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 ONE
THE MOTIVES OF THE COMPARATIVE PHILOLOGY

The basic question in the topic dealt with in the present work, namely when and where Semitic comparative philology originated as well as what the circumstances were of its evolution, is the subject of a recent publication of D. Téné (1982–83). That extensive article contains a thorough survey, so there is no need to dwell on it at length. However, for the sake of setting a complete picture, I shall summarize Téné's study, with a certain emphasis on some data and criticism of others and with a concise classification of the several kinds of motivations for comparative philology. The circumstances that served as soil for the growth and development of comparison between Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic comprise motives of several types and forms:


1.1 Linguistic motives

1.1.1 The speech motive

The linguistic conditions with which tenth to eleventh century Jews lived, termed by Téné (ibid. §2) “a multi-language diglossia” were an invitation to “associative interlingual links” (ibid. §§3–4).

Téné (ibid.) interrelated medieval comparative philology with the acquaintance to the languages, which were subject to that comparative theory. That is, the fact that the Jews in the epoch under discussion spoke Arabic for their daily life and studied Hebrew and Aramaic for cultural purposes, enabled them to engage in a comparative philology. Basically this thesis holds true. However, one aspect has to be reexamined. Had comparative philology been only dependent on knowing another cognate (Semitic) language, one would expect it to have emerged much earlier. For similar linguistic conditions must be assumed to have prevailed at a considerably earlier period, extending from the last decades of the Second Temple until the Arab conquests in the seventh century. Aramaic was then a living

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