The earliest stages of Arabic and its linguistic classification

Authored by: Ahmad Al-Jallad

The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Linguistics

Print publication date:  January  2018
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138783331
eBook ISBN: 9781315147062
Adobe ISBN:


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The first clear attestation of an Arabic word occurs in the Kurkh monolith inscription of the neo-Assyrian monarch, Shalmaneser III (853 BCE). The text lists the names of a coalition of leaders who opposed the expansion of the Assyrians into the Levant. Among rulers such as Adad-’idri of Damascus and Ahab the Israelite, we find mGi-in-di-bu- kur Ar-ba-a-a, that is, ‘Gindibu the Arab’ (lit, of the land of Arb?y). The cuneiform sources use the term “Arab” (A-ri-bi) to describe peoples living from Mesopotamia in the east to the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, and from northwest Arabia to the Sinai in the south (Eph’al 1982). Later Greek and Persian sources record the presence of Arabs across the Fertile Crescent and North Arabia as well, although it not always possible to determine what individual authors meant when they used the term (see the various articles in Macdonald 2009). Only one text in the Arabic language can be dated to this period: a Ancient North Arabian inscription, discovered at Bayir in Jordan, containing a prayer to the gods of the Iron Age kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom, Malkom, Kem?ลก, and Qaws, respectively (Hayajneh, Ababneh, and Khraysheh 2015). While the text is undated, the combination of its contents as well as an accompanying Canaanite inscription strongly suggest a a mid to late Iron Age II date. Aside from this short prayer, the Arabic of the ancient Near East is known only from a handful of personal and divine names transcribed in other languages (on these fragments, see Macdonald 2008).

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