ṭibaʿ ‘to sink, get shipwrecked’
The basic meaning of this verb among sea-farers of the coastal regions of eastern Arabia and Oman is ‘to sink’, or ‘to get shipwrecked’. A derived sense (Form II ṭabbaʿ) refers to the practice of deliberately capsizing pearl-fishing boats in order to expand the wooden planking of the hull after they had been laid up on the beach during the winter months. The verbal adjective is ṭabʿān pl. ṭabāʿa, and the verbal noun ṭabʿa, as in the phrase sanat iṭ-ṭabʿa ‘the year of the sinking’, a reference to the great storm at sea of the pearling season of 1925 when hundreds of men were lost, and still used as a chronological reference point by old divers. Form I of the verb has an extended metaphorical meaning ‘to go bust, bankrupt’ (cf English ‘to be sunk’ in a similar semantic extension). The literal and metaphorical meanings are amusingly illustrated in the following interchange between two Shiʿite Baḥārna from Manama:
S1: ṭibaʿ has-sana
S2: čiḏi hu fi 1-lanšāt yištǝğil?
S1: lā! mub ṭibaʿ fi 1- lanšāt, is-sana ibtāg min dikkān-ǝh ṯalaṯa milyōn!
S1: ‘He really hit the rocks this year…’
S2: ‘Oh, so he works on the boats, does he?’
S1: ‘No! I don't mean ‘hit the rocks’ literally – this year he had three million (rupees) stolen from his shop!’
This ‘sink’ meaning of the root ṭ-b-ʿ, which is the normal one in the uneducated speech of eastern Arabia, seems to be absent from CLA, in which the basic and extended meanings all have to do with two main notions: ṭabaʿa = ‘to press’, ‘stamp’, or ‘imprint’; and ṭabiʿa ‘to be rusty’ or ‘to be dirty’. According to Fraenkel,15 the first of these Classical meanings is actually a denominative verb derived from an Aramaic borrowing meaning ‘stamp, mould or die’, while the second is probably derived from Ethiopic ṭamǝʿa, which has a similar meaning to the Classical ṭabiʿa, via a b < m sound change. Fraenkel claims that the only originally Arabic elements in the meaning of the root as noted in the classical lexica are the ‘minor’ ones16 of ṭabaʿa ‘to fill (a bucket, etc.)’ and ṭabaʿ ‘river, rivulet’. Both of these in his view related ultimately to the common Semitic root ṭ-b-ʿ ‘einsinken’. The same meaning of ‘to sink’ — into water (especially of a ship), slumber, or, metaphorically, sin, and which in Fraenkel’s view pre-dates the later semantic extensions of ‘pressing’ coins, etc. — is also found for this root in Akkadian (ṭību), Aramaic, Syriac and Mandaic. What is interesting is that the normal eastern Arabian dialectal meaning seems to reflect the original common Semitic meaning rather than [p. 275] any of the subsequent semantic accretions. What Fraenkel describes as the only ‘echt arabisch’ element of the meaning of the classical root, that relating to buckets and rivers, also turns up in the eastern Arabian dialects, but only as a secondary meaning of Form I ṭ-b-ʿ in the nouns ṭabʿ and ṭabāʿ ‘wetness’, and the dative form ʾṭbaʿ ‘wetter’, as in the following agricultural example:
Il-arḍ ʾṭbaʿ li l-bōbaro
‘The soil has to be more moist for pumpkins’
As far as I can tell from the available literature, the ‘sink’ meaning of ṭ-b-ʿ, the main one on the eastern littoral, is absent from the dialects of central Arabia. Socin notes17 the verb in one hemistich of his collection of central Arabian vernacular poetry yōm ṭalaʿt-ah ṭubaʿt alli taḥt-ak — but fails to translate it, apparently finding the sentiment expressed too indelicate for his turn of the century readers. It means ‘when you saw it, you shat (or possibly wet) yourself (in fear)’. Socin’s ambiguous gloss is ‘to soil’ (verunreinigen), which suggests either a link with Fraenkel’s ṭabiʿa < ṭamǝʿa ‘to be dirty’ or what he considers the only ‘echt arabisch’ strand of this root’s meaning, viz. ‘fill with water’. This, I would argue, is a later semantic extension of the original common Semitic meaning ‘to sink’ which has been retained, alongside this more specific Arabic meaning, in eastern Arabia.
The speculation that ancient Aramaic/Syriac-speaking communities (or at least communities which were in contact with these languages) may have been based around the peripheries of Arabia, but not in its centre, might explain, if eastern Arabian ṭ-b-ʿ ‘sink’ is indeed of Semitic but not specifically Arabic origin, why this meaning is today confined to the coastal areas (and see also <a href="/lexeme/get/2132">skār</a> and its derivatives below, which in Arabia have a similar geographically peripheral distribution). On this hypothesis, the ancient eastern Arabian dialects retained this meaning because it was the main meaning of this root in the local Aramaic/Syriac-speaking communities with which these Arabic-speakers came into contact; or perhaps the Arabs simply adopted it when the Aramaic-speaking communities became Arabic-speaking, because the maritime economy of coastal populations made it natural that this meaning would continue to be useful. However, it remains to be explained, if this hypothesis is correct, why in modern Bahrain, both the anciently established Baḥarna Shiʿite communities, and the ʿArab Sunni communities, whose migration to Bahrain from central Arabia is relatively recent (from c. mid-18th century) use the root in the ‘sink’ sense, given that it seems to be absent from the dialects of modern central Arabia. On this hypothesis it must be the case that the Bahraini ʿArab have acquired this meaning in the two centuries they have been in Bahrain (along with many other features which now differentiate their dialect from that of their Najdi homeland), since, as we have seen, this meaning seems to be absent in the areas from which they originally hail.
The case of ṭ-b-ʿ ‘to sink’ neatly illustrates the problem: does this root-meaning relation represent the vestige of an ancient Semitic meaning which never came through into mediaeval Arabic, and hence a substratal element from a local Semitic language which did have that meaning; or is it an ancient strand of the Arabic meaning of this root which the lexicographers failed to record?
15 Fraenkel S. Die aramaischen Fremckorter im Arabischen, Leiden, Brill, 1886, p. 193.
16 Lane, op.cit., pp. 1823–4.
17 Socin A. Diwān aus Centralarabien, Leipzig, Teubner, 1900. Teil I, p. 224.