Scribal Traditions in Documentary Arabic: From the One Imperial Standard Language to the One (Jewish) Language for Transnational Communication (from the Seventh to the Twelfth Centuries)
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Scholars generally read Documentary Arabic according to the norms of Standard Arabic, the constructed ideal language of Abbasid literati. But this essay shows that the nonstandard features of Documentary Arabic were not spontaneous creations by the unlearned but rather scribal traditions carefully transmitted from one generation to the next. Umayyad Documentary Arabic was first and foremost the language used by state officials to display, in public, the authority of the Muslim state and, secondarily, the insider language that the small Arabic elite used to communicate on business and private matters. Given the nature of this elite, it is not surprising to find that this language was fairly uniform. Abbasid Documentary Arabic was the language used to display and administer the authority of the many loosely interacting and for the most part rival rulers but mainly became the language of choice that learned people used to communicate on business and private matters as well as in academic exchange. To mark provenance and affiliation, scribes most probably used not only whole words and formulas and distinctive scripts and layouts but also minor variants in orthography, form, and government. The Arabic of Fatimid Documentary Judeo-Arabic documents found in the Geniza is, this analysis demonstrates, nothing more than mainstream Fatimid Documentary Arabic, albeit continuously transliterated from Arabic into Hebrew characters. Geniza documentary materials must therefore be read as part of a continuous tradition of Arabic derived from state administration rather than as a Jewish sociolect or a variant of standard Arabic.
KeywordsArabic documents Judeo-Arabic documents Arabic orthography Middle Arabic Documentary Arabic
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