Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not as "Arabic" as it is claimed

An interesting article on loan words in Arabic was prompted by the recent debacle on whether the term "Allah" is purely the property of Malaysian Muslims..

Note please, they don't speak Arabic. Note again, Islam came to an Arabic-speaking Arabia that was full of Christian, Jews and other religions, and where Arabic jostled side by side with Aramaic, Syriac and Hebrew.

But that is the province of historical linguistics in "democratic" countries, not of political war-mongering and nationalistic hip-hop to the tune of religion.

It is evident that there is no such thing as a pure language which would presuppose a self-contained and self-sufficient linguistic community, hermetically sealed from interactions with neighboring linguistic communities – a historical impossibility by any account. Loan words in the Koran point to this over and over again..

"From the earliest period of Islam down to the present day, attentive readers have observed that there are words in the Koran which appear to be of non-Arabic origin. Such observations, motivated by varying factors, have been the source of controversy, discussions and extensive study in traditional Muslim and Euro-American scholarship," says Andrew Rippin his article on “Foreign Vocabulary” in Encyclopedia of the Quran vol 2 E- I ed., Jane Dammen McAullife (Brill 2002) pp. 226- 237).

And the hip-hop response to this is that (a) God sent the Koran down in the a form which the Arabs will easily understand. i.e. Arabic; (b) Arabic is the widest and richest of the languages, it should not be surprising that they exists similar words between Koranic Arabic and other languages (DUH? It is only the 8th language of the world, with English being by now the first, followed by Chinese); (c) words of foreign origin are to be found in the Koran but they had been incorporated into Arabic well before the revelation of the Koran and are thus to be considered Arabic, and the nature of the Arabic usage of such words is superior to their usage as found in other languages (is that why almost all technical terms nowadays are being transliterated from English?).

In his 1938 book, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Koran (now almost an obsolete academic curiosity, considering the Arab Middle East can't speak proper Arabic anyway), Arthur Jeffrey wrote, “Closer examination of the question [foreign words in the Koran] reveals even further and more detailed correspondences than these which appear on the surface, and forces on one the conviction that not only the greater part of the religious vocabulary, but also most of the cultural vocabulary of the Koran is of non-Arabic origin".

A few examples will suffice here:

Why, for example, does khalîfa end with an “a” which should denote it as a feminine? There is no answer from Arabic, but in Aramaic it is the article which usually in that language comes as an “a” (alif in Aramaic/Syriad spelling, ta’ marbuta in Arabic) at the end of the word, e.g. meshîha, the Messiah. These scholars would have been able to account for the “feminine” gender of khalîfa if they admit to its origin in the cognate Semitic languages.

Consider the words ‘salat’, or ‘zakat’ - why is it that in Koranic Arabic they are spelled with a “w” in the middle, and not, as outside of the Koran, with ‘alif’ to make it sound a long “a” (salât), while the Koranic spelling makes it sound like ‘salôt’,or ‘zakôt’? There is no answer from Arabic grammar for this observation, but the phenomenon is easy to explain if we take them to be loan words from Aramaic/Syriac, which uses a long ‘o’ where the Arabic uses a long ‘a’. The same explanation applies to the word, ‘salâm’ and ‘shalôm’.

The hip-hop continues, and will eventually become a civil war over a loan word.. Nevermind who is loaning from whom.

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at http://www.arabic.com.au/.

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