A Linguistic History of Arabic

A Linguistic History of Arabic

A Linguistic History of Arabic

A Linguistic History of Arabic

Synopsis

A Linguistic History of Arabic challenges the traditional accounts of the progression of classical Arabic to contemporary dialects. It presents a rich and complex picture of early Arabic language history and establishes the basis for a comprehensive, linguistically-based understanding of the history of Arabic. The arguments are set out in a manner accessible to students and scholars of Arabic and Islamic culture, as well as to those studying Arabic and historical linguists.

Excerpt

Arabic has always been a puzzle to those who delve into its intricacies. A good number of medieval Arabic grammar studies include the word ‘secret’ or ‘secrets’ in their title, that of the twelfth-century grammarian Al-Anbari, for instance, ʔAsraar al-¿Arabiyya, ‘The Secrets of Arabic’, or Ibn Jinni’s (d. 1002), Sirr Ṣinaaʔ at al-ʔiʕraab, ‘The Secret of the Craft of Grammar (or Inflection)’. Others unlock its secrets, such as Sakkaki’s MiftaaṬ al-ʕUluwm, ‘The Key to the Sciences’, and some, like the early tenth-century grammarian Ibn Al-Sarraj’s Al-ṣuwl fiy l-Naћw, ‘The Foundations of Grammar’ describe the core of the language. Secrets abound no less so today than 1,000 years ago when Ibn Al-Sarraj was active. Indeed, as the modern linguistic sciences expand, so too do the questions contemporary scholars ask of the language.

It is a source of endless fascination, however, that many issues which press on us today were equally addressed by the founders and early practitioners of Arabic grammar as well. Through their genius arose a core of linguistic thinking which was, in its theoretical underpinnings, significant in its own right, but which also produced a descriptive corpus of great detail. This corpus entices with its own secrets, one of which I seek to look into in this book. One key in this instance comes from the nineteenth century in the form of the comparative method, the secret, the form of Arabic spoken during and before the Arabic-Islamic diaspora of the early Islamic era. To unravel it, it is not only the early sources of Arabic, or Old Arabic as I term the collective early sources, which are relevant, but also the vast fabric of contemporary spoken Arabic, the Arabic dialects which have a central role to play. Bringing the two sources together in a cooperative, rather than dichotomous, antagonistic fashion, as has been a tradition in Western Arabic studies, yields new insights into the history of Arabic.

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