Sunday, December 18, 2016

18 December: Arabic Language Day

ARABIC WATCH: Examining the origins of Arabic ahead of Arabic Language Day (Rym Ghazal, The National).
To understand Arabs and their culture, one must first understand their language, but with many conflicting theories about its origins, this is no easy task.

To celebrate a language used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, ­December 18 is the designated UN Arabic Language Day. The day was established by the UN ­ Educational, Scientific and ­Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 2010 to "celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the ­organisation."

This date was chosen because it was the day in 1973 when ­Arabic became the sixth official working language of the General ­Assembly of the United Nations and its main commissions – the others being Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The article has some information about Arabic linguistics and its place in the development of the Semitic languages, but the part of main interest for PaleoJudaica is on the influence of Nabatean on Arabic script:
"Some say Arabic script originated from Al Hirah (fourth-to-­seventh-century Mesopotamia) in the north, while others say it originated from the south of ­Arabia, from Himyar (110 BC to AD 525)," Al Naboodah. "The origin of Arabic is a highly debated topic, with new discoveries still happening."

A discovery in 2014 by a French-Saudi expedition team hailed "the oldest known inscription in the Arabic alphabet" at a site located near Najran in ­Saudi Arabia. The script, which was found on stelae (stone slabs) that has been preliminarily dated to AD 470, corresponds to a period in which there was a missing link between Nabataean and Arabic writing.

"The first thing that makes this find significant is that it is a mixed text, known as ­Nabataean Arabic, the first stage of ­Arabic writing," says epigrapher Frédéric ­Imbert, a professor at Aix-Marseille ­University.

The Nabataean script was developed from Aramaic writing during the second century BC and continued to be used until around the fourth or fifth century. Nabataean is therefore considered the direct precursor of the Arabic script. Nabataean script is a close ancestor, and the Najran style is the "missing link" between Nabataean and the first "Kufi" inscriptions.

Until this discovery, one of the earliest inscriptions in the ­Arabic language was written in the ­Nabataean alphabet, found in Namara (modern Syria) and dated to AD 328, on display at the Louvre in Paris.
At the beginning of the article there is also a nice photograph of a Nabatean inscription dated to 10 CE. The caption reports: "The stone is on display at The Sharjah Archaeology Museum under the Exhibition: Petra, Desert Wonder until March 16, 2017." The Sharjah Museum is in the UAE.

Some related posts are collected here and links. Cross-file under Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch and Aramaic Watch. There is a lot more on the Nabatean language and script here and links. More on ancient Aramaic in the UAE is here and links.