Ancient Scripts in the Arab World

During my visit to Paris after finishing up at Bordeaux, I followed up on a recommendation from a friend and visited the Institute of the Arab World, which was absolutely fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the part of the collection that explained the early history of the Arabian peninsula and the Levant, as it introduced me to scripts and languages that I was previously unaware of, such as Sabean, Thamudic, and the Ancient South Arabian script.

Recently, I came across an article in the New Yorker (via languagehat) and a podcast from UT about Ahmed Al-Jallad, who researches and deciphers inscriptions in the Safaitic script, which are written in an older, pre-Islamic form of Arabic. The Safaitic alphabet is primarily found in Syria and Jordan, and Al-Jallad theorizes that forms of Arabic were present in this region before the rise of Classical Arabic on the Arabian peninsula. In the podcast, Al-Jallad discusses pre-Islamic inscriptions written in the Arabic alphabet. Those found to this point are generally associated with a Christian identity, rather than a pagan one. I would highly recommend reading the article and podcast (with transcript) if you are interested in Arabic history, linguistics, or just generally get excited about deciphering ancient scripts and languages. Al-Jallad also has an interesting discussion of Safaitic with photos and translations on his Twitter account.

 

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