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

INTRODUCTION
The present study and previous studies1

Hebrew philologists of the tenth and eleventh centuries C.E. set out explicit and systematic comparisons of Hebrew with Arabic and Aramaic in the areas of vocabulary and grammar. Certain scholars even wrote works devoted entirely to comparison between these languages. At the commencement of this period, R. Judah ibn Quraysh compiled the Risāla; Dunash ibn Tamīm, almost contemporary with Ibn Quraysh (according to R. Abraham ibn Ezra in the preface to Sefer Moznayim) “wrote a work compounded of the Languages of Eber and Arabia,” a work that has survived merely in some quotations; at the termination of our period, R. Isaac Ibn Barūn compiled the Kitāb al-Muwāzana bayn al-Lugha al-ʾIbrāniyya wal-ʾArabiyya. The other Hebrew grammarians incorporated a considerable number of comparisons between these languages in their grammatical treatises and/or lexicons; this was the practice of R. Saadiah Gaon, David b. Abraham Alfāsi, Menaḥem b. Saruq, R. Hai b. Sherira (Gaon), R. Jonah ibn Janāḥ, R. Moses HaKohen b. Gikatilla and R. Judah ibn Balʿam. Comparisons are also included in the critiques and polemical works of Dunash b. Labrat, Ibn Saruq's Disciples and Yehudi b. Sheshet as well as in Bible commentaries such as those of R. Saʿadiah, Salmon b. Yeruḥim and other Karaites, Ibn Balʿam etc.

European scholars of the late nineteenth century showed a keen interest in the language comparisons between the three Semitic languages per se, several of them considered these to be the beginnings of comparative Semitic linguistics. They published scholarly reviews comprising a considerable quantity of the comparison data culled from the source texts known to them and on the basis of the methodology they adopted: S. Pinsker, Liqqutei Qadmoniot (1860) set down a list of lexical comparisons, selected from the material in David b.

1 For a concise review of scholarly achievements in the study of language com-
parison during the tenth-twelfth centuries, see Poznanski 1926, pp. 237–45; D. Téné
1983, p. 244 (n. 20), outlines in a brief bibliographical survey, the recent develop-
ments on this issue in the scholarly world, as of 1982–83.

-1-

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