Arabic Language

Arabic Language

the most perfectly formed, most copious in vocabulary, most extensively spoken, and most perfectly preserved of all the Shemitic family of languages. It therefore presents peculiar points of interest to Biblical scholars. SEE SHEMITIC LANGUAGES.

1. Distribution and Dialects. — Originating in Arabia, the Arabic language spread itself, by the conquests of the Arabs, SEE MOHAMMED, in the sixth and seventh centuries, so extensively as to become not only prevalent in the countries adjoining Arabia, but even the religious and learned language of Irak, Cyprus, Palestine, Egypt, and Northern Africa, where, by the influence of Islamism and the supreme authority of the Koran, it has finally supplanted the original languages of those countries, and become the mother tongue of the inhabitants. It has even penetrated to the interior of Africa, as well as insinuated itself, in part at least, throughout Turkey and Central Asia. In Malta, Spain, and Sicily, dialects of it were for a time spoken, and have not yet become entirely extinct. Through the intercourse of Europeans during the Crusades, and especially during the temporary residence of the Saracens in Spain, many Arabic words have crept into Occidental languages, not excepting the English; while the scientific researches of the mediaeval Arabs caused many technical terms to be introduced into general literature. The ciphers in use among all Christian nations are but modified forms of those used in Arabic notation.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Long before the Mohammedan aera, two dialects were prevalent in Arabia:

1, the Himyaritic, which was spoken in Yemen, or Arabia Felix, and had its closest affinities partly with the Hebrew or Aramaean languages (q.v.), and partly with the Amharic (q.v.);

2, the Koreishitic, or pure Arabic, as found in the Koran, and through its influence preserved from all vulgarism and provincialisms, as the language of state and literature; in other words, the spoken differed somewhat from the written language. The Arabic had attained its flourishing period after the composition of the Koran. With the restoration of Arabic literature under the Abbasid caliphs, scientific prose took the place of the earlier poetry, and the language was philologically illustrated and protected from oblivion; but at the same time it gradually became deteriorated in respect to flexibility and variety, and circumlocutions were employed instead of idiomatic formations. Since the fourteenth or fifteenth century the Arabic language has undergone no change. There still prevail, however, certain dialects with considerable variations; e.g. the Moorish, or that of Morocco (see Bombay, Grammat. linguae Mauro-Arabicae, Vienna, 1800), the altogether peculiar Maltese (Gesenius, Versuch ub. d. maltesische Sprache, Lpz. 1810), the Melindan, Mapulian, and others. In Aleppo, Arabic is spoken in the softest and purest form.

II. Elements and Structure. — The letters of the alphabet are twenty-eight, and, as in Hebrew, they are all consonants, and read from right to left. They differ, however, entirely in form from the Heb., more closely resembling the Syriac, and their order is almost wholly different from either of those languages. The form, too, of most of them undergoes a considerable change when connected with a preceding or following letter, or when final. Several of them differ from each other only by the addition of a diacritical point (as from שׁ). Their peculiar power is such that many of them can hardly be accurately represented either by the Heb. or by English characters; the sound of some of them, indeed, is described as altogether foreign to European tongues. The letters are also often compounded in writing into ligatures. The "weak letters" (corresponding to א, ו, and י) are also used to prolong a vowel sound, or (as in Syriac) to form a diphthong. The vowel points are far more simple than in Heb., but this is fully made up, in point of difficulty to the learner, by the peculiar marks or signs frequently employed in connection with certain letters, or in certain positions, to indicate, an implied, developed, prolonged, or connected sound. In ordinary writing (and printing) this whole system of vocalization is omitted. Several of the letters (called "solar") are doubled in pronouncing when initial after the article, the final letter of which is then silent (like the dagesh forte of the Hebrews after הִ). A similar system of prefixes and suffixes (for prepositions, pronouns, particles, etc.) exists to that in Heb., but with somewhat more variety in application. Vav "conversive," however, disappears in the Arabic, as in the Chaldee. Numbers are expressed by peculiar characters for the digits, or the ordinary letters, as in Gr. and Heb., may be used with a numerical value. The accent is never written, but stands, in dissyllables, upon the penult, in polysyllables upon the antepenult, unless the penult has a long vowel, which then takes the tone. An extended system of prosody and versification belongs to the language, and forms a marked contrast with the simple poetry of the Hebrew.

The Arabic is rich in grammatical forms. In nouns, as well as pronouns and verbs, the dual is customary; and for the plural the noun has a large store of collective forms. The singular has three (so-called) cases, distinguished chiefly by the pointing, and corresponding to the nominative, genitive, and dative (besides forms for the accusative, and the interjective mark of the vocative), together with the "nunnation;" the dual and plural only two (the nominative and objective). To the verbs (which, as in Heb., afford triliteral roots of all the words) belong thirteen forms or conjugations, somewhat answering to those of the Heb.; which either have a factive, reciprocal, passive, and desiderative force, or else modify the ground-meaning of the root. Each of these, except the ninth and eleventh, has a passive as well as an active voice. The tenses, properly so called, are the same in number, use, and method of formation, as in Heb. Other relations of time are expressed by employing the substantive verb as an auxiliary. A nearly like series of weak or defective verbs is found as in the Hebrews Apocopated, paragogic, and intensified forms of the tenses exist, almost having the force of moods. Verbal nouns are used as infinitives, and verbal adjectives as participles; or these forms may be regarded as the regular infinitives and participles of the several conjugations and voices. There are various inflections to express gender, place, instrumentality, authorship, diminutiveness, etc. The comparative and superlative have appropriate forms.

The formation of sentences is simple, but syntactical. A terse vigor is characteristic of the language; yet the style of Arabic writers is various: in some, for example the more ancient, extremely natural and plain; in those of later date, more artificial and ornate. The language of the common people (vulgar Arabic) differs from the written in the omission of the final vowels of words, in certain ungrammatical flexions and constructions, and in the use of some conventional terms. (On the pronunciation of the Palestinian Arabs, see Dr. E. Smith's appendix to the first ed. of Robinson's Bibl. Researches, vol. 3.)

III. Relations to Hebrew. — "The close affinity, and consequently the incalculable philological use of the Arabic with regard to the Hebrew language and its other sisters, may be considered partly as a question of theory, and partly as one of fact.

1. The following are the theoretical grounds: First, the Arabs, of Yemen are derived from Kahtan, the Joktan of Ge 10:25, whom the Arabs make the son of Eber (Pococke's Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 39 sq.). These form the pure Arabs. Then Ishmael intermarried with a descendant of the line of Kahtan, and became the progenitor of the tribes of Heiaz. These are the insititious Arabs. These two roots of the nation correspond with the two great dialects into which the language was once divided: that of Yemen, under the name of the Himyaritic, of which all that has come down to us (except what may have been preserved in the Ethiopic) is a few inscriptions; and that of Hejaz, under that of the dialect of Mudhar, or, descending a few generations in the same line, of Khoreish — the dialect of the Koran and of all their literature. Next, Abraham sent away his sons by Keturah, and they also became the founders of Arabic tribes. Also, the circumstance of Esau's settling in Mount Seir, where the Idumeeans descended from his loins, may be considered as a still later medium by which the idioms of Palestine and Arabia preserved their harmony. SEE ARABIA. Secondly, Olaus Celsius (in his Hist. Ling. et Erudit. Arab.) cites the fact of the sons of Jacob conversing with the Ishmaelite caravan (Ge 37:28), and that of Moses with his father-in-law the Midianite (Ex 4:18). To these, however, Scheiling (in his Abhandl. v. d. Gebrauch. der A rab. Sprache, p. 14) objects that they are not conclusive, as the Ishmaelites, being merchants, might have acquired the idiom of the nations they traded with, and as Moses might owe an acquaintance with Arabic to his residence in Egypt. Nevertheless, one of Celsius's inferences derives considerable probability from the only instance of mutual intelligibility which Michaelis has adduced (Beurtheilung der Mittel die ausgestorbene Hebr. Sprache zu verstehen, p. 156), namely, that Gideon and his servant went down by night to the camp of "Midian, Amalek, and all the Bene Kedem," to overhear their conversation with each other, and understood what they heard (Jg 8:9-14). Lastly, Schultens (Oratio de Reg. Sabaeor. in his Opp, Minora) labors to show that the visit of the queen of Sheba to Solomon is a strong proof of the degree of proximity in which the two dialects then stood to each other. These late traces of resemblance, moreover, are rendered more striking by the notice of the early diversity between Hebrew and Aramaic (Ge 31:47). The instance of the Ethiopian chamberlain in Ac 8:28, may not be considered an evidence, if Heinrichs, in his note ad loc. in Nov. Test. edit. Kopp, is right in asserting that he was reading the Septuagint version, and that Philip the deacon was a Hellenist. Thus springing from the same root as the Hebrew, and possessing such traces of affinity to so late a period as the time of Solomon, this dialect was farther enabled, by several circumstances in the social state of the nation, to retain its native resemblance of type until the date of the earliest extant written documents. These circumstances were the almost insular position of the country, which prevented conquest or commerce from debasing the language of its inhabitants; the fact that so large a portion of the nation adhered to a mode of life in which every impression was, as it were, stereotyped, and knew no variation for ages (a cause to which we may also in part ascribe the comparatively unimportant changes which the language has undergone during the 1400 years in which we can follow its history); and the great and just pride which they felt in the purity of their language, which, according to Burckhardt, is still a characteristic of the Bedouins (Notes on the Bedouins, p. 211). These causes preserved the language from foreign influences at a time when, as the Koran and a national literature had not yet given it its full stature, such influences would have been most able to destroy its integrity. During this interval, nevertheless, the language received a peculiarly ample development in a certain direction. The limited incidents of a desert life still allowed valor, love, generosity, and satire to occupy the keen sensibilities of the chivalrous Bedouin. These feelings found their vent in ready verse and eloquent prose; and thus, when Islam first called the Arabs into the more varied activity and more perilous collision with foreign nations, which resulted from the union of their tribes under a common interest to hold the same faith and to propagate it by the sword, the language had already received all the development which it could derive from the pre-eminently creative and refining impulses of poetry and eloquence.

2. "But great as may be the amount of resemblance between Arabic and Hebrew which a due estimate of all the theoretical grounds for the affinity and for the diversity between them would entitle us to assume, it is certain that a comparison of the actual state of both in their purest form evinces a degree of proximity which exceeds expectation. Not only may two thirds of the Hebrew roots (to take the assertion of Aurivillius, in his Dissertationes, p. 11, ed. Michaelis) be found in Arabic under the corresponding letters, and either in the same or a very kindred sense; but, if we allow for the changes of the weak and cognate letters, we shall be able to discover a still greater proportion. To this great fundamental agreement in the vocabulary (the wonder of which is somewhat diminished by a right estimate of the immense disproportion between the two languages as to the number of roots) are to be added those resemblances which relate to the mode of inflexion and construction. Thus, in the verb, its two wide tenses, the mode by which the persons are denoted at the end in the past, and at the beginning (with the accessory distinctions at the end) in the future tense, its capability of expressing the gender in the second and third persons, and the system on which the conjugations are formed; and in the noun, the correspondence in formations, in the use of the two genders, and in all the essential characteristics of construction; the possession of the definite article; the independent and affixed pronouns; and the same system of separable and attached particles-all these form so broad a basis of community and harmony between the two dialects as could hardly be anticipated, when we consider the many centuries which separate the earliest written extant documents of each. The diversities between them, which consist almost entirely of fuller developments on the side of the Arabic, may be summed up under the following heads: A much more extensive system of conjugations in the verb, the dual in both tenses, and four forms of the future (three of which, however, exist potentially in the ordinary future, the jussive, and the cohortative of the Hebrew; see Ewald's Hebr. Gram. § 290, 293); the full series of infinitives; the use of auxiliary verbs; in the noun, the formations of the plural called broken or internal plurals, and the flexion by means of terminations analogous to three of our cases; and a perfectly defined system of meter. The most important of these differences consists in that final vowel after the last radical, by which some of the forms of the future and the several cases in the noun are indicated, which has been too hastily ascribed to an attempt of the grammarians to introduce Greek inflexions into Arabic (Hasse, Magazinfiir Biblisch-Orientalische Literatur, 1:230; Gesenius, Gesch. d.

Hebr. Sprache, p. 95). The Arabic alphabet also presents some remarkable differences. As a representation of sounds, it contains all the Hebrew letters; but, in consequence of the greater extent of the nation as a source of dialectual varieties of pronunciation, and also in consequence of the more developed and refined state of the language, the value of some of them is not exactly the same, and the characters that correspond to ת ח ד צ ט ע are used in a double capacity, and represent both halves of those sounds which exist unseparated in the Hebrew. The present order of the letters also is different, although there are evidences in their numerical value when so used, and in the memorial words (given in Ewald's Grammatica Critica Ling. Arab. § 67), that the arrangement was once the same in both. In a palaeographical point of view, the characters have under, gone many changes. The earliest form was that in the Himyarite alphabet. The first specimens of this character (which Arabic writers call al-Musnad, i.e. stilted, columnar) were given by Seetzen in the Fundgruben des Orients. Since then Professor Rodiger has produced others, and illustrated them in a valuable paper in the Zeitschrift fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 1, 332. The letters of this alphabet have a striking resemblance to those of the Ethiopic, which were derived from them. In Northern Arabia, on the other hand, and not very long before the time of Mohammed, the Syrian character called Estrangelo became the model on which the Arabic alphabet called the Kufic was formed. This heavy, angular Kufic character was the one in which the early copies of the Koran were written; and it is also found in the ancient Mohammedan coinage as late as the seventh century of the Hegira. From this, at length, was derived the light, neat character called Nishl, the one in which the Arabs continue to write at the present day, and which is represented in our printed books. The introduction of this character is ascribed to Ibn Mukla, who died in the year 327 of the Hegira. SEE ALPHABET. Lastly, it is worthy of notice that all the letters of the Arabic alphabet are only consonants; that, in an unpointed text, the long vowels are denoted by the use of Alif, Waw, and Ya, as matres lectionis; and that the short vowels are not denoted at all, but are left to be supplied according to the sense in which the reader takes the words; whereas, in a pointed text, three points only suffice to represent the whole vocalization, the equivalents to which, according to the way in which they are usually expressed, are a, i, u, pronounced as in Italian.

"The many uses of the Arabic language in Biblical philology (exclusive of the advantages it affords for comparing the Arabic versions) may in part be gathered from the degree of its affinity to the Hebrew; and, indeed, chiefly to the Hebrew before the exile, after which period the Aramaic is the most fruitful means of illustration (Mahn, Darsiellung der Leaicographie, p. 391). But there are some peculiarities in the relative position of the two dialects which considerably enhance the value of the aid to be derived from the Arabic. The Hebrew language of the Old Testament has preserved to us but a small fragment of literature. In the limited number of its roots (some of which even do not occur in the primary sense), in the rarity of some formations, and in the antique rudimentary mode in which some of its constructions are denoted, are contained those difficulties which cannot receive any other illustration than that which the sister dialects, and most especially the Arabic, afford. For this purpose, the resemblances between them are as useful as the diversities. The former enable us to feel certain on points which were liable to doubt; they confirm and establish an intelligent conviction that the larger portion of our knowledge of the meaning of words, and of the force of constructions in Hebrew, is on a sure foundation, because we recognize the same in a kindred form, and in a literature so voluminous as to afford us frequent opportunities of testing our notions by every variety of experience. The diversities, on the other hand (according to a mode of observation very frequent in comparative anatomy), show us what exists potentially in the rudimentary state by enabling us to see how a language of the same genius has, in the farther progress of`its development, felt the necessity of denoting externally those relations of formation and construction which were only dimly perceived in its antique and uncultivated form. Thus, to adduce a single illustration from the Arabic cases in the noun: The precise relation of the words mouth and life, in the common Hebrew phrases, "I call my mouth," and "he smote him his life" (Ewald's Hebr. Gram. § 482), is easily intelligible to one whom Arabic has familiarized with the perpetual use of the so-called accusative to denote the accessory descriptions of state. Another important advantage to be derived from the study of Arabic is the opportunity of seeing the grammar of a Syro-Arabian language explained by native scholars. Hebrew grammar has suffered much injury from the mistaken notions of men who, understanding the sense of the written documents by the aid of the versions, have been exempted from obtaining any independent and inward feeling of the genius of the language, and have therefore not hesitated to accommodate it to the grammar of our Indo-Germanic idioms. In Arabic, however, we have a language, every branch of the philosophical study of which has been successfully cultivated by the Arabs themselves. Their own lexicographers, grammarians, and scholiasts (to whom the Jews also are indebted for teaching them the grammatical treatment of Hebrew) have placed the language before us with such elaborate explanation of its entire character, that Arabic is not only by far the test understood of the Syro- Arabian dialects, but may even challenge comparison, as to the possession of these advantages, with the Greek itself."

IV. Literature. — The native works in Arabic are exceedingly numerous and varied, embracing philology, philosophy, natural science, poetry, history, etc. Many are still unpublished. A compendious view of the literary productions of Arabic authors may be found in Pierer's Universal Lexikon (Altenb. 1857 sq.), s.v. "Arabische Literatur;" also in Appleton's New American Encyclopedia, s.v. "Arabic Language and Literature." Comp. also an article on the "Arab. Lang. and Lit." by Prof. Packard, in the Am. Bibl. Repos. Oct. 1836, p. 429-448. Zenker's Bibliotheca Orientalis (Lpz. 1846-62, 2 vols. 8vo) gives a full list of Arabic books hitherto issued.

European works expressly on the history and usage of the Arabic language are by the following authors: Pococke (Oxf. 1661), Celsius (in Barkey's Bibl. Brem. 4:1, 2, 3), Hyde (in his Syntag. Diss. 2:450), Schultens (in his Orig. Heb. Lugd. B. 1761, p. 615), De Jenisch (Vien. 1780), Eichhorn (introd. to Richardson's Abh. ub. morgenland. Volker, Lpz. 1779), Hottinger (in his Analecta hist. theol. Tigur. 1652), Schelling (Stuttg. 1771), Schnurrer (in Eichhorn's Biblioth. 3, 951 sq.), Tingstad (Upsal. 1794), Humbert (Geneve, 1824). Arabic grammars are by the following: Erpenius (Leyd. 1613, and often since, abridged, etc., by Schultens, Michaelis, and others), Lakemacher (Helaist. 1718), Hirt (Jen. 1770), Vriemoet (Franeq. 1783), Hezel (Jen. 1776, etc.), id. (Lpz. 1784), Wahl (Halle, 1789), Paulus (Jen. 1790), Hasse (Jen. 1793), Tyschen (Rost. 1792), Jahn (Wien. 1796), Sylvbstre de Sacy (Par. 1810 and since), Von Lumsden (Calc. 1813), Roorda (2d ed. Leyd. 1858-9, 8vo), Von Oberleitner (Vien. 1822), Rosenmiuller (Lips. 1818), Tychsen (Gott. 1823), Ewald (Leipz. 1831, etc.), Vullers (Bonn, 1832), Petermann (Berol. 1840), Caspari (Leipz. 1848, 1859, an excellent manual), Glaire (Paris, 1861), Beaumont (Lond. 1861), Winckler (Lpz. 1862), Forbes (Lond. 1863), Goschel -(Vien. 1864), Wright (Grammar of the Arabian Language, from Caspari, with additions, 2 vols. 8vo, Lond. 1859-62, the best for English readers); on the new or vulgar Arabic, by Herberi (Par.

1803), Caussin de Perceval (2d ed. Paris, 1833), Savary (Paris, 1813), Bellamare (1850), Florian-Pharaon and E. L. Bertherand (Par. 1859), Wahrmund (Lpz. 1860 sq.). Native lexicons are those of the historian Fakr ed-Daulah (947993); Elias bar-Sina el-Jaubari (d. post 1200), El-Sihah, in Turkish, by Van Kuli (Const. 1728), and Persic (Calc. 1812); Firuzabadi's Kamus (Scutari. 1815 sq.): by Europeans, those of Giggejus (Mediol. 1632), Golius (Lugd. Bat. 1653), Mesquien Meninski (Vien. 1780-1801), Schied (Lugd. B. 1769, etc.), Willmet (Rotterd. 1784), Freytag (Hal. 1830- 1836, abridged, ib. 1838), Kazimiroti (1848), Catafago (Arabic and English Diet. Lond. 1858, 8vo, a convenient manual), Lane (Arabic Lexicon, Lond. 1863, sq. 4to, the best in English); for the vulgar Arabic, the lexicons of Cafies (1781), De Perceval (Paris, 1828, 2 vols.), De la Grange (Paris, 1828), De Passo (Alg. 1846). Chrestomathies are by Jahn (1802), De Sacy (Par. 1806, 1826, 3 vols.), Kosegarten (Lpz. 1824, 1828), Rosenmüller (Lpz. 1814), Von Humbert (Par. 1834), Freytag (Bonn, 1834), Arnold (Lond. 1856, the most convenient for English); but Tauchnitz's splendid ed. of the Koran (Lips. 1841, 2d ster. ed., small 4to) furnishes a sufficient reading-book: for the modern dialect is the work of Bresnier (Alg. 1845). Beginners in English may make use of Arabic Reading-Lessons by Davis and Davidson (published by Bagster, Lond. 12mo).

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