All Dialects: رطانة ruṭānah; رطن-يرطن raṭan-yurṭun

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English - USAian
I hope this finds you well. In Egypt and the Sudan, the term الرطانة is frequently used as sort of a generic proper noun to denote any indigenous language: People may refer to individual Nubian languages, Beja, Fòòr, etc., as الرطانة as though this were the name of the language, and describe the act of speaking such a language with the verb يرطن. I should note that many Beja and Fòòr language activists consider the term offensive. The term is rotaan in Juba Arabic, in which it can apply to Juba Arabic itself as well as indigenous African languages, while apparently the creole Kinubi term rutan means 'language' in general and is synonymous with luga. I've found one prior thread in this forum on the term رطانة.

The term is fairly old—it appears in لسان العرب with roughly this meaning (non-Arabic language), and ابن خلدون employs it—but it doesn't seem to be widespread with quite these meanings beyond Egypt and the Sudan these days. A Palestinian friend told me that he'd never heard the term, while a Saudi friend told me that she'd heard bedouins use the verb رطن يرطن to mean something like 'speak fluently', but with reference to Arabic. Xavier Luffin wrote an article for Annales Aequatoria in 2003 about the term, in which he says that in Baghdadi Arabic the verb means something like 'ramble about an insignificant topic'. (L'évolution sémantique du terme ritana dans les parlers arabes soudano-tchadiens, DOI: 10.4314/aq.v24i1.5564) I haven't been able to find it in dialect dictionaries other than Hinds' and Badawi's A Dictionary of Egyptian Arabic and Rianne Tamis' and Janet Persson's Sudanese Arabic-English English-Sudanese Arabic Dictionary.

I'm curious about two things in dialects other than those of Egypt and the Sudan:
  1. Do other dialects use the noun الرطانة or the verb رطن-يرطن? If so, what do they mean in these dialects?
  2. Is there parallel terminology employed in, for example, Iraq to talk about Kurdish languages or in the Maghreb to talk about Berber languages?
  • momai

    Senior Member
    Arabic - Syria
    I know this term only from Classical Arabic. The story goes that the Umayyad Caliphs used to be sent back into desert as small kids to keep them away from Syriac RaTaanah in Syria. It is the opposite of fluency.

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    I don't think it means babbling, it just means 'speak a foreign language'. At least that's how I've heard it used.


    Senior Member
    Arabic (Bahrain), Persian
    You're right, that strictly it means "speaking a foreign language fluently". In other words, can be understood as "babbling" or "prattling" at length/with fluency in an incomprehensible language.
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