The description is submitted to:


Session R6356 (The Multilingual Shift in Middle Eastern Studies), 2021
The practice of mixing Arabic into Persian poetry is a well-established poetic form known as mulamma╩┐ (lit. variegated in color). The reverse phenomenon of mixing Persian into Arabic poetry, however, does not develop into a formal artistic practice in Arabic literature as it does in its Persian counterpart. Nevertheless, it is mentioned in several medieval texts and examples of macaronic verse in the Arabic context do exist from as early as the 1st/7th century, with some even dating back to pre-Islamic times. The often comic and even obscene character of Arabic macaronic poetry, however, is quite different in purpose and tone than the Persian mulamma╩┐. I will discuss the significance and implications of mixing Persian in Arabic Abbasid poetry. While not much of this poetry has survived, the little that has shows that the practice was deliberate and meaningful; Arab-Persian political tensions and power dynamics were played out in the poetry through the employment of the foreign language, either reinforcing or subverting stereotypes. At the same time, Persian was also simply employed for clever cross-linguistic puns that only a bilingual audience could appreciate. Studying the phenomenon thus gives us a glimpse into the sometimes ugly tensions that can come with a cosmopolitan society, on the one hand, and the beautiful non-standard forms of literary expression that can arise at the same time. I will reflect on the relative difference in need for studying other languages of the Islamic world, especially from the perspective of Arabic, which is often studied in isolation, creating a misleading sense of purity, whether driven by religious or modern nationalistic concerns, that obfuscates its rich multi-lingual history.