The author, known to us only as "el Mancebo de Arevalo," was
a peripatetic young Morisco scholar who began to write in about
1533 (Harvey, "Literary Culture" 304-57, "Castilian 'mancebo'"
130-31, "Mancebo de Arevalo" 26-41). Two of his three extant works
are Breve compendio de nuestra santa ley y suna (Harvey, "Manuscrito
aljamiado" 49-74, Karp-Gendre) and Sumariode la relaci6n
y ejercicio espiritual (Fonseca Antuna, Sumario); the third, which
will concern us here, is titled simply Tafsira (from the Arabic tafeir
'commentary' or 'exegesis,' here used in the wider sense of 'religious
treatise'). All three works combine instruction and meditation on
Islam with personal and spiritual autobiography. The Mancebo
describes his many travels around Spain, his conversations with
fellow-Muslims (including some who were present at the fall of
Granada), and his plans to travel to Mecca. (Tantalizingly, Pascual
de Gayangos in the nineteenth century claimed to have seen the
account of his pilgrimage, but the manuscript appears to have been
lost; Narvaez, "Tafsira" 25.) The Tafsira also contains many chapters
on the duties and practices of Islam. The author was, for a
Morisco, well educated, and claims some knowledge of Hebrew and
Latin as well as Arabic and Spanish, though close analysis reveals
204 Consuelo L6pez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
that his Hebraisms are spurious and his Latinisms garbled. Recent
studies have shown that he borrowed both from Fernando de Rojas
(the Prologue to La Celestina; Narvaez, "Mancebo ... lector" 26778)
and, more remarkably, from Thomas aKempis (Fonseca Antuna,
Sumario, qtd. in Narvaez, "Tafsira" 83). But what I wish to
comment upon here is the Mancebo's language, justly termed by
Narvaez "el castellano mas extrafio del Siglo de Oro" ("Tafsira"
179).
The Tafsira contains many adapted Arabisms; some, like muc;
liminadamente (357) andfisaln1ado (374) are among those I have
quoted earlier in the paper. Many of the Mancebo's coinages occur
nowhere else in Aljamiado literature.' While Arabisms in other
Aljamiado texts are heavily weighted toward nouns, with a scattering
of verbs, the Mancebo seems particularly adept at forging
new adjectives and adverbs." Arabic al-ia/mara (source of Spanish
aljama) means 'group' or 'community': in specifying that the whole
community should give alms to the poor, the Mancebo states, "el
azzaka a de ser ajuntado aljamaCalmente" (357) (all these examples
are taken from Narvaez "Tafsira"). The term for the throne of God
is al-cars, which turned into an adjective can be employed tautologically
in "los alcarsicos tronos" (390) (alCarsicaland alcarsicac;i6n
ring changes on the same root). To act like the unbelievers or alkiifirin
(plural of kiifir) is to act olkiifirinamente (195). And God's
attribute of mercy or compassion, ar-rahana, will ensure that the
soul is weighed fairly when it appears before the judgment seat,
"la tribuna alrrahamosa" (372). Arabic provides, clearly, an inexhaustibly
rich source of new vocabulary for this writer in Spanish
on Islamic themes.
But what astonishes most about the Mancebo's language is his
use not of Arabic, but of the Latinate and Romance resources
available to a Spanish speaker to create a wholly new universe of
expression. He has deliberately set out to fashion a personal lexicon,
one that can overcome the limits imposed by conventional Castilian.
Here are some of his neologisms of Romance origin, together with
their presumed meanings: poemanca (188), 'eloquence'; condueima
(199), 'sorrow' (related to dolor, duelo?); nelinco (199), 'sin' (remi-
4 A number can be found, however, in the poem "Discurso de la luz" by his
contemporary Mohamed Rabadan; see Vespertino Rodriguez "Discurso."
5 On his word-formation practice in general, see Fonseca Antuna "Algunos
ejemplos."
Language and Identity 205
niscent of delinquir); incurueiio (199), usually glossed as 'sinner,'
though I suspect a connection with curar and hence a meaning of
'uncaring' or 'indifferent'; ariuieca (199), 'serious affair' (cognate
with Castilian gravedad); deidoso (199) 'divine' (linked to deidad,
perhaps with pressure from piadoso, the Moriscos' normal rendering
of rahim 'merciful' as an attribute of God). The Mancebo exploits
prefixes and suffixes ingeniously, creating useful new terms
like procararse (324) 'to turn to face something,' preclaramca (300)
'illumination,' esenciaiiuo (299) 'essential,' un trasordinario de fruta
(334) 'especially delicious fruit.' These are, so to speak, the lucky
ones, words for which one can hazard an interpretation with some
confidence. Many others, even in context, remain impenetrable in
meaning. I am unable to identify an etymon or even a satisfactory
gloss for the adjective duebo and its abstract noun, duebencia, and
cite here some of the phrases in which they occur: "[Allah] nos
berxilina [=persigna?] con el pro de sus elementos y nos awsiya
[=auxilia] a todos en particular duebencia" (295); "cuando no aya
tiempo ... no abra antes ni despues, todo sera mansion dueba"
(300); "su movimiento no es abtivo [=activo] sino duebo y frio que
ni da ni quita" (303); "y mas claro as obrado en la obra duebencial
. . . Acosiganse tus obras con tus pensamientos y seras en duebencia
granda" (441). The term may carry a negative implication (since,
for example, we seem to need God's help when we are in "particular
duebeneia"), yet I remain totally in the dark as to its true import,"
(Narvaez (242) suggests an Arabic etymon, da'aba 'to persevere,'
but I find the linkage dubious semantically and impossible phonologically,
since the -'ue- diphthong marks the word so clearly as
Romance.)
Many passages of the Tafsira, although they deal with Islamic
subjects, read much like normal Spanish, for example:
No es halal [licito] 10 que se gana en los juegos engafiosos. Pasa el juego
de la ballesta y su postura, mas no vayan a ver tal juego ni vayan aver
correr caballos ni toros ni cosas semejantes de vanagloria. Pasa la postura
de correr a pied 0 a caballo como no sea en Ramadan 0 con lluvias.
6 Paul Lloyd (personal communication) remarks: "The context of a couple of
the quotes suggests a meaning somewhat like 'immobile,' 'slow, sluggish,' esp, in
the quote opposing it to ahtivo, which vaguely suggests to me something like the
scholastic definition of sin as being the equivalent of the 'sleep of the soul.' Possibly
meaning something like 'lack of spiritual activity'?"
206 Consuelo L6pez-Morillas HR 63 (1995)
Pasa la postura que se haze con piedra, lanca, dardo y cosas semejantes.
(502)
But many others are impenetrable:
Senor, esfuerca tu poemanea, pues agora no te conturba el inas ni tu annas
porque ya son muertos.... Date prisa acuytada, alca tu pro'aban a la
causa primera; ... abadate" como miserable, salga ese dicho de plenitud
y no dexe eirculo tronal buscando la causa de las causas. (288)
Or, "0 enefable poderio, que toda tu "aleqacion [creaciort] no henchira
un seno de tu concabanca" (300). A third example,
Senor. . . nos diste la luc apres de la escuredad con franquia sumanada,
nos diste abtos [=actos] virgilinos y abtos sumanados y abtos teletivos y
secamos la tierra contra fac que desmentimos al su natural. (505)
What did the Mancebo's most immediate audience make of such
passages? A speaker or writer must assume understanding in his
hearers, for language that is not communication is mere noise.
Was there, in this sixteenth-century community, a basis for such
an understanding, one to which we simply no longer have access?
Alternatively-unlikely, we must admit, but in the realm of the
possible-could the Mancebo feel indifferent to whether his readers
understood him or not, and be engaged in wordsmithing in pursuit
of a purely private vision?
The Mancebo de Arevalo, though unknown to most students of
sixteenth-century Spanish, was the major figure of Morisco letters:
his surviving manuscripts contain a total of nearly nine hundred
folios, far and away the most extensive oeuvre attributable to any
single Morisco writer. The superb quality of some of the texts'
lettering and binding suggests the high regard in which they were
held in his time. Though the Mancebo's community may have been
marginal, he himself does not seem to have held a marginal position
within it, except perhaps by virtue of the youth that earned him
his nickname. His language, therefore, bizarre as it often sounds,
must have had a social or communal, and not merely individual,
dimension. We hear in his strange Castilian the voice of a people
7 [Abadar] probably derives from the Arabic root c-b-d (as Professor Lloyd also
points out); more likely than Form I "abada 'to worship (God),' which Narvaez offers
in her glossary to the text, is either Form II "abbada or IV a'bada, both meaning
'to enslave, to render submissive' (J. G. Hava, Al-Farii'id Arabic-English Dictionary).
Language and Identity 207
conscious of its own difference, struggling to define itself, seeking
to claim in the Spain of the Renaissance a space where one could
live both as a Spaniard and as a Muslim. Though the experiment
failed and the purport of the Mancebo's language is now largely
lost to us, there is no denying the vigorous originality of his enterprise.
The situation of the Mudejares and Moriscos was, if I may be
forgiven the oxymoron, doubly singular: they made up the only
Islamic population in Western Europe, and the only Romancespeaking
one in the Muslim world. The clash of these two singularities
meant, sadly, that they were misfits everywhere. But it also
provided them with a unique perspective on the intricate connections
between religion and speech. Some sense of those connections,
conscious or not, released in their writers a creative power to remake
their mother tongue. Imperfectly as they may have practiced
Islam, ignorant as many of them may have been of their own history
and traditions, these last Spanish Muslims nonetheless proved
themselves able both to adapt and to create, as they affirmed their
cultural and religious identity through language.
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