Hebrew-Catalan Medieval Wedding Songs: Satirical Functions of the Hebrew Component and Other Linguistic Aspects

In: Journal of Jewish Languages
Author: Ilil Baum 1
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  • 1 Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel

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The Hebrew-Catalan documents of the Jews of medieval Catalonia have not been thoroughly analyzed thus far. The present article analyzes five unique wedding songs of the fourteenth–fifteenth centuries written in Catalan using Hebrew characters (edited in 1970 and 1974). In this study special attention is given to the humorous and satirical functions of the Hebrew component. This sophisticated use of the Hebrew component may imply more widespread oral traditions of parodic character related to the wedding ceremony among the Jews of Catalonia and the Iberian Peninsula. The notion of “Judeo-Catalan” is discussed in the framework of linguistic repertoire while demonstrating undocumented or rarely documented phonetic, semantic, and lexical features of medieval Catalan. The use of a different orthographic system allows for a written representation of the pronunciation of medieval Catalan, whereby the boundaries between the spoken and the written are blurred, creating a sort of a “written-spoken language.”

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  • 20

    Riera’s (1974) Hebrew transliteration of the original texts is added in the footnotes, wherein the | symbol represents the end of the line in the original text. The transcription into Latin characters from Riera’s (1974) edition is followed by an English translation. My own additions are given between square brackets. Hebrew words are marked in bold. The translation offered here is by no means poetic in character, but rather a highly literal translation that approximates the original in order to allow readers to follow the text. My translation is based mainly on Riera’s (1974) reading, though taking into account Lazar’s (1970) translation into Hebrew, as well as the short fragments from two of the songs that were translated into English by Argenter (2001). Riera’s transcription and accentuation are according to Catalan orthography. Thus gu represents [ɡ] in initial and intervocalic position before the front vowels e and i; and qu represents [k] in initial and intervocalic position before front vowels. (e.g., que [ke]; castigueres [kastigeres]); when followed by [wa], [wo], or [we] these are transcribed as gua, güe, güi, guo, qua, qüe, qüi, quo. The digraph -ss- represents [s] in intervocalic position. The position of stress in a Catalan word is indicated by an acute accent when stress is not penultimate in a word ending with a vowel, or vowel + -s, or with -en, or -in (e.g., tençó ‘tension’; aprés ‘after’); A grave accent is used with stressed open vowels ([ɛ], [ɔ]). Stressed -a is always indicated with a grave accent (e.g., farà ‘[he] will do’). Stress is also indicated when it is not final in a word ending in any other consonant (e.g., Sènyer ‘master, lord’). Hebrew elements were also transcribed and accentuated by Riera according to Catalan. Since this might cause confusion among readers who know Hebrew, the Hebrew components are transcribed according to the transcription system of Encyclopedia Hebrew Language and Linguistics. Apart from that I have corrected Riera’s edition only when difficulties in reading or mistakes may arise. These are marked in the footnotes. For the English translation of biblical verses I have mainly cited the New International Version of the Bible.

  • 46

    Schirmann (1961) and Bar-Tikva (2009) do not make special mention of Catalonia when referring to Hebrew poetry of Sefarad and Provence. On the meticulous work of Hebrew poets in Catalonia see Riera 1976:10–11.

  • 55

    First published as Bar-Asher 2002:77–88. Though Bar-Asher discusses the common characteristics of modern Jewish languages, I find the criteria also relevant for the discussion on Jewish languages in medieval times, as also mentioned by Bar-Asher himself (2010:225).

  • 68

    Up until the Battle of Muret (1213), the Catalan counts had direct control over Provence. Upon the expulsion of Jews from France in 1306, many of the Jews of Montpellier first found their way to Perpignan and nearby cities, at least as a passing point (Roth 2003:539).

  • 82

    See the edition of Almqvist 1951:110: Car anc no creziei cast[ï]ier; Qu’el’a·l costum de l’aversier Qui·l sieu destrui e desbrueilla.

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