Sprache unter Arabern und Aramäern

Dynamics of Language, Religion and Identity in Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew Texts from the Early Islamicate Near East (8th–11th centuries CE)


Ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic factors among others combine in forming identities in the Near East, past and present. Against this backdrop, the actual meaning of expressions denoting ethnic and/or linguistic group affiliations like “Arab/Arabic”, “Aramean/Aramaic”, “(As)Syrian” and similar terms.

What is meant is conditioned not only by writers’ biographies, their geographical place of origin and/or writing, their ethnicity, their religious affiliation or the language used in writing but also by additional variables such as gender, the socio-cultural background, the (supposed) identity of audiences, the current state of political affairs, and similar issues. Moreover, identities are not static but dynamic. In addition to a synchronous level of dynamics, there is also a diachronic level fueled, e.g., by the contexts of history, larger religious, ethnic or national narratives, or migration.

The project “Dynamics of Language, Religion and Identity in Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew Texts from the Early Islamicate Near East (8th–11thcenturies CE)” examines expressions that correlate with collective notions referring to membership in ethnic, linguistic, and/or religious groups. It focuses on linguistic mechanisms of constructing identities and otherness attested in selected texts from the formative period of Islam up to the 11th century CE. This era brings the period of late antiquity in the larger Eastern Mediterranean region to a close, resulting in thoroughly transformed and consolidated cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious constellations due to the emergence of Islam.

Given the scope of time and space as well as the abundance of texts, the project seeks to exemplify the mechanisms and dynamics involved in constructing identities and otherness and follows a three-pronged approach: (1) It traces the development of the notion of “the Arabic language” (ʿarabī orʿarabiyya) as a national language paralleling the emergence of “the Arabs” as self-conscious ethnic and/or national identity in late Umayyad and early Abbasid times, (2) it examines the notions underlying the designation of terms as Syriac and/or Nabatean loanwords in early Islamic exegetical literature, and (3) it investigates the use and function of verba dicendi and Islamically flavoured expressions in Saadia Gaon’s Judeo-Arabic translation of the Pentateuch as a means for marking and defending Jewish identity.

The project focuses not only on basic forms of self-perception and the perception of others but also on situation-related factors and dynamics that may influence the sense of belonging/ascription to a respective group as attested in the adduced sources as well as the utilization of respective linguistic means. It seeks to identify and describe the different ethnic and linguistic variables found in the selected texts, but also the contributing historical, religious, and sociocultural factors.By apprehending and hierarchizing the different attested factors and dynamics involved in the formation of ethnic, linguistic and religious identities in Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew texts, the project will offer a contribution to our understanding of interpersonal contacts among people of different ethnic, linguistic and religious belongings in the early Islamic Near East.

Publikationen und Vorträge

  • “Classical Arabic”. In: John Huehnergard and Na’ama Pat-El (Eds.), The Semitic Languages (2. Ausgabe). Routledge Language Family Series. New York: Routledge 2019, 367-402.
  • “ʾAʿribū l-qurʾān! – Reading the rasm according to relevant ḥadīṯ materials”. Paper presented at the conference “Reading the Rasm II”, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, December 3-5 2019.
  • “Divine Speech in Saadia Gaon’s Arabic Bible Translation – A Bridge Between Two Cultures?”. Paper presented at the symposium “Divine Logos and Transmission: Translating and Interpreting Foreign Revelations”, Frankfurt University, July 1-3 2019.
  • Re-engaging Comparative Arabic and Semitic Studies (Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, 115). Edited by Daniel Birnstiel and Na’ama Pat-El. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2018.
  •  “Neither Clear nor Clarifying – Yet Clearly Arabic”. In: Daniel Birnstiel and Na’ama Pat-El (Eds.), Re-engaging Comparative Semitic and Arabic Studies. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2018, 45-104.
  • “הֶחָכָם, but הַחָכְמָה: Some Notes on the Vocalisation of the Definite Article in Tiberian Hebrew”. In: Nadia Vidro et al. (Hrsg.), Studies in Semitic Linguistics and Manuscripts: A Liber Discipulorum in Honour of Professor Geoffrey Khan. Studia Semitica Upsaliensia. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis 2018, 111-131.
  • “The syllable structure of the Quranic Consonantal Text – some thoughts”. Paper presented at the conference “Reading the Rasm – Quranic Text, Reading Traditions and The ʿArabiyya”, Leiden University, December 7-8 2018.
  • “Losst it is, my precious, lost, lost!”. Paper presented at the conference „Vergessen, verschwiegen, verdrängt: Nicht repräsentierte Stimmen, Konzepte und Texte des Islams“,Frankfurt University, May 7-9 2018.
  • “Vowel lengthening and syllable structure in Qurʾanic reading traditions”. . Paper presented at the conference “Semitic vocalization and reading traditions”, Cambridge University, May 4 2018.
  • “Information structure, topic and focus in Kurdistan Arabic – some remarks”. Paper presented at the conference “Contact linguistics in cross-border Kurdistan”, Frankfurt University, December 2-3 2017.
  • “Problems and Challenges of Verb Stem Derivation in Qur’anic Arabic”. Paper presented at the 45th North Atlantic Conference for Afro-Asiatic Linguistics, Leiden University, June 9-11- 2017.
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