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Dr Christian Robin delivered a lecture on the origins of the Arabic language at the Yarmouk Cultural Centre on Monday evening as part of the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah’s 23rd cultural season.
Dr Robin is the director of research emeriti of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France, the founder of the French research center in Sana’a (Yemen) and has served as director for many archaeological expeditions and research projects. He is the author of numerous books and scientific papers, most related to Yemen and its history. He also edited several publications and created two important archaeological maps, one of ancient Yemen and the other of Yemen’s Al-Jawf Valley.
In his lecture, he shared that in ancient times, the linguistic diversity of Arabia was greater than it is today. From the beginning of the twentieth century, the languages of pre-Islamic Arabia have been divided into two groups: the South Arabian and the North Arabian languages. The foundations of this ranking were more cultural than linguistic.
The discovery of new texts in great number and the study of these texts reveal a much more complex situation. Old denominations that have no foundation must be abandoned. As for the Arabic language, he pointed to clues in the south-west in Najrân and Qaryat al-Fa’w, the north of the Hijâz and the Syrian desert, from about 300 BCE, in various scripts and deduced that was only after 300 CE that the movement of unification began with a new alphabet derived from the Nabatean Aramaic.
He shared that his presentation will be based on the type of writing found on newly discovered inscriptions but notes that the linguistic analysis remains superficial on account of the defective writing and also revealed that most texts are very short and laconic without linguistic data.
His three-part presentation included the formalization of Arabic writing around the middle of the 5th Century to the period before the formalization of Arabic writing and the reconstruction of some evolutions owing to the inscriptions of the south of the Arabian Peninsula
He shared that while Pre-Islamic inscriptions in Arabic script known for a long time to come from Syria in areas like Zabad, Usays, Harran and from Iraq in places like Dayr Hind in al-Hira.
He shared with the audience, an inscription found in Zabad, Northern Syria, dated September 512 that features a cross and Arabic text in the lower line. Another inscription found in Usays, Central Syria and previously dated 528-529 CE can be accurately traced to 532-533 CE. He discussed another inscription from Harran, Southern Syria dated 568 CE.
He remarked that pre-Islamic inscriptions in Arabic script discovered during the last 5 years were found in Hima and Dumat al-Jandal in Saudi Arabia, and Burqu in Jordan. Of those found in Hima, are two dated inscriptions and nearly 30 undated inscriptions.
The first dated inscription at Himà-Sud PalAr 1 found on a large stele depicts a cross and the text — “Thawban (son of) Malik in the month of burak year 364”. A second dated inscription from Himà-al-Musammat PalAr 1, reads “Qays son of Khidash al-mu’tamir of the year 408”. Commenting on the era supplied by both texts, he reasoned that the unique era possible is that of the Roman province of Arabia with inception of the first day of the spring (equinox) of year 105 CE. This era was the one used for centuries by the Arabs of the Bilad al-Sham (al-Namara), Northern Hijaz and Sinai.
He showed several examples of undated inscriptions in Hima before turning his attention to two pre-Islamic inscriptions in Arabic script discovered in the last 15 years, one found in Saudi Arabia in Dumat al-Jandal dated 548-549 CE, and the other found in Northern Jordan, Qasr Burqu’ near al-Mafraq.
Results of the new discoveries shed light on the use of Arabic alphabet in 470 CE, 150 years before the hijra and also attested in Southern Arabia. According to the Arab-Muslim scholarly tradition, al-Baladhuri (d. 892 CE), Futuh al-buldan; Ibn al-Nadim (d. 995 or 998 CE), al-Fihrist, the Arabic alphabet appears in Arabia at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the northern half of the Arabian peninsula.
He pointed out that the vocabulary included Aramaic words before 500 CE and disappearing in the course of the 6th Century. Commenting on the orthography, he shared that many proper names were found with ending-w, the definite article always written ’l- with alif and lam, and the letter hamza always written as ’l-m’tmr.
Pre-Islamic inscriptions in various scripts were known for a long time included Nabataean found in Mada’in Salih in Saudi Arabia, al-Namara in Southeast Syria and En Avdat, Israel, the South Arabian script found in Qaryat al-Fa’w, Saudi Arabia and Haram, al-Jawf, Yemen as well as the North Arabian of Safaitic, al-’Ula (Dedan) and al-Hufuf et Thaj (Hagar).
He revealed to the audience Pre-Islamic inscriptions in Nabataean script discovered during the last 15 years including one dated 500 CE containing inscription of the son of King Tha’laba.
He affirmed that the new discoveries set new chronological milestones for three successive forms of the Arabic definite article, two successive forms of the Arabic factitive verb af’ala as well as the date of the oldest Arabic inscriptions. He concluded his lecture by stating that the use of the Arabic script was first attested in 470 CE, 150 years before the hijra and from Northern Syria to Southern Arabia with the first substantial texts using Arabic language found in Najran close to 250 BCE and Qaryat al-Fa’w close to 1st Century BCE.
By Cinatra Fernandes – Arab Times Staff