Part 53

Language is a technical habit

December 31, 2021

All languages are habits similar to crafts techniques. They are habits (located) in the tongue and serve the purpose of expressing ideas.

The good or inadequate (character of such expression) depends on the perfection or deficiency of the habit. This does not apply to individual words but to word combinations. A speaker who possesses a perfect (linguistic) habit and is thus able to combine individual words so as to express the ideas he wants to express, and who is able to observe the form of composition that makes his speech conform to the requirements of the situation, is as well qualified as is (humanly) possible to convey to the listener what he wants to convey. This is what is meant by eloquence.

Habits result only from repeated action. 1329 An action is done first (once).

Thus, it contributes an attribute to the essence. With repetition it becomes a condition, which is an attribute that is not firmly established. After more repetition it becomes a habit, that is, a firmly established attribute.

As long as the habit of the Arabic language existed among the Arabs, an Arab speaker always heard the people of his generation (race) speak (Arabic). He hears their ways of address and how they express what they want to express. He is like a child hearing individual words employed in their proper meanings. 1330 He learns them first.1331 Afterwards, he hears word combinations and learns them likewise. He hears something new each moment from every speaker, 1331a and his own practice is constantly repeated, until (use of proper speech) becomes a habit and a firmly established attribute.

Thus, (the child) becomes like one of (the Arabs). In this way, (Arab) languages and dialects have passed from generation to generation, and both non-Arabs and children have learned them. 1332

This is (what is) meant by the common saying= “The Arabs have (their) language from nature.” 1333 That is, they have it from (their own) original habit, and while (others) learned it from them, they themselves did not learn it from anyone else.

The (linguistic) habit of the Mudar became corrupt when they came into contact with non-Arabs. The reason for that corruption was that the generation growing up heard other ways of expressing the things they wanted to express than the Arab (ways). They used them to express what they wanted to express, because there were so many non-Arabs coming into contact with the Arabs. They also heard the ways in which the Arabs expressed themselves. As a result, matters became confused for them. They adopted (ways of expressing themselves) from both sides.

Thus, there originated a new habit which was inferior to the first one. This is what is meant by “corruption of the Arabic language.” 1334 Therefore, the dialect of the Quraysh was the most correct and purest Arabic dialect, because the Quraysh were on all sides far removed from the lands of the non-Arabs. Next came (the tribes) around the Quraysh, the Thaqif, the Hudhayl, the Khuza’ah, the Banu Kinanah, the Ghatafan, the Banu Asad, and the Banu Tamim. The Rabi’ah, the Lakhm, the Judham, the Ghassan, the Iyad, the Quda’ah, and theArabs of the Yemen lived farther away from the Quraysh, and were (variously) neighbors of the Persians, the Byzantines, and the Abyssinians. Because they had contact with non-Arabs, their linguistic habit was not perfect. The Arabic dialects were used by Arab philologists as arguments for (linguistic) soundness or corruption according to the (degree of) remoteness of (the tribes speaking them) from the Quraysh.

46. Contemporary Arabic 1335 is an independent language different from the languages of the Mudar and the Himyar.

Arabic as it is spoken today follows the ways of the Mudar language.

The only loss is that of the vowels indicating the distinction between subject and object. Instead, one uses position within the sentence and syntactic combinations (qara’in) 1336 to indicate certain special meanings one wants to express. However, the clarity and eloquence of the Mudar language are greater and more firmly rooted (than those of present-day Arabic). The words themselves indicate the ideas. What still requires indication are the requirements of a particular situation, called “the spread of the situation.” 1337

Of necessity, every idea is surrounded by situations peculiar to it. Therefore, it is necessary to indicate those situations in conveying the meaning one wants to convey, because they belong to it as attributes. In all (other) languages, the situations are as a rule indicated by expressions restricted, by convention, to (those situations). But in the Arabic language, they are indicated by the conditions and possibilities of combining words (in a sentence), such as earlier or later position (of words in a sentence), ellipsis, or vowel endings. They are (also) indicated by letters that are not used independently.

Hence, the classes of speech in the Arabic language differ according to the different ways of indicating the possibilities, as we have stated before. Therefore, Arabic speech is more concise and uses fewer words and expressions than any other language. This is what was meant in the following remark by Muhammad= “I was given the most comprehensive words, and speech was made short for me.” 1338

One may compare the story of Isa b. ‘Umar. 1339 A grammarian said to him= “I find duplications in Arabic speech. The (three) sentences, ‘Zayd is standing,’ ‘Behold, Zayd is standing,’ and ‘Behold, Zayd is indeed standing,’ all mean the same.” Isa replied= “(No! All three) mean something different. The first (sentence) gives information to a person who has no previous knowledge as to whether Zayd is standing (or not). The second (sentence) gives information to a person who has heard about it but denies it. And the third (sentence) gives information to a person who knows it but persists in denying it. Thus, the meaning differs according to the different situations (one wants to express).”

Such eloquence and stylistic (precision) has continued to this day to be a part of Arab custom and method. No attention should be paid to the nonsensical talk of certain professional grammarians who are not capable of understanding the situation correctly and who think that eloquence no longer exists and that the Arabic language is corrupt. They draw this conclusion from the corruption of the vowel endings, the rules for which are their (particular) subject of study. But such a statement is inspired by both partisan attitude and lack of ability. Actually, we find that most Arabic words are still used today in their original meanings. Arabic speech can still today express what one wants to express with different degrees of clarity. In their speeches (the Arabs) still employ the methods and the different branches 1340 of the (old language of) prose and poetry. There still exist eloquent speakers at (Arab)parties and gatherings. There are poets who are gifted in all the ways of the Arabic language. (The existence of) a sound taste and healthy disposition (as far as linguistic matters are concerned) attests to the fact that (the Arabic language is still intact). 1341 The only part of the codified language that no longer exists is the i’rab, the vowel endings that were used in the language of the Mudar in a uniform and definite manner and that form part of the laws of (the Arabic) language.

Concern 1342 for the Mudar language was only felt when that language became corrupt through the contact of (Arabs) with non-Arabs, at the time when (the Arabs) gained control of the provinces of the Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the Maghrib. (At that time) the (Arabic linguistic) habit took on a form different from the one it had had originally. The (Mudar language) was thus transformed into another language. (Now,) the Qur’an was revealed in (the language of the Mudar), and the Prophetical traditions were transmitted in it, and both the Qur’an and the traditions are the basis of Islam. It was feared that, as a result of the disappearance of the language in which they were revealed, they themselves might be forgotten and no longer be understood.

Therefore, a systematic treatment of its laws, a presentation of the analogical formations used in it, and the derivation of its rules were needed. (Knowledge of Arabic) thus became a science with subdivisions, chapters, premises, and problems. The scholars who cultivated that science called it grammar and Arabic philology. It became a discipline known by heart and fixed in writing, a ladder leading up to the understanding of the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Prophet.

Perhaps, if we were to concern ourselves with the presentday Arabic language and evolve its laws inductively, we would find other things and possibilities indicating what the vowel endings, which no longer exist, (used to) indicate, things that exist in the (present-day language) and that have their own peculiar rules. 1343 Perhaps, (certain rules) apply to the endings of (the words of the present-day Arabic language, only) in a manner different from that which existed originally in the language of the Mudar. Languages and (linguistic) habits are not matters of chance.

The relationship of the Mudar language to the Himyarite language was of the same type. Many of the meanings and inflections of the words of the Himyarite language were changed in Mudar usage. This fact is attested by the transmitted material available to us. It is contrary to the opinions of those whose deficient (knowledge) leads them to assume that the Mudar and Himyar languages are one and the same, and who want to interpret the Himyarite language according to the formations and rules of the Mudar language. For instance, certain of these persons assume that the Himyarite word qayl “leader” is derived from qawl “speaking,” 1344 and so on. This is not correct. The Himyarite language is another language and differs from the Mudar language in most of its (conventional) meanings, inflections, and vowels, (and has) the same relationship (to it) that the Mudar language has to present-day Arabic. The only difference is that the interest in the Mudar language which, we have stated, exists on account of (the connection of that language with) the religious law, caused 1345 (scholars) to evolve and derive (its rules). There is nothing nowadays to move us to do the same (for presentday Arabic). A characteristic feature of the language of present-day Arab (Bedouins), wherever they may live, is the pronunciation of q. They do not pronounce it as the urban population pronounces it and as it is indicated in works on Arabic philology, namely, where the hindmost part of the tongue meets the soft palate above it.

Neither 1346 is it pronounced as k is pronounced, even though k is articulated in a place below that where q is articulated in the vicinity of the soft palate, as it is (whenproperly articulated). It is pronounced somewhere between k 1347 and q. This is the case with all Arab Bedouins, wherever they are, in the West or the East. It has eventually become their distinguishing mark among the nations and races.

It is a characteristic of theirs that no one else shares with them. This goes so far that those who want to Arabicize themselves and to affiliate themselves with the Arabs imitate the Arab pronunciation of (q). (Arabs) think that a pure Arab can be distinguished from Arabicized and sedentary people by this pronunciation of q. It is thus obvious that this is the (pronunciation of q found in) the Mudar language. The largest and leading group of Arab Bedouins who still live in the East and the West consists of descendants of Mansur b. ‘Ikrimah b. Khasafah b. Qays b. ‘Aylan 1348 through Sulaym b. Mansur and through the Banu ‘Amir b. Sa’sa’ah b. Mu’awiyah b. Bakr b. Hawazin b. Mansur. Nowa-days, they constitute the most numerous and powerful nation of the inhabited part of the earth. They are descendants of the Mudar.1349 They and all the other (Arab Bedouins) of the Banu Kahlan 1350 are the model for the pronunciation of q mentioned. It was not invented by these Arab Bedouins but inherited by them over the generations. This makes it obvious that it was the pronunciation of the ancient Mudar. Perhaps it is the very pronunciation that was used by the Prophet. ‘Alid jurists made that claim. They thought that he who reads in the first surah the words “the straight path” (as-sirata l-mustaqima) 1351 without pronouncing the q (in al-mustaqim) as is done by (present-day) Arab Bedouins, commits an error, and his prayer is not valid.

I do not know how this (differentiation in the pronunciation of q) came about. The language of the urban population was not invented by the urban population itself, either. It was transmitted to them from their ancestors, most of whom belonged to the Mudar, when they settled in the cities at the time of the (Muslim) conquest and later. The Arab Bedouins did not invent (their pronunciation of q), either. However, they had less contact with the non-Arab urban population. Therefore, the linguistic features found in their (speech) can preferably be assumed to belong to the language of their ancestors. In addition, all Arab Bedouins in the East and the West agree upon that (pronunciation of q). It is the peculiar characteristic that distinguishes the Arabs from halfbreeds and sedentary people. It 1352 is obvious that the pronunciation of q as practiced by (present-day) Arab Bedouins is the same as that of the ancient speakers (of Arabic). The place (where the sound) of q may be produced is wide, ranging from the soft palate to the place next to where k is articulated. The velar pronunciation is the urban one. The pronunciation close to k is that of (present-day) Arab Bedouins. This fact refutes the statement of the ‘Alids that failure to pronounce the q in the first surah (as it is pronounced by present-day Bedouins) invalidates one’s prayer. All the jurists of the (great) cities hold the contrary opinion. It is improbable that all of them would have overlooked this (point). The matter is to be explained as we have stated it.

We do say (however) that the Arab Bedouins’ pronunciation (of q) is preferable and more proper, because, as we have mentioned before, its continuity among them shows that it was the pronunciation of their early Arab-Bedouin ancestors and the pronunciation of the Prophet. The fact that they assimilate q to k (in pronunciation) because of the proximity of the places where the two sounds are articulated, also makes this (assumption) appear preferable. If it were pronounced far back, as a velar, as is done by the urban population, it would not be close to k in its place of articulation and would not be assimilated (to it).

Arab philologists have mentioned this q which is close to k, as pronounced by present-day Arab Bedouins. They consider it a sound intermediary between q andk, and an independent sound (phoneme). This is improbable. It is obvious that it is a q pronounced at the end. of the wide range of articulation available for q, as we have stated. The (philologists) then openly denounced (that q) as an ugly, un-Arabic sound, as if they did not recognize that (the way in which it was pronounced) was the pronunciation of the early Arabs. As we have mentioned, it belonged to (Arab) linguistic tradition, because (the Arabs) inherited it from their ancestors, generation after generation, and it was their particular symbol. That is proof that (the way in which it is pronounced) was the pronunciation of the early Arabs and the pronunciation of the Prophet, as has all been mentioned before. There is a theory that q as pronounced by the urban population does not belong to the (original) q-sound, but is the result of their contact with non-Arabs.

They pronounce it as. they do, but it is not an Arabic sound. However, our afore- mentioned statement that it is (all) one sound with a wide (range of) articulation is more appropriate.