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 FIVE
THE AIMS OF LANGUAGE COMPARISON

5.1 Typology of the linguistic works

5.1.1 The aims of comparison in works devoted specifically to
comparative philology

The comparison aims in the Risāla have already been discussed (Becker, 1984, pp. 18–20). Therefore in the present context, I shall relate only to a collation of Ibn Quraysh's comparison aims with those of Ibn Barūn in his Kitāb al-Muwāzana. Beginning with the assumption that no work typologically comparable to Risāla preceded this work, it is possible to claim that R. Judah ibn Quraysh succeeded in two respects: (1) in summing up comparative philology theory to the extent that this had taken shape by his time and according to the degree of its inclusion in the biblical exegetical literature or as transmitted orally; (2) in forging a new path in Hebrew language science, namely to determine the general principles of Heb./Aram./ Arab. comparative philology and to test them, this in itself being a novel contribution to scholarship. Thus the comparison materials ought to be considered illustrative rather than exhaustive.

The Kitāb al-Muwāzana, however, was produced after 200 years' pursuit of comparison of these languages, its main concern being an exhaustive assembly of language comparison materials as well as a survey of the theory of comparison of Hebrew with Arabic (Ibn Barùn entered comparisons with Aramaic only in rare cases). While there are several novel contributions to be found in the work, it is essentially a compendium. The same typology is applicable in determining the nature of the excursuses in Dunash's Retorts against Menaḥem as well as those in Alfāsi's lexicon. These latter, which are each a miniature work within a major work, are of the same type as the Risāla, in that they are only illustrative: they discuss the fundamental aspects of language comparison in a general manner, without purporting to exhaust the theory and methodology of the subject.

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