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Persian in Arabic: Identity Politics and Macaronic Abbasid Poetry

Author(s): Harb, Lara

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Abstract: Notable examples of macaronics, the insertion of foreign vocabulary into poetry, are attributed to the well-known eighth-century poet, Abū Nuwās, who experimented with mixing Persian in his Arabic poetry but whose motivation remains unclear. This article looks at a selection of his and other macaronic verses ranging from the seventh to tenth centuries and argues that Persian was inserted deliberately as a marker of a Persian identity, standing for the “foreign Other.” Far from being a sign of a pro-Persian shuʿūbī sentiment, the employment of Persian only reinforces the established hierarchy of the two identities in that period. By the tenth century, however, this hierarchy is cleverly flipped on its head in a macaronic poem by the popular Iraqi poet, Ibn al-Ḥajjāj. While many of the examples are comic and even obscene in character, this article shows that the employment of Persian in Arabic poetry was a deliberate practice with serious and meaningful implications.
Publication Date: 2019
Citation: Harb, Lara. "Persian in Arabic Poetry: Identity Politics and Abbasid Macaronics." Journal of the American Oriental Society 139, no. 1 (2019): 1-21. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.139.1.0001.
DOI: 10.7817/jameroriesoci.139.1.0001
ISSN: 0003-0279
Pages: 1 - 21
Language: English
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Journal of the American Oriental Society
Version: Final published version. This is an open access article.

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