The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How Syrians related the name "Muhammad"

Two years ago, I pulled something out of a book-review I was working on, and posted it here:

- on whether the “Mhmt” in an early Syriac document refers to Muhammad. Okay. But if you want to get into Semitic philology, you have to be more precise than that. This “t” is no ordinary t. It’s an emphatic T, which Hoyland inscribed with a dot underneath (he did that to the H as well). This T is shared with Arabic. So: why would the Syrians hear muHammad and transcribe it mHmT? What would “mHmT” mean in Syriac? In Arabic? Further, Pseudo-Sebeos also thought it sounded like “Mahmet”.

I didn't really know what to do with this factoid, as you can tell from that blogpost's slide into handwringing. Fortunately, now Ian D. Morris writes about "Misspelling Muhammad", and makes some sense of the whole thing. Despite the drubbing Morris puts down on Spencer, the man is no mindless Islamic apologist - the examples he gives are from Volker Popp's work, more revisionist even than Spencer's.

Relevant here: It might simply be that the pronunciation Muhammad was uncomfortably foreign, even if the phonemes were individually native. He brings up his own name "Ian" as an example. More so how certain non-Spaniards pronounce "Che": "Shay", thinking it's French. Morris has a more philological followup here.

So the Syrians, despite agreeing with Arabs that "d" differs from emphatic "T" - as well as we and Spaniards agree that "tsch" differs from "sh" - these Syrians simply didn't know what "muhammad" meant. The Syrians hadn't seen the name before. The Armenians ("Mahmet") and Greeks ("Moameth") then would have just got their data from the Syrians.

So it does add some weight to the hypothesis that the name was perhaps a title, one unique to Arabs.

posted by Zimri on 12:06 | link | 0 comments

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