The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Safa' and Hisma

Thanks to the magic of Google Books and, I've been able to read good segments of Ahmad al-Jallad's An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions (2015).

The argument laid here is that Safaitic exists in such a huge corpus, now, that its inscriptions may be sketched into a grammar. This grammar is best understood as a collection of old Arabic dialects - not just those "Ancient North Arabian" or "Thamudic" Semitic grab-bags, but actually Arabic. With that in mind it can be correlated with the Arabic loans inside Nabataean Aramaic, and with various Arabian languages transcribed into Greek characters. Hismaic belongs to the same Arabian subgroup, so those inscriptions can be lumped in, too.

It's hard to overstate what's happened here. The Qur'an and classical Arabic are both suffused with Aramaic church-jargon and grammatical influence to such an extent, it's been extremely difficult to study Arabic itself. We now have forms of Arabic that precede the religious reform which we're now calling "Islam".

Which is not to say that all the Arabic(s) in the old inscriptions have kept themselves wholly free of Aramaisms. "New Epigraphica from Jordan" has some Arabic transcribed into Greek. This Arabic dialect seems to be following an aspirantizing rule. We have atawa -> αθαοα, śatāw -> ζαθαοε, bi-Kanūn -> βι-Χανουν. But baqla -> βακλα, and since there is no "dh" in Greek the author is stuck with Ουδου. I have to wonder about αλ-Ιδαμι as well. Al-Jallad doesn't really allude to aspiration in the article (except to propose a Northern Dialect) but his book notes the aspiration as a general rule pp. 41-2. To me it looked like Syriac (and late Hebrew) begadkepat. Either that or it was a local Greek orthographic tradition that Semitic languages were supposed to be spelt this way, even if they weren't pronounced this way. But anyway, Classical Arabic has since rejected aspirations on t versus θ, and so on; but it has decided to aspirate p to f, here consistently.

I'm thinking that beginning students in early Arabic should be supplied with a primer on early Arabic, based on al-Jallad's formal grammar. The alphabet used would be the Hijazi script from the earliest Qur'anic papyri, but supplemented with vowel-markings. The coursework would be the inscriptions transcribed into that script.

That language would be easier to teach than to teach MSA, it would be closer to the classical texts, and its consistency and age would make it more useful to panSemitic philologers.

UPDATE 6/6: wiki -

posted by Zimri on 15:49 | link | 3 comments

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