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Arabic Language: Background and History
Terri DeYoung, Spring 1999 General Introduction The rise of Arabic to the status of a major world language is inextricably intertwined with the rise of Islam as a major world religion. Before the appearance of Islam, Arabic was a minor member of the southern branch of the Semitic language family, used by a small number of largely nomadic tribes in the Arabian peninsula, with an extremely poorly documented textual history. Within a hundred years after the death (in 632 C.E.1) of Muhammad , the prophet entrusted by God to deliver the Islamic message, Arabic had become the official language of a world empire whose boundaries stretched from the Oxus River in Central Asia to the Atlantic Ocean, and had even moved northward into the Iberian Peninsula of Europe. The unprecedented nature of this transformation--at least among the languages found in the Mediterranean Basin area--can be appreciated by comparisons with its predecessors as major religious/political vernaculars in the region: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Hebrew, the language which preserved the major scriptural texts of the Jewish religious tradition, had never secured major political status as a language of empire, and, indeed, by the time Christianity was established as a growing religious force in the second century C.E. had virtually ceased to be spoken or actively used in its home territory, having been replaced by its sister Semitic language, Aramaic, which was the international language of the Persian empire. Greek, the language used to preserve the most important canonical scriptural tracts of Christianity, the New Testament writings, had been already long been established as the pre-eminent language of culture and education in Mediterranean pagan society when it was co-opted by Christian scribes. By this period (the second century C.E.), Greek had ceased to be the language of the governmental institutions. Greek, however, had resurfaced politically by the time of the rise of Christianity as a state religion under the emperor Constantine (d. 337 C.E.,)--who laid the groundwork for the split of the Roman empire into western and eastern (Byzantine) halves. By the time of Muhammad's birth (approximately 570 C.E.) Greek had fully reestablished its position as the governmetnal as well as religious vernacular of the Byzantines. Latin had for a time usurped the predominance of Greek as a governmental and administrative language when the Romans unified the region under the aegis of their empire, and it would remain a unifying cultural language for Western Europe long after the Roman empire ceased to exist as a political entity in that region. The main entry of Latin, on the other hand, into the religious sphere of monotheism was relatively minor, as the medium for the influential translation of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the Vulgate, that was the only official version of scripture for the western Christian church until the rise of Protestantism in the sixteenth century. Hebrew, then, was a religious language par excellence. Greek and Latin, on the other hand, while making invaluable contributions to the corpus of religious texts used in both Judaism (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, was the scriptual text of choice among the Hellenized Jews of the Roman empire) and Christianity, were each languages that had extensive imperial histories which preceded (and followed) the rise of Judeo-Christian monotheism to prominence in the Mediterranean and had strong cultural links to the pagan world and sensibility of Hellenism. It is only against this backdrop that the truly radical break with the past represented by the rise of Arabic as the scriptural medium for Islam coupled with its adoption by the Umayyad caliphs as the sole language for governmental business in 697 C.E. can be appreciated.

2 Arabic History: Arabic belongs to the Semitic language family. The members of this family have a recorded history going back thousands of years--one of the most extensive continuous archives of documents belonging to any human language group. The Semitic languages eventually took root and flourished in the Mediterranean Basin area, especially in the Tigris-Euphrates river basin and in the coastal areas of the Levant, but where the home area of "proto-Semitic" was located is still the object of dispute among scholars. Once, the Arabian Peninsula was thought to have been the "cradle" of proto-Semitic, but nowadays many scholars advocate the view that it originated somewhere in East Africa, probably in the area of Somalia/Ethiopia. Interestingly, both these areas are now dominated linguistically by the two youngest members of the Semitic language family: Arabic and Amharic, both of which emerged in the mid-fourth century C.E. The swift emergence and spread of Arabic and Amharic illustrates what seems to be a particularly notable characteristic of the Semitic language family: as new members of the group emerge, they tend to assimilate their parent languages quite completely. This would account for the fact that so many members of the group have disappeared completely over the centuries or have become fossilized languages often limited to mainly religious contexts, no longer part of the speech of daily life. This assimilative power was certainly a factor in the spread of Arabic, which completely displaced its predecessors after only a few hundred years in the area where Arabic speakers had become politically dominant . Thus all the South Arabian languages and Aramaic, in all its varied dialectical forms, became to all intents and purposes "dead" languages very soon after the emergence of Islam in the seventh century C.E. 2 Arabic even did the same thing to the Hamitic3 language of Coptic, which was the direct descendent of Pharaonic Egyptian and still an important literary and cultural language at the time of the Islamic conquest. Today it survives only as the religious language of the Coptic Christian community of Egypt, who otherwise use Arabic in all spheres of their everyday lives. In contrast, when Arabic has contested ground with Indo-European languages or members of other distant linguistic families, like Turkish (which is a member of the Altaic family of languages that originated in central Mongolia), its record has not been nearly so successful. For example, when Arabic was introduced into the Iranian Plateau after the fall of the Sassanian Empire to the Arab armies in the 630s C.E., it seemed to overwhelmingly dominate the Indo-European Persianate languages of the region for a while. But by the late 900s, a revitalized form of the Old Persian (Pahlavi) language had decisively re-emerged as not only a spoken language, but also a vehicle for government transactions and literary culture as well. This "new" Persian has remained dominant in this geographical region throughout succeeding centuries and the modern Persian spoken today in Iran is virtually identical with it. Arabic was not the first Semitic language to exhibit this tendency to completely overwhelm its predecessors. Aramaic, the language of various peoples living in Syria and upper Mesopotamia, had pioneered this pattern long before, having displaced (though not suddenly and not necessarily at the same time) both the Akkadian language of the people who had ruled the Tigris-Euphrates basin after the Sumerians (who spoke a non-Semitic language), and Hebrew and other Canaanite tongues that had been used along the coastal strip of the Levant.4 By the time Jesus was born, for example, the Jews used either the Jewish dialectical version of Aramaic or Greek for most of their writings and in daily life. Similarly, the Aramaic dialect of the city of Edessa, known as Syriac, became the language used by the Christian communities east of Constantinople.

3 Even as the Aramaic dialects grew to dominate the Levantine areas and became the lingua franca of the Persian empire, in the south--less subject to the unifying pressures of complex imperial systems of government and education--a much more fluid and less textualized language situation prevailed. Old civilizations had arisen on the southern fringe of the Arabian peninsula, built on the profits of trade and commerce in the area, particularly the long-distance incense trade. The succession of sedentary dynasties that controlled this land of "Sheba" (or, more properly, Saba) used different forms of a language usually called now "Old South Arabian" of which the dominant dialect was probably Sabaic. Our main records of these languages comes from inscriptions rather than written documents, so our knowledge of how they first developed and later changed is necessarily sketchy. Farther to the north, a tribal, nomadic lifestyle dominated, and although we have fragmentary epigraphic records of some of the dialects these tribes used, our current knowlege about the actual linguistic situation prevailing in the area is even more incomplete than our knowledge of the South Arabian kingdoms. 5 Although echoes of the glorious past and great achievements of the Sabeans and other peoples of the south would continue to resonate in the literature of the Arab Muslim world throughout its long history, scholars of Arabic literary history have always focused their attention on the nomadic northern Arabs in their accounts of how this literature arose. The overriding reason for this is a linguistic one: the tongue used throughout the Arab world today, and known as fusha or "Standard Arabic," is the same language used by these northern Arabs, crystallized in its written form in the revelations of the Qur’an as recorded in the early 600s C.E.. Though the major southern language, Sabaic, and Arabic are closely related to one another, they are definitely separate languages, as different as modern-day English and German, and probably just as often mutually unintelligible as not. Sabaic is almost certainly the older of the two languages, being used for inscriptions as early as 600 B.C.E., while the first evidence we have of Arabic as a written language occurs 900 years later, in an inscription dating to 328 C.E. When the two languages mixed and met after the rise of Islam, however, Northern (Mudari) Arabic--backed by the religious authority of the Qur’an--supplanted its older cousin completely as a language of high culture. Sabaic survives today only in isolated pockets of territory where various dialectical versions continue on a purely spoken level. Written communication in the south is all in Mudari Arabic. Although Mudari Arabic belongs to the South Semitic branch of the Semitic language family (see chart), it seems to have shared an unusually close relationship with a Western Semitic language as well: Aramaic. This is largely due to the fact that the Nabateans--a northern nomadic tribe that moved onto the fringes of the oikoumene in the 300s B.C.E. and settled down to control the northern terminus of the incense route--seems to have spoken a language very close to Arabic, but they used Aramaic as their official language of written communication.6 The reason why it is so important to stress a close relationship between Arabic and Aramaic is that the first documented example we have of Mudari Arabic--an epitaph from a tomb about 100 kilometers southwest of Damascus--is written in the (Nabataean) Aramaic alphabet, although the vocabulary and syntax is virtually identical with the "classical" form of Arabic codified in the Qur’an. This inscription, known as the "Namara inscription" for the place where it was found, is important historically as well as linguistically. It was discovered in April of 1901 by two French archaeologists, R. Dussaud and F. Macler, in a rugged portion of southern Syria (about 60 miles southeast of Damascus and almost due east of the Sea of Galilee). Namara was once the site of a Roman fort, but while the archaeologists were exploring the area, they came across a completely ruined mausoleum that was much older. This was the tomb site of Imru’ al-Qays,7 the second king

4 of the Lakhmid dynasty, an important family in northern Arabia that at that time had been allied with the Byzantines and would later move to the east (to the area around modern-day Basra) and become clients of the Sassanian Persians. The Namara inscription was carved on a large block of basalt which had originally served as the lintel for the entrance to the tomb. It identifies the occupant of the tomb as Imru’ al-Qays, son of ‘Amr (the first Lakhmid king), calls him "king of the Arabs," and gives some information about his notable exploits during his reign. Then it gives what is perhaps the most important single piece of information on the inscription: the date of the king’s death, 7 Kaslul (December) of the year 223 in the Nabataean era of Bostra (=328 C.E.). Presumably the tomb was constructed not long after Imru’ al-Qays’s death, so this means we have a firm time frame in which to place the inscription. In 1902 Dussaud published a drawing of the original inscription in the Nabataean alphabet, a transliteration of the characters into Arabic, and a tentative translation of the result into French.8 What was most striking about this inscription for Dussaud and his fellow epigraphers was not only that it pushed back the history of Mudari Arabic back almost 200 years earlier than the previous oldest inscription, which had been dated to 512 C.E.,9 but that the language was so close to the Arabic of the Qur’an. Apart from a few words, like "bar" for "ibn" (son), which are clearly Aramaic, and some dialectical forms, like "ti" for "dhi" (this) and "dh‚" for "alladhi" (which), the vocabulary and syntax does not differ noticeably from the "classical" Arabic of the sixth century C.E. For over 80 years, this was taken as the definitive rendering of the inscription, but in 1985 James Bellamy of the University of Michigan published an article based on his minute re-examination of the original stone, now located at the Musée de Louvre in Paris. Professor Bellamy’s conclusions about the inscription being in Mudari Arabic confirm Dussaud’s, but he has revised some of the latter’s reading of individual words and phrases, to come up with a new rendering that seems to have won fairly wide acceptance,10 This is the funerary monument of Imru’u al-Qays, son of ‘Amr, king of the Arabs; and[?] his title of honor was Master of Asad and Madhhij. And he subdued the Asad¬s, and they were overwhelmed together with their kings, and he put to flight Ma(dh)hij thereafter, and came Driving them into the gates of Najran, the city of Shammar, and he subdued Ma‘add, and he dealt gently with the nobles Of the tribes, and appointed them viceroys, and they became phylarchs for the Romans. And no king has equalled hisachievements. Thereafter he died in the year 223 on the 7th day of Kaslul. Oh the good fortune of those who were his friends! The dating on this inscription allows us to conjecture that by this time (328 C.E.) Mudari Arabic had become an independent language with many of the features we associate with modern Arabic but manifestations of its use over the next three centuries remain frustratingly fragmentary. Only in the mid-seventh century do we begin to have more than isolated bits and pieces of epigraphic evidence for its existence, and by this time the language had become the preferred medium of communication for a growing empire, as well as a dynamic and appealing new religion.

5 Arabic: Description Although the Semitic languages do differ from one another--just as French and Spanish do--they share one characteristic that facilitated transition from one to another. This is a reliance on verbs made up of three consonants (the "tri-consonantal root," as it is sometimes called) as the basic building blocks from which other elements of the language are derived, following a surprisingly regular (or at least it may seem so to Indo-European language speakers) set of word patterns. In Arabic, for example, the three consonants *sh-11r-b convey a basic idea equivalent to the English word "drink." From this "root" has been derived a simple verb "sharaba," meaning "he drank." The simple verb (generally called "Form I" or "Measure I") can then be altered in various ways to extend and refine the verbal idea in different directions. For instance, one can pronounce emphatically ("double") the second consonant of the root to convey the idea of making someone or something else do the action referred to by the Form I verb. In a smaller number of cases, such a "Form II" verb can have an intensive meaning. With "sharaba," when the "r" is doubled, both meanings can be found. "Sharraba" therefore can mean either "he made (him/it) drink," "he watered (it)," or "he drenched (it)," "he soaked it" (i.e., "he watered it intensively"). On the other hand, lengthening the vowel following the first consonant ("shaaraba," generally transliterated as "sharaba," with a macron indicating the lengthened vowel) often conveys the idea of doing the Form I action with someone or something else, or doing the action over a period of time. Thus "sharaba" means "to have a drink with (someone)," "to drink in (someone’s) company." If one prefixes an additional consonant "t" to the Form II verb, the meaning generally becomes passive or reflexive. In the case of "tasharraba," the usual meaning is a reflexive of the intensive meaning of the Form II: "he/it got drenched/soaked," "he/it soaked (s.th.) up." Originally, Arabic had fifteenth such derivational patterns, but only ten are in common use today and one of those, Form IX, is used only in very limited circumstances, because it can be applied only to verbs expressing colors ("he/it turned red") or defects ("he/it was one-eyed"). There are similar patterns used to form nouns, adjectives and even (sometimes) prepositions and other parts of speech. For example to prefix the syllable "ma" to a root, make the first consonant vowelless, and then follow the second consonant with the vowel "a" results in a noun that refers to either the place (most common) or the time when the verbal action occurs. In the case of the root *sh-r-b, for example, "mashrab" means most generally "place for drinking," which can be used to refer more specifically to such varied objects as a watering hole, a drinking trough, a fountain or a restaurant bar. Another such "noun pattern" is the active participle pattern (‘ism fa‘il) where the first vowel of the root is a lengthened "a" placed immediately after the initial consonant and a second vowel, "i" is inserted between the second and third root letters. One of the most common uses of these nouns is to designate the person or thing that performs the action of the Form I verb. From *sh-r-b, then, one can derive the noun "sharib." One of the meanings of "sharib" is "drinker." English, somewhat similarly, uses the suffix *-er to indicate the doer of a verbal action. But English is much less regular in the way it uses such suffixes and prefixes than Arabic. "Drink-er" may illustrate our general rule perfectly, but "actor" and "flier" show that sometimes irregular vowel changes occur when these words are derived. Similarly, the nouns "pilot" and "workman" show that we can use entirely different forms to designate the doer of the action. Educated speakers of the Semitic languages are much more aware of this "root-and-pattern" system than educated speakers of English or other Indo-European languages would be for their own tongues, partly because the system itself is so regular and partly because all traditional dictionaries

6 and most modern ones are arranged so that all the words belonging to one root are placed in the same entry. It is as though all words containing the Latin root "*--scribere" were to be found in a single entry of an English dictionary. If this were the case, then anyone who was proficient in using a dictionary would be much more aware that the words ascribe, describe, subscribe, circumscribe, proscribe, prescribe, inscribe, and many more, were all related to one another through the basic idea of writing/drawing (the original sense of *--scribere). Semitic languages also contain many sounds that are not found in Indo-European languages, while often omitting others. Arabic speakers studying English, on the other hand, must learn to pronounce the following consonants: g, p, ch and v. In addition, they must struggle with a much wider range of meaningful vowel shadings (Arabic has only six vowel sounds: a long and short "a," a long and short "i," and a long and short "u"), and a number of consonants and consonant clusters who pronunciation seems almost unduplicable by any foreigner, like the English "r" (particularly when pronounced in conjunction with "l"-- "rural" creates its own special hell for non-natives), or the terminal suffix *ing. If the Semitic languages can be generally said to share certain phonological (having to do with word sound) and morphological (having to do with word structure and formation) characteristics, they also appear to have developed certain similarities in the rhetorical and stylistic structure of their written records. This is useful for those Westerners who want to study Arabic literature, because they are already familiar with some of the stylistic characteristics of Arabic through translations of the Hebrew Bible,12 where many of the same rhetorical devices are used. Some examples of these would include: (Synonymous) Doublets--e.g., "pain and suffering," "measured and numbered," "milk and honey." Parataxis 13--"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day (Genesis 1:3-5, King James Version of the Bible). Cognate Accusative--"I dreamed a dream," "he sinned a sin." Use of the Vocative ("O")--"With my whole heart I have sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. . . Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes" (Psalm 119). Verb Series (especially in threes)--"Lift up ye a banner on a high mountain, exalt a voice unto them, shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles" (Isaiah 13:2). Absolute Use of the Elative--"For richer, for poorer. . . " "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest of ten thousand" (Song of Solomon 5:10) Adjectives Standing Alone (rather than adjectives + nouns): "the rich," "the wicked," "the needy," "the slain." Adjectives Used in Possessive Phrases: "fair of face," "fleet of foot," "wild of eye." Few Adjectives, or Adjectives Placed After Nouns: "sister dear," "beloved mine." Metonymies, 14 Especially those Having to do with the Hand: "into your hand (=your power) are they delivered" (Gen 9:2); and he gave him his hand (=his promise)" (II Kings 10:15); Even there shall thy hand (=guidance) lead me, and thy right hand (=protection) shall hold me" (Psalms 139:10) One should probably note in passing at this point, as well, some other characteristic features of Arabic syntax and morphology. First, it is a synthetic rather than an analytic language. In other

7 words, it uses special endings placed on nouns, adjectives and pronouns, called "cases," to indicate the function of one of these words in a sentence. English, being an analytic language, uses word order to perform this function: if a noun precedes the verb, it is assigned the function of subject ("doer of the action"). If it follows the verb, it will generally be considered the object ("recipient of the action," "thing acted upon"). Arabic can use word order to convey this information, and it often does. But it also (and more characteristically) uses special case endings to ensure the message is understood. In Arabic, the subject of a sentence would be identified by the vowel "u" placed at the end of the word, and it would remain the subject regardless of where it was positioned in the sentence. The object would have the vowel "a" suffixed to it, and the objects of any prepositions would receive the suffix "i." Arabic has three cases, then: the nominative, the accusative and the genitive. The "nominative" is used to mark the noun that is the subject of a sentence (it is also the "default" case for citing a noun or adjective). The sign of the nominative is generally a final short vowel "u," although in some cases other endings must be used. In addition, there are words that are indeclinable and other exceptions that complicate the situation even more. The accusative case is used to designate the object of a verb in a verbal sentence, as well as being the case used for creating adverbs from nouns and adjectives. It has a number of additional uses as well, but these are the two most frequent. Its most common marker is a short vowel "a" placed at the end of the word. Like the accusative case, the genitive case has a number of uses. It is the most common case in the Arabic language, no doubt the result of the fact that it is used to indicate the objects of all prepositions (this is a great relief to those of us who have studied other synthetic languages like Latin, German or Russian, where different prepositions require different case endings). It is also used to designate the noun which is the "possessor" in a possessive phrase (like the *--’s in the English phrase "the teacher’s book"). The marker used to indicate the genitive case in most instances is a short vowel "i" placed at the end of the word. The use of cases in Arabic is complicated by the fact that the Arabic script only allows the writer to show the consonants and long vowels of a word. The short vowels can be indicated by a system of straight and curved lines placed above and below the letters, but these are time consuming to write and are normally included only in texts where it is important to indicate correct pronunciation: the Qur‘an, children’s textbooks, and (sometimes) poetry. This means that the reader must supply the case endings from her/his own knowledge of the language structure (syntax) when reading aloud. It also makes reconstructing the historical developments of the language more difficult, because we often cannot tell exactly how a written inscription was pronounced, or whether the language used in the inscription had a full complement of case endings or not. The usage of nouns and adjectives in Arabic also differs in some significant ways from English. First, there are three ways to designate number, not just the "singular" and "plural" forms. There is also a "dual" form, used for situations where the noun refers to two, and exactly two, things. Such instances occur more often than you might think: all of the parts of the body that come in pairs (such as eyes, hands, ears, feet, legs) are normally dual. Further, unlike English, where most plurals are formed regularly by adding to the word the suffix *--(e)s and only a few plurals are irregular, like "children," "men," "feet," and so on, in Arabic the situation is reversed. Most plurals are formed irregularly (called in Arabic "broken" plurals, because they "break up" the consonant structure of

8 the singular word) and only a few are formed by adding the regular suffixes at (for inanimate objects and female human beings) or un (for male human beings). The verbs of Arabic differ from those of English as well, particularly in how their tenses (whether they refer to past, present or future actions) are perceived. In Arabic, the basic distinction of verb tense is between "completed" and "not completed" actions. Dependent (the equivalent of the English infinitive (*--to + <verb>) in expressions like "I want ‘to do’ that") and negated verbs, for example, are classified as "not completed" actions, even if they describe past events. And, although it is possible to make distinctions in Arabic between present and future, or simple past and past perfect, on the basis of using special words preceding the verb, the verb itself will either be conjugated as in the "completed" form (=past) or "not completed" form (=present or imperfect indicative), and the use of the special "tense markers" are often considered optional, if the writer feels the time reference is clear enough from the context. This lack of congruity between the English and Arabic verb tenses is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in producing readable translations of Arabic literary works for English readers. The position or placement of verbs in Arabic sentences also differs from English. In Arabic the normal order of a verbal sentence is: Verb (first)--Subject (second)--Object of the Verb (third). Thus, the English sentence "The girl wrote the story," would be in Arabic literally: "Wrote--the girl--the story." This difference is often important for understanding how readers react to texts in Arabic, because this feature of Arabic syntax seems to create a tendency for people to see Arabic as a very "verbal" language, a perception that is reinforced by the fact that the simple Form I verbal root is considered to be the basic building block of word formation in Arabic. Thus sentences that begin with a word other than the verb, or sentences that use many qualifiers (words like adjectives) or in some other way focus on the subject or the object and not the verb, are felt to be deviating from the "norm" of standard Arabic syntax. This observation has especially interesting implications when it is juxtaposed with the fact that spoken Arabic tends to use the same word as English: Subject-Verb--Object (SVO). Thus, sentences in standard Arabic that follow the SVO pattern are perceived as more "conversational" than their VSO counterparts in standard Arabic. This would seem to be an appropriate place to include some observations on what is probably the most critical difference between Arabic and most major modern European languages, not just English. This is the fact that Arabic is a "diglossic" language. Diglossia is a term meaning "two tongues" formed by combining the prefix *di-- (=two) with the Greek word glossa, "tongue, language." It was popularized by the Stanford University linguist Charles Ferguson in an important 1959 article where he described systematically for the first time a phenomenon that has existed throughout the history of human language (though not all the time in every linguistic community): the presence of two distinct languages, with separate syntactic and morphological structures, as part of the essential linguistic repertoire of a given single speech community. The example most familiar to English speakers would probably the co-existence of Latin with the Romance vernacular spoken languages like French, Italian and Spanish in medieval Europe. It is important, however, not to let this particular example mislead you into assuming that this situation of diglossia is inherently unstable, merely a "stage" on the path of linguistic evolution to a (supposedly) superior situation where the spoken and written languages of a speech community coincide. First, one should be aware that the creation of linguistic congruence may cost its speakers many advantages, the foremost of which is ease of communication over larger areas of territory and with many other individuals. It could arguably be said that Europe lost irretrievably not only valuable aspects of its cultural heritage (everything composed in Latin either had to be translated or became unintelligible) when the vernaculars began to usurp the place of Latin as the language of education, but that it had

9 to make radically expensive adjustments to its system of disseminating knowledge, which had been based on the international transportability and easy transferability of Latin learning. Thus to maintain such an internationalist position may be too useful in a given speech community for the notion of shifting to the regional vernaculars to be seriously worth considering. Only when the practical balance of advantages versus disadvantages changes will attitudes--particularly of those in charge of the educational system, who are the major linguistic arbiters--also change. And, in fact, this potential for stability is something Charles Ferguson stresses in his own definition of diglossia:

DIGLOSSIA is a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects15 of the language (which may include a standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety, the vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation. 16 This is an almost perfect description of the situation in Arabic (Ferguson’s other examples for the phenomenon are modern Greek, Haitian (French) Creole, and Swiss German). An Arabic speaker will learn her/his own regional colloquial language (Egyptian, Moroccan, Levantine Arabic) which may have a "high prestige" dialect (Cairene, Casablancan, Beiruti Arabic) by which standards all other dialects of the region are considered backward and "countrified." All of these dialects have different vocabularies and pronunciations, but they all share a basic syntactic structure characterized by an absence of case endings, an SVO sentence structure, loss of the dual (except in very limited cases) and a reduced number of verbal conjugations. But our hypothetical Arabic speaker will also, if s/he goes to school and wishes to be considered educated, have to learn (in school, as a learned language) Modern Standard Arabic, or (to use the Arabic term) fusha, which is grammatically virtually identical with the Arabic of the Qur‘an . This "superposed" variety is considered to be the only "true" form of Arabic, and it is almost exclusively the vehicle of written communication. In Arabic, as in all the other diglossic languages that Ferguson describes, there is a strong prestige value attached to the superposed variety of the language--in the Arabic case, the fusha. Because this "socio-linguistic" factor in diglossia can be somewhat controversial, it is worth repeating in detail what Ferguson says: In all the defining languages the speakers regard H [the "high," or superposed variety] as superior to L [the "low," or colloquial variety] in a number of respects. Sometimes the feeling is so strong that H alone is regarded as real and L is reported "not to exist." Speakers of Arabic, for example, may say (in L) that so-and-so doesn’t know Arabic. This normally means he doesn’t know H, although he may be a fluent, effective speaker of L. If a non-speaker of Arabic asks an educated Arab for help in learning to speak Arabic the Arab will normally try to teach him H forms, insisting that these are the only ones to use. Very often, educated Arabs will maintain that they never use L at all, in spite of the fact that direct observation shows that they use it constantly in all ordinary conversation. Similarly, educated speakers of Haitian Creole frequently deny its existence, insisting that they always speak French. . . Even where the feeling of the reality and superiority of H is not so strong, there is usually a belief that H is somehow more beautiful, more logical, better able to express important thoughts, and the like. And this belief is held also by speakers whose command of H is quite limited. To those Americans who would like to evaluate speech in terms of effectiveness of communication it comes as a shock to discover that many speakers of language involved in diglossia characteristically prefer

10 to hear a political speech or an expository lecture or a recitation of poetry in H even though it may be less intelligible to them than it would be in L. 17 Rather than seeing this response as "blind" or "stupid" (a common reaction of outsiders to such statements), it may be more helpful--especially based on the fact that this is widespread, if not universal, among diglossic speech communities--to consider why normally intelligent people would find it plausible or (perhaps more importantly) useful to accept this world view. Certainly, one aspect of the situation that should command our attention is the close connection between language use and the educational system, especially in its classifying (or "policing") function of identifying who and who has not had access to its benefits and whose thinking has or has not been shaped by its parameters. Even though English may be a language where the spoken and written versions are fairly congruent, nevertheless it would not be impossible for a teacher to say "s/he really doesn’t know English," when what is meant is that the student does not know how to follow the conventions and rules of formal written English (where, for example, it is unacceptable to use contractions like don’t, shouldn’t can’t, etc., except in questions). Most researchers have accepted the applicability of Ferguson’s basic ideas to Arabic. Many have refined his original formulation to speak of the use of language in the Arabic speech community as more of a "continuum," where the two poles--pure fusha and pure colloquial--are ideals, which are rarely or never achieved in any given speaking situation. Nevertheless, for writing fusha is the only (acceptable) vehicle of communication. This has important implications for the study of Arabic literature--at least once it becomes a written tradition, with the revelation of the Qur’an--only two of which I will mention here. The first is that the question of verisimilitude (trueness to life)--an aesthetic criterion that most modern students take as axiomatic (i.e., literary works should represent life as it really is, whatever that means)--plays a much less important role in defining the value of a work of literature than might be expected. Put more simply, if the language you are writing in is not the language your characters would really be expressing themselves in, were the situation you are describing actually taking place, then you are unlikely to be overly concerned with questions of verisimilitude. Other considerations--exploiting the stylistic richness of the language, exploring the psychology of the situation within the character’s mind--will become more important. The second is that "literature"--in the sense of imaginative productions of the human intelligence, meant to entertain and instruct other human beings--does exist in the colloquial, but that the prejudice against the colloquial in the collective perceptions of the speech community, means that this literature is considered less valuable than written literature in fusha. Thus, there is (and probably has always been) Arabic poetry composed in both fusha and colloquial, but only the poetry composed in fusha has been traditionally considered "literary" and worthy of preservation in and for itself. Colloquial poetry is rarely written down and has only survived in pre-twentiethcentury written documents by accident--because it illustrates some point about a historical incident, or because the document is an informal one, like a letter or diary or someone’s personal notes. It is even more important to bear this point in mind when discussing "literary" genres that exist only in colloquial and have no fusha counterparts. Such is the case with fictional prose, which is not to be found in classical Arabic literature, other than in the isolated instance of the eighth-century C.E. translation by Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ of the animal fables known as Kalila and Dimna. Most Westerners are unaware that the Thousand and One Nights--the work they most strongly associate with "Arabic literature"--is in fact composed in colloquial and is therefore felt to be sub-literary within Arabic culture. It is only in the twentieth century, no doubt actuated at least in part by Western interest in

11 the tales, that The Thousand and One Nights has become the object of scholarly or intellectual interest among Arab literati.

1-The abbreviation C.E., standing for "common era" is increasingly used to designate the dating system prevalent in modern Western writings in order to avoid the Christian religious asssocations of the old abbreviation A.D. (standing for anno domini, Latin for "year of our Lord"). Other than the change in nomenclature, however, A.D. and C.E. (or B.C. and B.C.E.) dates are identical. 2-This development, however, was helped along by the fact the Umayyad caliph 'Abd al-Malik declared Arabic the sole language of the government chancelleries in the 690's C.E. 3-"Semitic" and "Hamitic" are adjectives that were formed based on the names of sons of Noah mentioned in the Biblical story of the Flood. When the waters receded, Noah and his sons went forth from the Ark to repopulate the earth. According to some interpretations of the Biblical text, Shem settled in Asia and the Hebrews were among his descendants. Ham's descendants were the ancestors of African peoples. Thus, in the nineteenth century linguists, rather fancifully, called the languages related to hebrew "Semitic" (a variant pronunciation of "Shemitic") and the language of Africa "Hamitic." today, many people still use the old names, but increasingly the language system once called "Hamito-Semitic" now goes by the name of "Afro-Asiatic." Needless to say, all the languages in this "Afro-Asiatic" family have certain resemblances indicating a common ancestry. 4-Hebrew was deliberately revived in the twentieth century as spoken language by a dedicated group of teachers and intellectuals who worked against great odds to turn it from a liturgical language to the responsive vehicle for a living culture, one that could meet all life's needs, from the lowest to the highest. 5-A useful introduction to the complexity of the relationships of Semitic languages to one another and the problems of tracing their developmental history can be found in Kees Versteegh's the Arabic Language (New York: Culumbia Univerisity press, 1997), especially chapters 2 and 3. 6-We can infer this indirectly from the fact that the mistakes they make in their Aramaic insscriptions are the kind that would be made by someone who speaks some form of Arabic. For more information on the characteristics of Nabataean Aramaic, see John Healey, Nabataean Tomb Inscription of Mada'in Salih(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 5960. 7-Although his name is the same, this is not the early Jahiliyya poet who also belonged to a princely family. This Imru' al-Qays lived almost 200 years earlier and belonged to an entirely different dynasty. There is no genealological connection between the two. 8-Rene Dussaud, La Penetration des arabes en Syrie avant l'Islam(Paris: n.p., 1955), 64. Quoted in James Bellamy, "A New Reading of the Namarah Inscription," Journal of the American Oriental Society 105.1 (1985): 34. 9-Since then other inscriptions that are (tentatively) dated to the early fifth century have been found. 10-See Beatrice Gruendler, The Development of the Arabic Scripts (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1993), 12. 11-The sound "sh" is represented in Arabic by a single consanant. 12-For Christians, this is the Old Testament. But the Jews--who do not recognize the "New " Testament generally use this designation for their scripture. The Muslims are more polite--they differentiate between the two parts of the Bible on the basis of their respective associations with the other two preceding monotheistic religions, using designations used by the religions themselves. They call the Hebrew Bible al-taurah (the Torah) and the Christian New Testament al-injil (the Gospel)

12
13-As M.H. Abrams says in his standard reference work for students on the subject of literature and rhetoric, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 3rd Ed. (New York: HOld, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), sv. "Style: "a paratactic style is one in which the members within a sentence, or else a sequence of complete sentences, are put on after the other without any expression of their connection or relations except (at most) the noncommittal connective, "and." Hemingway's style is characteristically paratactic" (p. 167). Hypotaxis, on the other hand, describes a style where there is considerable use of connectives that create (hierarcical) relationships among clauses and sentences. For example, words like "but," "nevertheless," "because" "therefore," would be common in hypotactic style. 14-The most familiar sort of metonymy is synecdoche, "the naming of a whole by a part." "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown," contains a synecdochic metonymy: "head" is a part of the body of the king. But it also contains a second kind of metonymy: insignia for function, since the "crown" is an article worn to indicate that the bearer discharges the office of kingship. Thus the word "crown" here stands in for "kingship." There are many kinds of metonymies other than synecdoche: container for thing contained, agent for act, cause for effect, and so on. The thing to remember about metonymy is that it is not based on resemblance like metaphor ("my love is like a red, red rose") but on contiguity or closeness: there is no similaritybetween a crown and the office of king, but the two are conventionally associated with one another in some societies. 15-Ferguson is not using "dialect" here in the sense most English speakers think of it: as a term describing regional differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and slang/idioms among speakers of what is essentially the same language. In this usage, American English, Australian English, Cockney English, Black (American) English, would all be "dialects." Each of the "varieties" of a single language in a diglossic situation would be capable of reflecting all these differences within itself, but in addition they would all differ significantly in their grammatical structure from each other. Thus the discontinuity is closer to that between German and English (who both derive from the same parent language) than that between British and American English. Any two "varieties" would be at best only partially mutually intelligible. 16-Charles Ferguson, "Diglossia," Word 15, no. 2 (August 1959): 336. this entire article (pp. 325-340) is still "must" reading for anyone who wishes to seriously study the nature of the Arabic language and understand its history. Since most modern discussions of Arabic linguistics presuppose that the reader is acquainted with Ferguson's theories of diglossia, it is indispensable for anyone who wishes to pursue inquiries in that area. To the original article, one should also add the follow-up article "the Arabic Koine," Language 35 (1959), which is equally indispensable for understanding Ferguson's ideas and the discussions they have provoked in the field of Arabic linguistics. 17-Ferguson, 529-530.

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