Classical Arabic

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Classical Arabic
Native to Historically in the Middle East, now used as a liturgical language of Islam
Era 4th to 9th centuries; continues as a liturgical language but with a modernized pronunciation
Dialects Over 24 modern Arabic dialects
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Verses from the Quran in Classical Arabic, written in the cursive Arabic script.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Classical Arabic (CA), also known as Quranic Arabic, is the form of the Arabic language used in literary texts from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). It is based on the medieval dialects of Arab tribes. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the direct descendant used today throughout the Arab world in writing and in formal speaking, for example, prepared speeches, some radio broadcasts, and non-entertainment content.[1] While the lexis and stylistics of Modern Standard Arabic are different from Classical Arabic, the morphology and syntax have remained basically unchanged (though MSA uses a subset of the syntactic structures available in CA).[2] The vernacular dialects, however, have changed more dramatically.[3] In the Arab world, little distinction is made between CA and MSA, and both are normally called al-fuṣḥá (الفصحى‎) in Arabic, meaning 'the most eloquent (Arabic language)'.

Because the Quran is written in Classical Arabic, the language is considered by most Muslims to be sacred.[4] Because of this, speaking Classical Arabic outside of religious contexts is considered a faux pas in many countries, and can even be considered sacrilegious. It is mostly the language in which Muslims recite their prayers, regardless of what language they use in everyday life.

History[edit]

Classical Arabic has its origins in the central and northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, and is distinct from the Old South Arabian languages that were spoken in the southern parts of the peninsula, modern day Yemen.[5] Classical Arabic co-existed with the Old North Arabian languages. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus (Histories I,131; III,8) quotes the epithet of a goddess in its preclassical Arabic form as Alilat (Ἀλιλάτ, i. e.,ʼal-ʼilat), which means "the goddess".[6] Apart from this isolated theonym, Arabic is first attested in an inscription in Qaryat al-Fāw (formerly Qaryat Dhat Kahil, near Sulayyil, Saudi Arabia) in the 1st century BC.[7][8] The oldest inscription in Classical Arabic dates to 328 AD and is known as the Namārah inscription, written in the Nabataean alphabet and named after the place where it was found in southern Syria in April 1901.[9]

With the spread of Islam, Classical Arabic became a prominent language of scholarship and religious devotion as the language of the Quran (at times even spreading faster than the religion).[3] Its relation to modern dialects is somewhat analogous to the relationship of Vulgar Latin to the Romance languages or of Old Spanish to modern Spanish dialects or of Middle Chinese to modern Chinese languages.

Morphology[edit]

Classical Arabic is one of the Semitic languages, and therefore has many similarities in conjugation and pronunciation to Assyrian, Hebrew, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Amharic. Like all Semitic languages, it has nonconcatenative morphology.

For example:

  • kataba, he wrote
  • yaktubu, he writes
  • maktūbun, written (words)
  • kitābun, book
  • kutubun, books (broken plural)
  • kitābatun, writing
  • kitābātun, writings (feminine sound plural)
  • maktabun, desk
  • maktabatun, library
  • kātibun, writer
  • kātibūna, writers (masculine sound plural)
  • kuttābun, writers (broken plural)
  • miktābun, writing machine

These words all have some relationship with writing, and all of them contain the three consonants KTB. This group of consonants k-t-b is called a root. Grammarians assume that this root carries a basic meaning of writing, which encompasses all objects or actions involving writing, and so, therefore, all the above words are regarded as modified forms of this root, and are "obtained" or "derived" in some way from it.

Grammar[edit]

Main article: Arabic grammar

Descriptive grammar in Arabic (قواعدqawāʻid, 'rules'), underwent development in the late 700s.[10][11] The earliest known Arabic grammarian is ʻAbd Allāh ibn Abī Isḥāq. The efforts of three proceeding generations of grammarians culminated in the book of the Persian scholar Sībawayhi. Recent efforts aim to annotate the entire Arabic grammar of the Quran, using traditional syntax:

Dependency syntax tree for verse (67:1)

Phonology[edit]

Classical Arabic had three pairs of long and short vowels: /a/, /i/, and /u/. The following table illustrates this:

Vowels Short Long
High /i/ /u/ /iː/ /uː/
Low /a/ /aː/

Like Modern Standard Arabic, Classical Arabic had 28 consonant phonemes:

Classical Arabic consonant phonemes[12]
  Bilabial Inter-
dental
Dental Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
geal
Glottal
 plain  emphatic
Nasal m   n            
Plosive voiceless     t   k   ʔ
voiced b   d ɟ 2   ɢˠ    
Fricative voiceless f θ s 1 ɕ   χˠ ħ h
voiced   ð z ðˠ     ʁˠ ʕ  
Lateral     l~ɫ 3 ɮˠ          
Tap     ɾˠ~ɾ~r 4            
Approximant         j w      
  1. Non-emphatic /s/ may have actually been [ʃ],[13] shifting forward in the mouth before or simultaneously with the fronting of the palatals (see below).
  2. As it derives from Proto-Semitic *g, /ɟ/ may have been a palatalized velar: /ɡʲ/
  3. /l/ is emphatic ([ɫ]) only in /ʔaɫɫɑːh/, the name of God, i.e. Allah,[14] except after /i/ or /iː/ when it is unemphatic: bismi l-lāhi /bismillaːhi/ ('in the name of God').
  4. /ɾˠ/ (velarized) is pronounced without velarization before /i/: [ɾ].

The consonants traditionally termed "emphatic" /dˤ, ɮˤ, sˤ, ðˤ/ were either velarized [dˠ, ɬˠ, sˠ, ðˠ] or pharyngealized [dˤ, ɮˤ, sˤ, ðˤ].[15] In some transcription systems, emphasis is shown by capitalizing the letter, for example, /sˤ/ is written S; in others the letter is underlined or has a dot below it, for example, . The consonants [ɾˠ, ɢˠ, ʁˠ, χˠ] are pronounced with velarization.

There are a number of phonetic changes between Classical Arabic and modern Arabic dialects. These include:[16]

  • The palatals /ɕ/, /ɟ/ (ش‎, ج) shifted. /ɕ/ became postalveolar [ʃ], and /ɟ/ became postalveolar [], [ʒ], [ɡʲ], [ɟ], or velar [ɡ].
  • The uvular fricatives /χˠ/, /ʁˠ/ (خ‎, غ) became velar or post-velar: [x], [ɣ] or left as they are but without velarization [χ], [ʁ].
  • /ɮˤ/ ض became /dˤ/ (Certain tajwid traditions actually preserve the original value of this sound synchronically.) See also Voiced alveolar lateral fricative

See Arabic phonology for further details of the IPA representations of contemporary Arabic sounds.

The language of Classical Arabic is essentially that of the so-called poetic koine of the pre-Islamic poets, a standardized prestige dialect based on conservative Bedouin dialects of the eastern Arabian peninsula. A similar but slightly different koine had been adopted in Mecca, in a form adapted somewhat to the phonology of the spoken Meccan dialect of the time, and it was in this form that the Quran was given. The Quran was later rephonemicized into the standard poetic koine. Two of the differences between these dialects are represented in the modern Arabic writing system:

  • The original poetic koine had preserved the Proto-Semitic glottal stop in all positions, whereas the Meccan variant had eliminated it everywhere except initially, following the spoken Meccan dialect. (Similar changes occur in all the modern varieties of Arabic.) Depending on the surrounding vowels, the glottal stop was either deleted entirely, converted to /w/ or /j/, or deleted after lengthening a preceding short vowel. The Quran as originally written down represented these changes; since the document was considered sacred, the letters were not changed. Instead, the letter representing the "incorrect" /w/, /j/ or long vowel that ought to be pronounced as a glottal stop had a diacritic (termed hamzah) written over it to cancel out its inherent sound; if no such letter existed, the hamzah was written between the existing letters. This is the origin of the complex rules regarding the writing of the glottal stop.
  • In the dialects underlying the poetic koine, original word-final /aja, aji, aju/ had developed into /aː/, merging with final /aː/ from other sources. In the spoken Meccan dialect, however, these word-final sequences did not merge in this way, instead remaining as a separate vowel, perhaps pronounced /eː/. Correspondingly, the Meccan koine variant split the standard koine's final /aː/ in two, in ways that corresponded with the spoken dialect. In writing the Meccan variant, final /aː/ was written with the letter alif, while final /eː/ was written with the letter yāʾ, normally used for /j/. When rephonemicized into the standard poetic koine, the occurrences of yāʼ meant to be pronounced as /j/ or /aː/. Only recently, two dots was created to be written under the final yāʼ in order to distinguish it from the pronunciation of /aː/. This invention was not adopted by all Arabic speaking nations, as for example, Egypt and Sudan never add two dots under the final yāʾ in handwriting and print, even in printed Quran. Yāʾ when used to spell /aː/ was named alif maqṣūrah (limited alif) or alif layyinah (flexible alif). This is why final /aː/ can be written either with a normal alif or alif maqṣūrah.

Special symbols[edit]

A variety of special symbols exist in the Classical Arabic of the Quran that are usually absent in most written forms of Arabic. Many of these serve as aids for readers attempting to accurately pronounce the Classical Arabic found in the Quran. They may also indicate prostrations (sujud), surahs, ayahs, or the ends of sections (rubʻ al-ḥizb).

Quranic annotation signs in Unicode
Code Glyph Name
06D6 ۖ SMALL HIGH LIGATURE SAD WITH LAM WITH ALIF MAKSURA
06D7 ۗ SMALL HIGH LIGATURE QAF WITH LAM WITH ALIF MAKSURA
06D8 ۘ SMALL HIGH MEEM INITIAL FORM
06D9 ۙ SMALL HIGH LAM ALIF
06DA ۚ SMALL HIGH JEEM
06DB ۛ SMALL HIGH THREE DOTS
06DC ۜ SMALL HIGH SEEN
06DD ۝ END OF AYAH
06DE ۞ START OF RUB AL HIZB
06DF ۟ SMALL HIGH ROUNDED ZERO
06E0 ۠ SMALL HIGH UPRIGHT RECTANGULAR ZERO
06E1 ۡ SMALL HIGH DOTLESS HEAD OF KHAH = Arabic jazm • used in some Qurans to mark absence of a vowel
06E2 ۢ SMALL HIGH MEEM ISOLATED FORM
06E3 ۣ SMALL LOW SEEN
06E4 ۤ SMALL HIGH MADDA
06E5 ۥ SMALL WAW
06E6 ۦ SMALL YAA
06E7 ۧ ARABIC SMALL HIGH YAA
06E8 ۨ SMALL HIGH NOON
06E9 ۩ PLACE OF SAJDAH
06EA ۪ EMPTY CENTRE LOW STOP
06EB ۫ EMPTY CENTRE HIGH STOP
06EC ۬ ROUNDED HIGH STOP WITH FILLED CENTRE
06ED ۭ SMALL LOW MEEM
From: Unicode Standard – Arabic

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ (Bin-Muqbil 2006, p. 14)
  2. ^ (Bin-Muqbil 2006, p. 15)
  3. ^ a b (Watson 2002, p. 8)
  4. ^ "Arabic Language," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2009. "Classical Arabic, which has many archaic words, is the sacred language of Islam...". Archived 2009-10-31.
  5. ^ "The Collapse of the Marib Dam and the Origin of the Arabs". Arabia Felix. March 30, 2005. Archived from the original on February 9, 2008. 
  6. ^ Woodard, Roger D. Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. p 208
  7. ^ Woodard, Roger D. (2008), Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. p. 180
  8. ^ M. C. A. Macdonald, "Reflections on the Linguistic Map of Pre-Islamic Arabia", Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 2000, Volume 11, p. 50 and 61
  9. ^ James A. Bellamy (1985). "A New Reading of the Namārah Inscription". Journal of the American Oriental Society (American Oriental Society) 105 (1): 31–51. doi:10.2307/601538. JSTOR 601538. 
  10. ^ Goodchild, Philip. Difference in Philosophy of Religion (2003), p. 153.
  11. ^ Sayce, Archibald Henry. Introduction to the Science of Language (1880), p. 28.
  12. ^ (Watson 2002, p. 13)
  13. ^ (Watson 2002, p. 15)
  14. ^ (Watson 2002, p. 16)
  15. ^ (Watson 2002, p. 2)
  16. ^ (Watson 2002, pp. 15–17)

References[edit]

  • Bin-Muqbil, Musaed (2006). "Phonetic and Phonological Aspects of Arabic Emphatics and Gutturals". University of Wisconsin–Madison. 
  • Holes, Clive (2004) Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties Georgetown University Press. ISBN 1-58901-022-1
  • Versteegh, Kees (2001) The Arabic Language Edinburgh University Press ISBN 0-7486-1436-2 (Ch.5 available in link below)
  • Watson, Janet (2002). "The Phonology and Morphology of Arabic". New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Bin Radhan, Neil. "Die Wissenschaft des Tadschwīd". 

External links[edit]