Old Arabic

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Old Arabic
Epitaph Imru-l-Qays Louvre AO4083.jpg
Epitaph of Mrʾlqys (328 AD)
Region Northwestern Arabian Peninsula and the southern Levant
Era 9th century BC[citation needed] to 7th century
Safaitic, Hismaic, Dadanitic, Nabataean, Arabic, Greek
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Glottolog None

Old Arabic is the earliest attested stage of the Arabic language, beginning with the first attestation of personal names in the 9th century BC[citation needed], and culminating in the codification of Classical Arabic beginning in the 7th century AD. Originally the primary language of the Safaitic and Hismaic inscriptions, it came to be expressed primarily in a modified Nabataean script after the demise of the Nabataean Kingdom. In addition, inscriptions in Old Arabic are attested in the Dadanitic script and the Greek alphabet, the latter of which have proved indispensable in the reconstruction of the language's phonology.

Classification[edit]

Old Arabic and its descendants are Central Semitic languages and are most closely related to the Northwest Semitic languages, the languages of the Dadanitic, Taymanitic inscriptions, the poorly understood languages labeled Thamudic, and the ancient languages of Yemen written in the Ancient South Arabian script. Old Arabic, is however, distinguished from all of them by the following innovations:[1]

  1. negative particles m */mā/; lʾn */lā-ʾan/ > CAr lan
  2. mafʿūl G-passive participle
  3. prepositions and adverbs f, ʿn, ʿnd, ḥt, ʿkdy
  4. a subjunctive in -a
  5. t-demonstratives
  6. leveling of the -at allomorph of the feminine ending
  7. ʾn complementizer and subordinator
  8. the use of f- to introduce modal clauses
  9. independent object pronoun in (ʾ)y
  10. vestiges of nunation

History[edit]

Assyrian horsemen pursue defeated Arabs

The earliest attestations of Arabic are personal names dating back to the Assyrian period. From the second century BC onwards, personal names are attested in Nabataean inscriptions and Nabataean Arabic substratal influence can be demonstrated in the Nabataean Aramaic. Dating to the 1st century BC, the Safaitic and Hismaic inscriptions, concentrated in Hauran and Hisma, respectively, attest to the forms of Arabic used by the nomads of those regions.[2]

Late Antiquity saw linguistic Arabization farther afield: in Yemen in the 6th century, especially in the language of trade and among the military, and following the influence of Kindah, in Palestine, and, one would expect, in areas where Ancient North Arabian scripts were used. The Nabataean alphabet did not replace the Ancient North Arabian scripts functionally, however, and the disappearance of inscriptions in the Ancient North Arabian scripts may have had more to do with the integration of the peoples who produced them into an emerging Arab society in which the day-to-day role of these peoples had changed.[3]

Dialects, accents, and varieties[edit]

The Safaitic inscriptions belong to a continuum of Old Arabic dialects which also included the dialect spoken in parts of Nabataea and the language expressed by the Hismaic inscriptions.[1]

A different continuum, Old Ḥigāzī, underlies the Quranic Consonantal Text and became the literary register and prestige spoken dialect of the Umayyad Empire. A more advanced form of it is attested 1st CC papyri and gave rise to early Arabic colloquials encountered in Greek transcriptions.

Phonology[edit]

Consonants[edit]

Consonant phonemes of Old Arabic (based on Safaitic and Greek transcriptions)[1]
Labial Dental Denti-alveolar Palatal Velar Pharyngeal Glottal
plain emphatic plain emphatic plain emphatic
Nasal [m] m – م [n] n – ن
Stop voiceless [pʰ] p – ف [tʰ] t – ت [tʼ] ṭ – ط [kʰ] k – ك [kʼ] q – ق [ʔ] ʾ – ء
voiced [b] b – ب [d] d – د [g] g – ج
Fricative voiceless [θ] ṯ – ث [tθʼ]1ظ [s] s – س [tsʼ] ṣ – ص [x] ẖ – خ [ħ] ḥ – ح [h] h – ه
voiced [ð] ḏ – ذ [z] z – ز [ɣ] ġ – غ [ʕ] ʿ – ع
Lateral fricative [ɬ] s2ش [tɬʼ]1ض
Lateral [l] l – ل
Flap [r] r – ر
Approximant [j] y – ي [w] w – و
^1 The emphatic interdental and lateral were voiced in Old Higazi, in contrast to Northern Old Arabic, where they remained voiceless.

Vowels[edit]

Monophthong phonemes of Nabataean Arabic
Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Close
Mid e o
Open a

In contrast with Old Higazi and Classical Arabic, Nabataean Arabic may have undergone the shift [e] < *[i] and [o] < *[u], as evidenced by the numerous Greek transcriptions of Arabic from the area. This may have occurred in Safaitic as well, making it a possible Northern Old Arabic isogloss.

Monophthong phonemes of Old Higazi
Short Long
Front Back Front Back
Close i u
Mid e
Open a

In contrast to Classical Arabic, Old Higazi had the phonemes [] and [], which arose from the contraction of Old Arabic [aja] and [awa], respectively. It also may have had short [e] from the reduction of [] in closed syllables:[4]

Grammar[edit]

Proto-Arabic[edit]

Nominal inflection
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine Plural Feminine Plural
Nominative -un -u -āni -ūna -ātun
Accusative -an -a -ayni -īna -ātin
Genitive -in

Proto-Arabic nouns could take one of the five above declensions in their basic, unbound form.

Notes[edit]

The definite article spread areally among the Central Semitic languages and it would seem that Proto-Arabic lacked any overt marking of definiteness.

Nabataean Arabic[edit]

Nominal inflection
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine Plural Feminine Plural
Nominative (ʾal-)...-o - (ʾal-)...-ān (ʾal-)...-ūn (ʾal-)...-āto?
Accusative (ʾal-)...-a (ʾal-)...-ayn (ʾal-)...-īn (ʾal-)...-āte?
Genitive (ʾal-)...-e

The ʿEn ʿAvdat inscription in the Nabataean script dating to no later than 150 shows that final [n] had been deleted in undetermined triptotes, and that the final short vowels of the determined state were intact. The reconstructed text of the inscription is as follows:[5]

  1. pa-yapʿal lā pedā wa lā ʾaṯara
  2. pa-kon honā yabġe-nā ʾal-mawto lā ʾabġā-h
  3. pa-kon honā ʾarād gorḥo lā yorde-nā[6]
  • "And he acts neither for benefit nor favour and if death claims us let me not be claimed. And if an affliction occurs let it not afflict us".[7]

Notes[edit]

The Old Arabic of the Nabataean inscriptions exhibits almost exclusively the form ʾl- of the definite article. Unlike the Classical Arabic article, the Old Arabic ʾl almost never exhibits the assimilation of the coda to the coronals.

Safaitic[edit]

Nominal inflection
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine Plural Feminine Plural
Nominative (ʾal-)...-∅ - (ʾal-)...-ān (ʾal-)...-ūn (ʾal-)...-āt
Accusative (ʾal-)...-a (ʾal-)...-ayn (ʾal-)...-īn
Genitive (ʾal-)...-∅

The A1 inscription dated to the 3rd or 4th century in a Greek alphabet in a dialect showing affinities to that of the Safaitic inscriptions shows that short final high vowels had been lost, obliterating the distinction between nominative and genitive case in the singular, leaving the accusative the only marked case:[8]

  • ʾAws (bin) ʿūḏ (?) (bin) Bannāʾ (bin) Kazim ʾal-ʾidāmiyy ʾatawa miś-śiḥāṣ; ʾatawa Bannāʾa ʾad-dawra wa yirʿaw baqla bi-kānūn
  • "ʾAws son of ʿūḏ (?) son of Bannāʾ son of Kazim the ʾidāmite came because of scarcity; he came to Bannāʾ in this region and they pastured on fresh herbage during Kānūn".

Notes[edit]

Besides dialects with no definite article, the Safaitic inscriptions exhibit about four different article forms, ordered by frequency: h-, ʾ-, ʾl-, and hn-. Unlike the Classical Arabic article, the Old Arabic ʾl almost never exhibits the assimilation of the coda to the coronals; the same situation is attested in the Graeco-Arabica, but in A1 the coda assimilates to the following d, αδαυρα */ʾad-dawra/ 'the region'.

The Safaitic and Hismaic texts attest an invariable feminine consonantal -t ending, and the same appears to be true of the earliest Nabataean Arabic. While Greek transcriptions show a mixed situation, it is clear that by the 4th c. CE, the ending had shifted to /-a(h)/ in non-construct position in the settled areas.[2]

Safaitic attests the following demonstratives:

Masc Fem Plural
, ḏ(y/n) t, ʾly */olay/[9]

Northern Old Arabic preserved the original shape of the relative pronoun -, which maybe either have continued to inflect for case or have become frozen as ḏū or ḏī. In one case, it is preceded by the article/demonstrative prefix h-, hḏ */haḏḏV/.[10]

In Safaitic, the existence of mood inflection is confirmed in the spellings of verbs with y/w as the third root consonant. Verbs of this class in result clauses are spelled in such a way that they must have originally terminated in /a/: f ygzy nḏr-h */pa yagziya naḏra-hu/ 'that he may fulfill his vow'. Sometimes verbs terminate in a -n which may reflect an energic ending, thus, s2ʿ-nh 'join him' perhaps */śeʿannoh/.[2]

Old Hijazi (Quranic Consonantal Text)[edit]

Nominal inflection
Triptote Diptote Dual Masculine Plural Feminine Plural
Nominative -∅ ʾal-...-∅ - (ʾal-)...-ān (ʾal-)...-ūn (ʾal-)...-āt
Accusative (ʾal-)...-ayn (ʾal-)...-īn
Genitive -∅

The Qur'anic Consonantal Text presents a slightly different paradigm to the Safaitic, in which there is no case distinction with determined triptotes, but the indefinite accusative is marked with a final /ʾ/.

Notes[edit]

In JSLih 384, an early example of Old Hijazi, the Proto-Central Semitic /-t/ allomorph survives in bnt as opposed to /-ah/ < /-at/ in s1lmh.

Old Ḥiǧāzī is characterized by the innovative relative pronoun ʾallaḏī, ʾallatī, etc., which is attested once in JSLih 384 and is the common form in the QCT.[1]

The infinitive verbal complement is replaced with a subordinating clause ʾan yafʿala, attested in the QCT and a fragmentary Dadanitic inscription.

The QCT along with the papyri of the first century after the Islamic conquests attest a form with an l-element between the demonstrative base and the distal particle, producing from the original proximal set ḏālika and tilka.

Writing systems[edit]

Himsaic and Safaitic[edit]

The texts composed in both scripts are almost 50,000 specimens that provide a rather detailed view of Old Arabic.[2]

Dadanitic[edit]

A single text, JSLih 384, composed in the Dadanitic script, from northwest Arabia, provides the only non-Nabataean example of Old Arabic from the Hijaz.[2]

Nabataean[edit]

Only two texts composed fully in Arabic have been discovered in the Nabataean script. The En Avdat inscription contains two lines of an Arabic prayer or hymn embedded in an Aramaic votive inscription. The second is the Namarah inscription, 328 CE, which was erected about 60 mi southeast of Damascus. Most examples of Arabic come from the substratal influence the language exercised on Nabataean Aramaic.[2]

Transitional Nabataeo-Arabic[edit]

A growing corpus of texts carved in a script in between Classical Nabataean Aramaic and what is now called the Arabic script from Northwest Arabia provides further lexical and some morphological material for the later stages of Old Arabic in this region. The texts provide important insights as to the development of the Arabic script from its Nabataean forebear and are an important glimpse of the Old Ḥigāzī dialects.[2]

Arabic[edit]

Only three rather short inscriptions in the fully evolved Arabic script are known from the pre-Islamic period. They come from 6th century CE Syria, two from the southern region on the borders of Hawran, Jabal Usays (528 CE) and Harran (568 CE), and one from Zebed (512 CE), a town near Aleppo. They shed little light on the linguistic character of Arabic and are more interesting for the information they provide on the evolution of the Arabic script.[2]

Greek[edit]

Fragmentary evidence in the Greek script, the "Graeco-Arabica", is equally crucial to help complete our understanding of Old Arabic. It encompasses instances of Old Arabic in Greek transcription from documentary sources. The advantage of the Greek script is that it gives us a clear view of the vowels of Old Arabic and can shed important light on the phonetic realization of the Old Arabic phonemes. Finally, a single pre-Islamic Arabic text composed in Greek letters is known, labelled A1.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Al-Jallad, Ahmad (2015-03-27). An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. BRILL. p. 48. ISBN 9789004289826. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Al-Jallad. The earliest stages of Arabic and its linguistic classification (Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics, forthcoming)". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 2015-12-08. 
  3. ^ al-Azmeh, Aziz (2014). The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity: Allah and His People. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-72936-0. 
  4. ^ Putten, Marijn van. "The development of the triphthongs in Quranic and Classical Arabic. Arabian Epigraphic Notes 3 (2017), 47-74". 
  5. ^ "Al-Jallad. 2015. Echoes of the Baal Cycle in a Safaito-Hismaic Inscription". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  6. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad. "One wāw to rule them all: the origins and fate of wawation in Arabic and its orthography". 
  7. ^ Fisher, Greg (2015). Arabs and Empires Before Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-965452-9. 
  8. ^ "Al-Jallad. 2015. New Epigraphica from Jordan I: a pre-Islamic Arabic inscription in Greek letters and a Greek inscription from north-eastern Jordan, w. A. al-Manaser". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 2015-12-09. 
  9. ^ Al-Jallad, Ahmad. "Al-Jallad 2017: Marginal notes on and additions to An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions (ssll 80; Leiden: Brill, 2015), with a supplement to the dictionary". 
  10. ^ "Al-Jallad. 2015. On the Voiceless Reflex of *ṣ́ and *ṯ ̣ in pre-Hilalian Maghrebian Arabic". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-26. 

External links[edit]