Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony





GEO – Strasbourg University (France)

Un grand merci a Mr Jonas Sibony 

Abstract. As the other Moroccan Arabic speakers, Jews from Morocco use many kinds of curses and profanities, some are very common but others are more specific. Alongside the ones they share with their

Muslim neighbors, they’re used to borrowing words and concepts from the Jewish texts, mostly from the Bible and the Talmud. Those Hebrew and Aramaic words, are integrated in Arabic syntax to formulate innovative and peripheral sentences. Today most of this community has left Morocco and lives in the state of Israel. Those curses and profanities are still used in this very new context, sometimes just the way they were and sometimes in the middle of Hebrew sentences and therefore now integrated into Hebrew syntax.

Judeo-Arabic dialects are the Jewish counterparts of the Arabic“dialects”. In other words where there is a Jewish community in an Arabic speaking area, there is a Judeo-Arabic dialect. If the specificities of those dialects are mainly noticeable (actually emphasized) in the written language, the spoken language retains nevertheless particular features such as

discreet Hebrew or Aramaic loanwords originating from written religious sources1. Other specificities are to be found in accents (Leslau 1945: 63), use of old-fashioned terms, archaic syntactic structure or preservation of other traits belonging to earlier stages of the language than in other Moroccan dialects (Vicente 2010: 148). Actually, most of those Jewish dialects present distinctive features of the Pre-Hilali dialects (Lévy 2009 : 176). All those specificities are due to the particular history of the Jewish community – mainly migrations and social isolation –, in other words, specific linguistic features for specific context Moroccan Jews used many kinds of curses, insults, teasing or various phrases of harsh criticism, in Moroccan Arabic (darija), or more specifically in their dialects within the Arabic dialects, the Jewish sociolects. A large number of those curses are actually the same one can hear from the Muslim speakers. But some contain specificities. These include the use of Hebrew words (or so-called Hebrew words) (See Sibony 2019b) or references made to the Bible or the Talmud, to various Jewish concepts, to Jewish culture or Jewish life in Morocco, life in the Mellah, the organization of the cult and the condition of the Jews.

This article is not intended to be exhaustive with regard to the unlimited number of phrases existing nor to the presentation of the various formats of curses. A number of very serious studies have already dealt with the subject of North-African Arabic curses, such as Westermarck (1926, 1930), Boudot-Lamotte (1974), Steward (2014), and even specific studies on the Jewish ones: Malka & Brunot (1939), Stillman (2008) and Sibony (2019b).

The object of this article will be, as a first step, to emphasize the specificities of the Moroccan Jewish curses by adding a number of linguistic comments; I'll start giving a few examples of expressions heard from Jewish speakers but without any special feature, then I will quote ones with specific references. In a second phase, I will try to examine what is left of this cultural aspect in Modern Hebrew as spoken by Israelis from Moroccan origin.

Məllāḥ is the generic name for Jewish neighborhoods in Morocco.


Curses and profanity in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic Jonas Sibony.

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