Questioning the Primacy of Religion in Middle Arabic Studies: The case of fuʿul verbs
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Late Judaeo-Arabic texts often exhibit frequent matres lectionis. When the phonetic information indicated by these spellings conforms neither to the norms of Classical Arabic nor the modern dialects, some scholars have interpreted them as unique to Arabic-speaking Jews. This has led to the suggestion of a distinct Egyptian Jewish dialect during the pre-modern and modern periods (see, e.g., HARY 1992; ROSENBAUM 2002; ROSENBAUM 2006; HARY 2009; ROSENBAUM 2012; HARY 2017; ØRUM 2017: 2). The /u-u/ vowel pattern of suffix-conjugation verbs is generally understood among Judaeo-Arabic scholars as characteristic of this religiously defined dialect. This article examines this feature as it appears in Late Egyptian Judaeo-Arabic texts alongside data from late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century grammars, dictionaries, and glossaries of Cairene Arabic. It queries the use of religion as the primary variable through which pre-modern written linguistic features are examined in Middle Arabic studies; challenges the ahistorical narrative of Jewish isolation that endures in Late Judaeo-Arabic studies; and highlights the methodological risks of relying on modern Arabic dialectal norms in the assessment of pre-modern linguistic features.
Keywords: Middle Arabic; Judaeo-Arabic; religion; morpho-phonology; historical linguistics