The House of David

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Qur’anic isoglosses

I've also been reading Marijn van Putten, “The archaic feminine ending -at in Shammari Arabic”, forthcoming in that most excellent journal of Semitic Studies. This has led me to consider what distinguishes Qur'anic Arabic from other forms of Arabic, specifically proper forms of Arabic. I can think of two isoglosses for now.

Van Putten is looking into Qur’anic -ah for the feminine ending. This ending is, or was, -at in several Semitic languages and also in proto-Berber; as a result, -at is considered proto-Semitic. The -at ending is also rife in Safaitic… and in Shammaric, today. In the Qur'an, though, the T is dropped (if not in a construct) and the open vowel is instead capped with H (it is unvoiced). It happens that both decisions were, before that, accomplished in Biblical Hebrew using the Aramaic alphabet. So “Classical” Arabic is, here, a Hebraising dialect of basal Arabic. The Bible and, later, the Qur’an have raised this then-dialectic feature to the standard. Even here the Qur'an wasn't complete: the final -h is dotted like a tā', the so-called "marbūta"; and some words keep the tā' outright. (We also see why the classical grammarians were so impressed by the Bedouin conservatism. The Shammaris speak better Arabic than God did!)

Another Qur’anic isogloss is al- for the definite-article prefix. Safaitic offers other options particularly ha(n)-, shared with Hebrew. Also, as I understand the literature, some of those old Arabic ha(n)- occurrences were fossilised to recur in other good Qur’anic words like hâdha (= *han-dha). Perhaps the pious etymology of Allah and, before Him, goddess Allat had influenced the choice of al-.

I consider the Qur’an's segregation of min / mina from the next word as isogloss as well. Most Safaitic writers agreed with the Jews that min was a prefix and not a word.

And although this one is unfinished, I'll also recall here my theory that the Arabic spoken around the Syrian border may – MAY – have, at least orthographically and sporadically, taken on the begadkepat aspirations common to Persian-era Aramaic and post-exilic Hebrew. This much the Qur’an resisted… mostly. Last I looked, the linguists were still debating the p->f shift. We would need an external witness, preferably nonSemitic like Greek. Our transcriptions of Taymanitic can’t even rely on that much: Kootstra 2.2.2 p. 75 notes that his choice of “f” is just convention there.

UPDATE 2/6/2017: min-.

UPDATE 4/4/2017: Might want to check Jan Retsö, "Thoughts about the Diversity of Arabic".

posted by Zimri on 16:56 | link | 0 comments

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