A Quantitative Approach to Variation in Case Inflection in Arabic Documentary Papyri The Case of ʾab in Construct

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Fokelien Kootstra



The Arabic documentary papyri (seventh–ninth centuries Ce) are precious wit- nesses to the day-to-day written Arabic of their time. These texts exhibit consider- able variation in grammar and orthography. Classical Arabic and the prescriptive attitudes of the Arabic grammarians traditionally provided the lens through which the earliest documents of the Islamic period have been read. Since Classical Ara- bic was only fully canonized in the tenth century, approaching the early Arabic papyri, and the variation attested in them, through this standard is anachronistic. This article seeks to understand the language of these documents on their own terms. It employs a quantitative approach to investigate the nominal case system, focusing on the form of ʾab in construct, producing a fine-grained analysis of how inflection operated in early documentary Arabic, and attempts to account for points of divergence within a historical and sociolinguistic framework.

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