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Rhythm and Beat: Re-evaluating Arabic Prosody in the Light of Mahri Oral Poetry

Rhythm and Beat: Re-evaluating Arabic Prosody in the Light of Mahri Oral Poetry

Abstract

This article attempts to resolve ambiguities that surround the prosody of bedouin vernacular poetry by analysing poetic performance amongst the Mahra of Southeast Yemen. As speakers of one of the few, remaining indigenous languages of the Arabian Peninsula, the Mahra have preserved an oral poetic practice that is free from the influence of literate Arabic poetics, including its prescriptive metrical rules. At the same time, Mahri poetry bears close thematic similarities to Arabic nabaṭī poetry, indicating an overlapping history with shared pre-historic roots. Based on fieldwork conducted in al-Mahra between 2003 and 2004, this article revisits the question whether bedouin vernacular poetry follows a qualitative or a quantitative metric and explores what this binary conception of prosody reveals about the performance of early historic Arabic poetry.
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