Comparative Semitic Philology in the Middle Ages: From Sa'Adiah Gaon to Ibn Barun (10th-12th C.)

By Aharon Maman; David Lyons | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
THE FUNDAMENTS OF COMPARISON AND THE
RESTRICTIONS IMPOSED

2.1 The permissible extent of comparative philology

Certain Hebrew grammarians occasionally apologize in their treatises for comparing Hebrew with Arabic; behind these apologies can be discerned the traces of a dispute that raged between differing factions, a fundamental dispute concerning the very issue of comparing Hebrew with Arabic. Some Hebrew grammarians are silent on this issue. This silence cannot, however, be taken as proof that there was no opposition to language comparison in their times. A good example can be found in the treatise of Ibn Barūn. The materials surviving from this treatise, which constitute a considerable quantity textually, contain no statement of apology, not even a veiled statement of such, for language comparison. This might well lead to the assumption that in his generation opposition to language comparison had subsided and that comparison of Hebrew with other languages had become a widespread and conventional practice. But information from external sources rules out this assumption. R. Moshe b. Ezra wrote in one of his poems in praise of al-Muwāzana that language comparison with Arabic is “like sweet honey for the pureminded and like wormwood for the deceitful (the hypocrites)”1 (see R. Moshe ibn Ezra, Diwan, ed. Brody, p. 17, line 31; Wechter (1941), p. 5; p. 133, n. 53). Scholars have concluded from this allusion that in Ibn Barūn's time the opposition to language comparison with Arabic continued. It is possible that Ibn Barūn did apologize somewhere in his work, in which case it can be assumed that this apology appeared in the part of the treatise that was lost (it should be noted that most of the introduction has not survived). Another possibility is that the author simply ignored the objections of his contemporaries, bypassing them entirely. In the survey below, the Hebrew

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