THEORETICAL AND HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES OF LANGUAGE: ARABIC AS A CASE STUDY

Dr. Abdul-Hafeez Adeniyi Ahmad Adedimeji,

 University Grand Imaam & Coordinator of Department of General Studies,

Fountain University,

Osogbo.

E-mail: abdulhafeezadedimeji@gmail.com & abdulhafeezmeji@yahoo.com

                                   Tel: +2348059310129& +2348121521380                    

Abstract

Language is the most advanced and effective medium of communication between human beings. It is a social activity that human life cannot be complete without. In other words, every human being naturally has a language he\she is affiliated with. However, it is a double-edged tool that may be positively utilized by using it to achieve its major goal of expressing needs, thoughts and ideas as it may be negatively used to promote divisions and ethnic jingoism. Having observed that this negative trend in the application of  multiplicity of language is becoming the order of the day in the contemporary time, this paper takes a critical look at the essence of language, appraises its significance and beams searchlight on the theoretical, historical and social aspects of  language in general and Arabic in particular. With copious evidence, this work establishes that Arabic is one of the earliest languages, if not the earliest language, of the world. It further asserts, in unequivocal terms, that the importance of Arabic cannot be confined to liturgical relevance alone. The findings this study arrives at clearly indicate the vital role of language in human life, whether as an individual or an integral part of the society. It also posits that love, tranquility  and mutual understanding can be achieved smaller languages give way to the dominant one, as exemplified in the heterogeneous people of Ilorin, a major urban town in Nigeria, whose indigenes and inhabitants speak Yoruba. It concludes by laying emphasis on the vital role acquisition of languages of other people can play in engendering harmony in a pluralistic society.

 

1.0 Introduction        

This work is broadly divided into two sections. The first section centres on the vital aspects of language and explores its roles as a social necessity and effective means of cultural preservation. The section was further divided into sub-topics that feature: Essence and Forms of Language in Human Life, Variety of Languages: a Curse or a Blessing? Harmonisation of Languages and Unity in DiversityandLanguage: the Cultural Ambassador Plenipotentiary. It is on this solid foundation of general study and appraisal of language as a whole that section two which focuses on Arabic language was built. Arabic, which is the mother tongue of the Arabs and official language of Islam, is an ancient Semitic and international language whose native speakers spread across different countries of the Gulf region, many Asian countries, North and far  West Africa. In this section, a detailed study of the scope, root  and history of Arabic was undertaken. Also, the section attempts an in-depth look of its linguistic, typological, grammatical, syntactical classifications and affiliations In a nutshell, this paper x-rays various theories of origin of language with particular emphasis on Arabic. It also appraises the importance of Arabic as a widely-spoken and one of the earliest languages in the history of humanity. Finally, useful insights about the typology and nature of Arabic are provided in this research.

 

  • Essence and Forms of Language in Human Life

Language has been described as “the principal and richest means of communication used by human beings” (Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 16/727).  Perhaps, one of  its most precise definition  is the one rendered by the celebrated Arabic linguist Ibn Jinniy when he says that it is “voices that a group of people uses to express their needs and feelings”[Aswātun yucabbir bihā kullu qaomin can agrādihim أصوات يعبّر بها كلّ قومٍ عن أغراضهم] (Ibn Jinniy, Abul-Fath U., 1/73).The precision and accuracy of this definition lie in the fact that, as brief as it is, it consists of the four basic elements and features of any language which are: voices, expression, affiliation to a group of people or community and the goal of carrying the opinion or need/needs of the speaker. However, one has to take into cognizance the fact that the listed elements are features of the real language, and are not applicable to non-verbal language. This latter type has been defined as “means of passing across messages without using words, and includes gestures, body movements, facial expressions, colour, dressing and so on” (Yusuf, Y.K. 2006: 24).

Stating that all human communities possess language amounts to stating the obvious. A geographical entity without a unifying language is an entity that will continuously be plagued with bickering, suspicion and communal clashes. Nothing can be more truthful and realistic in this regard than the Arabic saying which goes thus: “He who learns the language of a people becomes immune to their ploy” (Man tacallama lugata qaomin amina makrahumمَنْ تَعَلَّمَ لُغَةَ قَوْمٍ أَمِنَ مَكْرَهُمْ ). In other words, no nationhood can be attained without the issue of binding language taken into consideration. This is why the popular Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary makes it the first prerequisite feature of nationhood when it defines a “nation” thus: “a country considered as a group of people with the same language, culture and history, who live in a particular area under one government” (Hornby, A.S. 2000: 780).

The essence of language can be further buttressed by the fact that no human civilization can be accomplished without the language which is not only the vital agent of change but the most potent instrument of cross-fertilization of ideas.

Languages differ in the strength of  people who speak them. While there are languages whose speakers cannot exceed few hundreds of people, there are others whose speakers can be counted in millions. However, according to Al-Kiyāli (Al-Kiyāli, A. 1990: 5\473), there are twelve languages whose speakers exceed fifty million per each of them. These are: English, German, Russian, Japanese, Arabic, Bengali, Claytonia, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Urdu and French. We have no doubt that there are many languages that must have joined the league since almost one-quarter of a century that this assertion has been made.

It is certain that the languages that are being spoken throughout the world runs  into thousands. It is, however, a daunting task to arrive at a number with precision. Although some sources are emphatic that the number of global languages “may be estimated at about 6,500”(Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 16\731) while some estimate that “the number of languages in the world vary between 6,000 and 7,000” (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/language). This uncertainty in the knowledge of human speech varieties may be attributable to the vagueness of the term “language” itself. What is the demarcating line and distinguishing factor between a language and a dialect?

Generally speaking and in popular usage, a language is superior in dignity to a dialect. This is why it is correct to say that dialects are different forms or modes of speaking a particular language. Arabic, for example, has different dialects that hold sway in different countries of the Gulf region, other Asian nations, North Africa and far West Africa. The Egyptian dialect is quite different from the Saudi dialect. These two dialects differ from the version being spoken by the Arabs of Algeria. In the same vein, the Iraqis have their own separate dialect. At the local level, Yoruba language which is one of the widely-spoken Nigerian languages has dialects that include: Oyo, Egba, Ijesha, Ijebu, Ekiti and Ondo dialects(Adedimeji, A.A.A. 2012: 121-122).

However, with the advent of writing as a way of preservation and language communication, there is always a standard form or dialect which native speakers of a particular language normally succumb to and give preference above others. The factors and yardsticks used in determining this standard dialect range from simplicity, originality, religious significance and general widespread. For example, the Quraesh dialect in which the Glorious Qur’ān is written is the standard dialect for Arabic speakers while Oyo dialect has been unanimously accepted as the written and standard form of the language of the Yorubas. In English, British version is globally recognized because of its originality and source factors while the American form is having wide currency in the contemporary world because of the political and economic relevance of its native speakers.

In some circumstances however, the relationship between language and dialect as illustrated above with versions of Arabic, Yoruba and English languages may not be as clear and distinct as painted. For fear of political domination or in quest of economic gains, a particular dialect may claim to be a different language in defiance of the “source language”. This will certainly create a problem of precision in the number of languages that are available in the country where this scenario happens.

Apart from the above-mentioned situation, there are instances where, in actual fact, dialects develop to full-fledged languages as there are situations when independent languages extinct.

“As local dialect variants diverge over time, what were formally dialect variations of the same language develop differences to the point of mutual unintelligibility and become separate languages. Thus, the local variants of Latin spoken in different sections of the Roman Empire moved further and further apart and eventually became a number of distinct standard languages –including Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian-  and many more extinct languages” (Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 16\731).

On the other hand, extinction of languages may be attributable to either cultural inferiority, colonialism, neo-colonialism, genocide, natural disasters or combination of some or all of the above. What is very baffling about this extinction issue  is the fact that some researches affirm that “between 50% and 90% of languages spoken at the beginning of the twenty-first century will probably have become extinct by the year 2100” (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/language).

 

1:2 Variety of Languages: a Curse or a Blessing?

Variety of languages and its attendant result of cultural identity and ethnic jingoism have caused, and  is still, causing a lot of problems in the world. This leads to the quest to search for what plurality of language stands for and it beckons to humanity as a race.

Religiously speaking, diversity of languages is one of the signs of Almighty Allāh and one of the barometers used in identifying human beings and consolidating their relationships. Allāh, The Most Exalted, said:

{And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and colours. Indeed, in that are signs for people of sound knowledge} (Qur’ān: ArRuum 30:22).

(ومن آياته خلقُ السموات والأرض واختلاف ألسنتكم وألوانكم إنّ في ذلك لآياتٍ للعالِمين) (سورة الروم، الآية 22).

 

In another Chapter, this fact was further re-stated where He says:

 

{O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female and made you nations and tribes you may know one another} (Qur’ān: AlHujut 9:13).

(يا أيّها الناس إنّا خلقناكم من ذكر وأنثى وجعلناكم شعوبًا وقبائل لتعارفوا إنّ أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم إنّ الله عليم خبير) (سورة الحجرات، الآية 13).

In fact, Allāh buttressed the fact that His message, like other human transactions, cannot be efficiently carried out without correlation between the language of the Messenger and that of his audience where He stated inter alia:

{And We did not send any Messenger except with the language of his people in order that he might make (the Message) clear for them} (Qur’ān: Ibrāhīm 14: 4).

(وما أرسلنا من رسول إلاّ بلسان قومه ليبيّن لهم) (سورة إبراهيم، الآية 4).

Unfortunately, this obvious sign of the Creator is being negatively exploited to cause social upheavals and communal clashes between human beings that all celestial religions regard as global family that originate from the same source (i.e. Adam and Hawā’\Eve). The reality of this fact is very glaring and one may not need to look far for incidences to buttress it. In many countries of the world, armed confrontations and genocidal attacks have occurred, and continue to occur, between citizens that of divergent languages. In many instances, the ethnic minorities have suffered displacement, marginalization, suppression and outright annihilation from fellow compatriots whose tribes enjoy numerical strength over them. This situation was true (and still true in some instances) for Jews in Germany, Tutsis in Rwanda, Tamils in Sri Lanka, Whites in Zimbabwe, Kikuyus in the Rift Valley and Chinese in Indonesia.

Back home in Nigeria, the most populous and the acclaimed giant country of Africa, the diversity of citizens is evident in various cultures and different languages available throughout the length and breadth of  our entity. In fact, numbers that range between 200 and 400 have been given for its standard languages (Jowitt, D. 1991: 9). However, there is a general consensus that the largest and the most widely-spoken of these languages are: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Apart from the three languages, languages like Kanuri, Fulfulde, Tiv, Efik, Ibibio, Edo, Nupe, Gwari, Igala and Idoma have millions of people that are speaking each of them as their mother tongue.

It is this multi –ethnic situation that threw up the country’s immediate post –independent rulers and the first generation of politicians who have been accepted as national heroes. While the duo of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello represented the interest of the Hausa – Fulani tribes of the North, Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and, to a lesser degree, Samuel Ladoke Akintola were regarded as leaders of Yorubas while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was then assisted by Sir Michael Okpara held the sway in the Igbo-speaking Eastern Nigeria. Each of these nationalists tried their best to protect and promote the interests of their tribes and left no stone unturned to make their people the dominant tribe in the affairs of the country.

This scenario led to a lot of unhealthy rivalry, accusations and counter –accusations that heated up the polity and threatened to tear the nation to shreds. The events that led to the nation’s protracted civil war, popularly known as Biafra war (1967-1970), were too glaring to expatiate on at this junction (Adedimeji, A.A.A. 2012: 125).

At the linguistic level, Al-Ilory established that most Nigerian ethnic tribes have abuse and offensive languages they use malign each other. While the Kanuri people see others as “afnuu” which means “slaves to the Kanuris”, the Yorubas refer to the Hausas and the generality of the Northerners as “gambari” which is a corruption of “Gobir“, the tribe that Yorubas used to buy and sell at seaports at a stage of their history. On their own part, the Hausas usually label Yorubas with “beerebe“, a very derogatory word in their language (Al-Ilory, Adam Abdullah 2012:89).

Perhaps, one of the most potent ways of curbing this ugly scenario or its drastic reduction is simultaneous teaching of the three major languages in all our primary or secondary schools or, better still, adoption of Arabic as the national language that must be embraced by the entire citizenry. At this juncture, it is noteworthy that Arabic is not, and should not be regarded as, a foreign language. Rather, the fact remains that it is the only Nigerian indigenous language, being the native language of Shuwa Arabs of the present-day Bornu State, with wide-range international appeal. Being a language of a minority tribe in Nigeria cannot count against the suitability and viability of Arabic, if it can link us with the wider world and serve our economic and political interests in the comity of nations.

Although it may be argued that adoption of one of the two afore-mentioned recommendations, especially the first one, may prove to be additional burden on the average Nigerian learner who is already finding it difficult to acquire English language alongside with mastery of his\her native language, in addition to other scientific and vocational subjects that he\she has to contend with. The answer to this poser is that no price is too high to attain a lasting peace and no sacrifice is too great to engender harmony.

To ease the anticipated burden this suggestion of learning truly national language\s may create, our education policy makers should find a way of merging some related courses or outright cancelation of some less relevant subjects. Anything short of this will be tantamount to curing common rashes while leprosy is being ignored. We cannot afford to continue to live  in mutual suspicion and tribal affiliations borne out of linguistic barriers. Adoption of this position will make Nigeria a cohesive nation and its citizens polyglot individuals.

The inner joy, sense of belonging  and feeling of fulfillment that a person who speaks different languages possess are indescribable. An anonymous Arab poet says:

بقدر لغات المرء يكثر نفعه          وتلك له عند الشدائد أعوان

فبادر إلى حفظ اللغات بسرعة      وكلّ لسانٍ في الحقيقة إنسان

The benefits derivable by an individual are proportional to the number of languages he speaks; these (languages) will be of immense assistance to him in times of difficulty. You should, therefore, gear up to learn as many languages as possible; since every language acquired by man makes another distinct personality (i.e. man is counted in the number of languages he speaks!)

 

 

 

1:3 Harmonisation of Languages and Unity in Diversity: The Ilorin Example

Another way through which mutual understanding and sustainable peace can be achieved is for smaller ethnic groups to succumb to the dominant one. By this succumbing theory, individual groups will still maintain their identities through family lineage names, names of quarters and other means while the binding language of the entire community remains one. The good example of the feasibility of this theory is Ilorin metropolis, the capital city of Kwara State of Nigeria. Nigeria as a country, nay humanity at large, has a lot to learn from the linguistic reality of this town. According to Al-Ilory (Al-Ilory, Adam Abdullah 1971: 134-135), this ancient city comprises of four quarters each of which was dominated with either an ethnic group and\or adherents of the same faith. These ethnic-cum-religious groups are: Fulanis who hosted the celebrated legendary Islamic scholar Muhammad Saleh (popularly known as Sheikh Alimi because of his erudition and vastness in Islamic scholarship), Hausas who were semi-mobile traders whose population fluctuates because of the nature of their commercial activities, muslim Yorubas of Oke-Suna who were mixtures of the real Yorubas and Berbers who has co-existed with them for a long time and the pagan Yorubas who are descendants of Afonja, the generalissimo of the oldOyo Empire who migrated to the two after an irreconcilable differences between him and the then Alaafin (the paramount ruler of the empire). Apart from these major ethnic or religious groups, other ethnic nationalities like Kanuris, Nupes, Ebiras and, lately, Igbos have settled in the ancient town.

Of note is the fact that despite the diversity of the origin of these ethnic tribes and groups, all indigenes of the town now speak Yoruba as the native language and medium of transaction between them. This, among other credible reasons cited, is the reason why Al-Ilory, in another scholarly work, insisted that the town is a Southern and Yoruba settlement. This is in defiance  of what the post-independent Nigerian politicians will want us to believe and what some few present-day indigenes and inhabitants of the have accepted as fiat accompli (Al-Ilory, Adam Abdullah 1987: 69-70).

However, the identities of each of the afore-mentioned tribes and other tribes that joined in the latter stage of their history is preserved through the names of compounds of the towns and its individuals. For example, the indigenes of the town who are of Nupe origin live in Gbodofu, Malefu, Yerefu, Kujitufu, Shotafu and Inukofu and bear names like Maimasa, Ndarabi, Korotaba and Salati (Ologele, Shuaeb A. 2012, 7 and 20). The affiliation to the tribal origin through the instrumentality of names and adoption of the dominant language as exemplified by the people of Ilorin is a practical example of unity in diversity and a middle course between the two extreme positions of loosing of one’s cultural identity and ethnic jingoism. This Ilorin example deserves a deeper study and closer look. This is important because whatever is acceptable and working  in town may prove to be welcomed by other Nigerians as the town has been rightly described as the “gateway to the north and the south” of the country (Abubakre, R.D. 2012: 2\19).

One other thing that needs to be stated at this juncture is the fact that although Yoruba has been embraced by all and sundry in the town, as stated above, vocabularies of other component languages and\or new words that are not of Yoruba origin abound in the day-to-day interactions of the people. Examples of this include: karanbaani (which means “a crook or a rascal”), kata (which means “a though or difficult person”), among others. These words, which are definitely alien to other Yorubas, are either borrowed from other component languages or coined outright to reflect the new linguistic confluence. Other noticeable deviations in the way Ilorin people speak their Yoruba is the usage of certain word markers. For example, the word “fa” – with a high pitch tonal pronunciation- which is invariably used to collocate a sentence in the end is a linguistic Ilorin invention. Also, while a typical Yoruba man will mean “great Islamic scholars” with “Aafaa nla-nla“, an Ilorin man will use it to mean “a very great Islamic scholar”. It is glaring from this example that while the repetition of the adjective (i.e. “nla“) will indicate pluralisation of the word to other Yorubas, the Ilorin man will use it to connote emphasis and\or superlative reference. This further buttresses what we have earlier asserted that smaller languages can voluntarily give way to a bigger one without necessarily being totally annihilated or consumed by it.

Apart from the above-analysed feature that makes Ilorin people stands out among Nigerians, inter-marriage of tribes that leads to multi-cultural consanguinity and mutual understanding is a social characteristic that is worthy of emulation. This consanguinity has led to few exceptions to the alliance to the origin language through the name of each individual earlier buttressed. This exemption is crystal from the name of the notable scholar who Sheikh Alimi met in Ilorin on his arrival. This scholar, according to Abubakre who relied on many notable documented historical accounts (Abubakre, R.D. 2004: 22), is “Solagberu, who was of Kanuri extraction and then a Yoruba Chief at Oke Suna in Ilorin”. The view is recently collaborated by Belgore (Belgore, S.M.A. 2014: 11)who remarked that “he was known as Solagberu, who despite his name, was of Kanuri stock”. In recent times, many members of Ilorin royal family have Yoruba names alongside their ancestral Fulani names. Although this feature depicts tolerance and mutual respect, it does not, however, contradict what we have earlier established that each individual is generally traced to his original tribe through the name he/she bears. Naturally, scholarship thrives and harmony reigns in an atmosphere that is devoid of egoism and self-centredness.

Lastly, it is, perhaps, in the quest for making the world a global village and enhancing better understanding between different nations of the world that humanity has lately developed interest in invention of a universal language that will not know national and continental barriers. This led to the efforts of L.L. Zamouhurf (1859- 1917 A.D.) who invented a language named Esperanto that is formed from modern European Languages and tailored in line with Latin language rules and grammar as the global language (Al-Kiyāli, A. 1990: 1\166). This attempt, as noble as its idea was, was doomed for failure as it was against nature (as buttressed in the Qur’ānic verses cited above) and commonsense (as no nation or tribe would be willing to give up its most prominent natural identity for a concocted language at best or a caricature at worse!)

 

 

 

1:4 Language: the Cultural Ambassador Plenipotentiary

In view of all the above-mentioned facts and realities, language is the most noticeable feature of social entity and the most enduring aspect of any culture. Culture, as opined by E.B. Tylor (Anne Cooper and Elsie A. Maxwell 2003: 148)  is “that complex whole which included knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of a society”.

Shākir, in his evaluation of aspects and forms of human arts, considers both the poetry and “conspicuous speech” two sides of the “higher arts”, while music, drawing\modern-day photography and sculpture are nothing but components of what he regards as the “lower arts”. These types of “lower arts”, according to him, are always in the service of the “higher arts” (Shākir, M.M. 1996: 170).As language is very critical to the preservation of cultural heritage of any given society and very vital to  its harmonious coexistence, it is equally indispensable to every human being.

On his part, Al-Jundiy ( Al-Jundiy, D. : 1) asserts that the need of a man for a language that will link him up with fellow members of his community and preserves his culture is more paramount to his need for water, food and commerce! The essence of this scholar’s assertion can be viewed from the fact that the cited needs, as important and indispensable they are in human life (which makes some of them to be duly qualified as “basic necessities of life”), cannot be attained, or very difficult to acquire, without the instrumentality of language.

It is also the most major distinguishing factor between human beings and other living creatures and the most highly developed form of communication that man is endowed with. Its essence, the significance and status as a social activity is evident in Augusta Phil Omamar’s (2003: 27) conceptualization thus:

 

Language, whatever else it may or may not be, is the most important, most often used and most highly developed form of human communication. It is, in a sense, what sets humans apart from other animals which also happen to communicate in the sense of transmitting information of one kind or the other from a sender/source to a receiver. The big difference in the case of humans is not just that both sender and receiver are human as would naturally be expected, but also that the message is either sent vocally through the air and the vocal organs, orthographically by making particular kind of marks on paper.

In short, language is the most noticeable cultural identity as its other aspects like beliefs, arts, dressing, habits, morals, laws and customs are all feeble and flabby in nature and, therefore, cannot stand the test of time as language does.

 


2:1 Arabic:  Its Scope, Root  and History

Simply put, Arabic is the mother tongue of the Arabs and the official language of  muslims. However, while it is true that muslims worldwide hold Arabic in high regards because of the fact that the Glorious Qur’ān was revealed in it and the consensus of Islamic scholars that this Holy Book is absolutely untranslatable, it is incorrect to say that “muslims regard Arabic as the only appropriate language of approach to Allāh” (Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 2\156).

The elaboration this general statement needs is that while there certain obligatory modes of Islamic worship that must be conducted in Arabic, like daily Salāt (obligatory or supererogatory  prayer) and some aspects of  hajj, a muslim is free to supplicate to his Lord and seek His blessings in his mother tongue or whatever language that pleases him. In a nutshell, while the Salāt  and some rituals of hajj (annual holy pilgrimage to Mecca in a specific period) must be observed in Arabic, muslims are encouraged, and not compelled, to learn the language.

What is more accurate on the relationship of Arabic with Islam vis-à-vis other faiths is the fact stated by another source thus:

“Classical Arabic is the language of the Qur’an. Arabic is closely associated with the religion of Islam because the Qur’an is written in the language, but it is nevertheless also spoken by Arab ChristiansMizrahi Jews and Iraqi Mandaeans. Most of the world’s Muslims do not speak Arabic as their native language, but many can read the Qur’ānic script and recite the Quran. Among non-Arab Muslims, translations of the Quran are most often accompanied by the original text”(www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_language).

On the other hand, Arabs are group of people that speak Arabic as their native language. Their language, alongside with Ethiopic, belongs to the southern group of Semitic languages. Other members of this language family include Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic and Akkadian.“But it surpasses them all in its conservatism, copiousness of vocabulary, possibilities of syntactic distinction, and elaborateness of verbal forms- all of which combine to make Arabic the best surviving representative of the original Semitic speech” (Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 16/727). Before the spread of Islam, the term “Arab” referred to any of  the largely nomadic Semitic inhabitants of the Arabia Peninsula  (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2007: 1/504). Some scholars assert that the name “Arab” was derived from cArabah which is another name for Tuhāmah, a settlement in the Peninsula that the early Arabs were confined to and the social, cultural, religious and linguistic nerve of all the present-day Arabs.

However, the origin of Arabic is surrounded with mystery and myth as the origin of human language itself. On his part, Ibn Fāris– who lived in the eleventh century- was of the opinion that Arabic is divine and it was the Exalted Allāh that taught man how to speak, through Adam, the progenitor of all human beings. To support his position, he resorted to the history of creation of man as related by the Glorious Qur’ān where Allāh says:{He taught Adam All the names (of everything) } (Qur’ān: Al-Baqarah 2:31).

(وعلّم آدم الأسماء كلّها) (سورة البقرة، الآية 31).

. In another instance, he supported his view with Qur’ānic verse where the Lord says: {He –i.e. Allāh- taught him (man) eloquent speech} (Ar-Rahmān 55:4).

(علّمه البيان) (سورة الرحمان، الآية 4).

Relying on these two verses and the likes, he concludes thus:

“Allāh the Most Exalted inspired Adam to know what He (Allāh) wanted him to know in terms of what he needed to transact with in his time. Afterwards, whatever He wishes man to know (in term of language) diffuses” (Ibn Fāris, Ahmad. : 8).

Apart from the above-quoted opinion, other linguists posit that language, Arabic inclusive, is conventional or, to borrow the word of Saussure, arbitrary (i.e. it the product of what the society invents and accepts as appropriate). There are others who charted the middle of the two extreme positions by saying that some words are inspired while others and sentences are conventional. The fourth position belongs to those who observe that language originated from man’s mimicking or echoing of the sounds of nature. This school of thought rely on “few words (that) exist for which the sound does suggest their meanings (the so-called onomatopoeia) ” ( See: Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 16/727, http://www.uqu.edu.sa and http://www.ao-academy.com).

Relying on archaeological findings and religious sources, researchers agreed that there were some Arabs who have perished. This group is normally referred as Al- cArabul –Bāidah meaning: the perished (or no-more–living\extinct) Arabs. cAad, Thamuud (these two groups are mentioned in the Glorious Qur’ān), Tasam and Jadīs. In a place, the Exalted Allāh says:

{Has not the story reached them of those before them? –the people of Nuuh (Noah) and (tribes of) cAad and Thamuud, the people of Ibrāhīm (Abraham), the dwellers of Madyan and the cities overturned? (Qur’ān: At–Taubah 9:70).

 

(ألم يأتهم نبأ الذّين من قبلهم قوم نوح وعادٍ وثمود وقوم إبراهيم وأصحاب مدينَ والمؤتفكات) (سورة التوبة، الآية 70).

 

This was further buttressed in another verse of the Glorious Qur’ān where the Almighty Allāh stabilises and assures His Prophet thus:

 

{And if they deny you, (O Muhammad) –so, before them, did the people of Nuuh (Noah) and (tribes of) cAad and Thamuud deny (their prophets)} (Qur’ān: AlHajj 22:42).

(وإن يكذِّبوك فقد كذّبت قبلهم قوم نوحٍ وعادٌ وثمودُ) (سورة الحج، الآية 42).

Another category of Arabs is the “Al– cArabul-cAaribahالعرب العاربة)) which roughly means: “the real Arabs”. They are the Qahtānis that live in the Republic of Yemen and Southern part of Saudi Arabia.

The third category are called “Al– cArabul-Mustacrabahالعرب المستعربة) ) which can be translated to: Arabized Arabs, Arabs by adoption, or naturalized Arabs. These are the cAdnānis that are off –springs and results of the inter-marriage that happened between Prophet Ismcāīl Bin Ibrāhīm (P.B.U.H.) who was initially an immigrant to the peninsula but later got integrated through his marriage to an Arab woman (Al-Kiyāli, A. 1990: 5\470).

In short, Arabic is one of the earliest languages in the history of mankind. In fact, there are relevant traditions quoted by scholars that suggest that the name of progenitor of all human beings, Adam, was coined from an Arabic word (At-Tabarī, M.B.J. 1997:1/251-252).What is, however, sure is that the language has been in existence since 2500 B.C., based on acceptable findings of archaeologists (cAsākir, A. 1979: 5/257). This is in spite of what AzZayyāt asserted that it is an impossible task for a researcher to lay claim to the knowledge of the origin, development and stages of Arabic as a language (AzZayyāt, A.H. :19-21).

However, it is noteworthy that Arabism or affiliation with Arabic is no more confined to the afore –mentioned three categories. This is because of the fact that various tribes who were not formerly Arabs have been fully integrated into Arabism, courtesy of Islam. Arabism can only be determined nowadays through acquisition of a combination of habits, customs, ethics and language of Arabs. In fact, the Noblest Prophet (P.B.U.H.) was reported to have said: “O you people! Arabic is neither a father nor a mother of any of you. It is, on the contrary, a language. Whoever acquires it has become an Arab”.

Numerically,  hundreds of  millions of people worldwide speak Arabic as their mother tongue. While “it has been estimated that some 200 million people use it for daily communication” at some point in time (Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 2/156), other more recent findings assert that it “is spoken by as many as 422 million speakers in the Arab world, making it one of the half dozen most populous languages in the world”    (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_language).

 

 

2:2 Arabic:  A Linguistic Overview and Typological Classification

Classical Arabic, Standard Arabic, Qur’ānic Arabic or Literary Arabic are all terminologies used for the version of the language found in the Qur’ān, used since sixth century A.D. (some hundred years before the birth of Prophet  Muhammad (PBUH) and held sway since that period of Pre-Islamic Arabia down to the Abbasid Caliphate and has since gained a universal status. Theoretically, Classical Arabic is considered normative, according to the syntactic and grammatical norms laid down by classical grammarians (such as Al-KhalīlSībaweyh, Al-Kisāī and Ibn Mālik) and the vocabularies assembled and defined in classical dictionaries (such as the Kitābul-cAen, Al-Qāmuusul-Muhīt and Lisānul-cArab).

There is no doubt, as argued earlier, that this form of Arabic is of paramount importance to muslims, being the liturgical language of their religion. This is, perhaps, the reason why its influence on major world languages is second to none. It has served, and still serving, as “an important source of vocabulary for languages such as BaluchiBengaliBerberBosnianCatalan, English, French, German, GujaratiHausaHindustani,Italian, IndonesianKazakhKurdishKutchi,MalayMalayalamPashtoPersianPortuguesePunjabiRohingyaSaraikiSindhiSomali,Spanish, SwahiliTagalogTurkishUrduUzbek and Wolof, as well as other languages in countries where these languages are spoken” (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_language).

Being an all-important language, it has been studied and analysed in virtually all branches of linguistics and language-related disciplines of knowledge which include: syntax, grammar, lexicology, etymology, morphology, phonology, rhetoric, phonics, literature, etc.

Structurally, earlier grammarians like Sībaweyh were of the opinion that  Arabic letters are twenty nine, counting Alif  (ا), which is an elongation voice always associated with the Arabic equivalent of vowel “a”, as one them (Sībaweyh, 2/404). However, latter linguists like As-Sakāki (As-Sakāki, 5) and contemporary researchers are more realistic in their resolution that these alphabets are “consisting of 28 characters” (Encyclopedia Americana 2006: 2/155). Like other Semitic languages, all these characters are consonantal, the vowels which are nominally Fat-hah, Kasrah and Dammah –which are pronounced “a”, “i” and “u” respectively- are signs inserted either above or below the letters. These are, however, the main diacritical marks. Apart from these, there other subsidiary/auxiliary/supplemental marks that are four in number. These are: Sukuun (which is a closed/voiceless vowel), Fat-hattān (the high pitch tonal form of Fat-hah), Kasratān (the high pitch tonal form of  Kasrah) and Dammatān (the high pitch tonal form of Dammah). Arabic letters, like most of its Semitic sisters, are written from right to left.

Arabic grammarians classify all Arabic words under three main categories: noun (Ism اسم), verb (Ficlفعل ) and particle (Harfحرف ). The Arabic noun includes pronouns, adjectives adverbs,  interjections (in some instances) and, in very rare circumstances, prepositions. It is also noteworthy that what the Arabs call particle (Harfحرف ) is equivalent to either conjunction or some examples of preposition. It is only their verb (Ficlفعل ) that stands out to mean the exact import of the word in English grammar.

All derived words, whether nouns and verbs (note that all Arabic particles are fixed and static), stem from a tri-consonantal root which is either a noun (according to Basrī school of thought in Arabic grammar) or verb (as argued by the rival Kuufi school of thought). These two main Arabic grammatical schools of thought are named after two main metropolitan cities that were established in the first century of the advent of Islam, Al-Basrā and Al-Kuufah. Incidentally, the two cities are located in the present-day Iraq). It is pertinent to mention at this juncture that several schools of thought sprang up at various stages of evolution of the twin-sister fields of Arabic grammar علم النحو)) and morphology (علم الصرف). However, the main gladiators who held sway, and who have supporters and apologists till the present time, were the Basrī and Kuufi schools of thought.

Although, academic considerations make it unsuitable to elaborate on factors responsible for this development here, suffice is to say they can be attributable to economic, political and ideological reasons. In a nutshell, both Arabic grammar and morphology, in their evolution, passed through four main phases namely: Foundation and formulation phase (Taorul-Wad’ Wat-Takwīnطور الوضع والتكوين ), Emergency and development phase (Taorun-Nushuu Wan-Numw طور النشوء والنمو) Maturity and perfection phase (Taorun-Nuduuj Wal-Kamālطور النضوج والكمال ), Comparison and elaborate authorship phase (Taorut-Tarjīh Wal-Bast Fit-Tasnīfطور الترجيح والبسط في التصنيف ).

It is also relevant to mention here while the two antagonists dominated the second and third stages/phases, the pioneering credit should be given to Basrī scholars who originated the idea of laying foundation and enacting rules for Arabic speaking and mastering. In short, it was the Basriyyuun (Basrī scholars/scholars that associate with Basrī school of thought) that unilaterally championed the cause of Arabic grammar – popularly known as Nahw (النحو)in Islamic circles- in the first phase known as Foundation and formulation stage (Taorul-Wad’ Wat-Takwīn طور الوضع والتكوين). However, these two antagonists shrank to give way to their successors who spread across the major earlier Islamic urban centres (Bagdad, Andalus, Cairo, Damascus and its environs in the last phase (At-Tantāwī, M. 1991: 18-40) which is Comparison and elaborate authorship phase (Taorut-Tarjīh Wal-Bast Fit-Tasnīfطور الترجيح والبسط في التصنيف ). .

Typologically, Arabic, like English and unlike Yoruba, is a non-tonal language. In tonal languages, a difference of pitch in an otherwise identical syllable or word may produce a drastic change in meaning. For example, the word “igba” may mean either calabash, era, two hundred and rope that is used to hold a climber to the top of the tree, depending on the pitch of the tone. In other words, while the phrase “kataba” (كَتَبَ) will ever mean “he wrote” in Arabic, ” o kọ” which is its Yoruba equivalent can equally mean “he divorced” and “he refused”, depending on the speaker’s tone in its pronunciation.  However, it is more gendered and more inflective (i.e. words are analyzable into a number of elements expressing a variety of functions) than English.

Syntactically, Arabic is an VSO (i.e. Verb + Subject + Object) language, unlike English and Yoruba which are SVO (i.e. Subject + Verb + Object) languages. This means while an Arab will say: “Ishtarā Ahmad Qalamanاشْتَرى أَحْمَدُ قلمًا ” (note the position of “Ahmad” which is the subject vis-à-vis “Ishtarā” which is the verb), both English and Yoruba speakers will say: “Ahmad bought a biro” and “Ahmad ra gege kan” respectively.

Generally, each of Arabic’s standard letters are used as different phonemes, unlike Yoruba where both letters “s” and “ş” are used by different dialects as allophones of a single phoneme. The few exceptions to this rule of some Arabic characters being different allophones of certain specified phonemes, as noticed by Abdut-Tawwāb (Abdut-Tawwāb, R. 1995: 10), can be attributed to either the effect of modernity or influence of other acquired/learned language(s) on the mother tongue. The Palestinians whose some of their words/pronunciations were cited have had contacts with other nations  and lived under different civilizations in the cause of their rich but challenging history.

 

Conclusion:

The vital role of language in general and Arabic in particular has been illuminated in this work. The study also sheds light on the social, religious, historical, theoretical and linguistic aspects of Arabic which is one of the oldest and fastest growing languages of the world. While the intention of this work is not a comparative study of some selected languages, a comprehensive look at the theme of study compelled the writer to engage on a voyage of  comparison of Arabic with other languages, especially English and Yoruba. The paper cautions that diversity of language which one is of numerous signs of God and proofs of His limitless ability should not be abused and misconstrued, as it is unfortunately the case with Nigeria and other multi-lingual countries of the world. Rather, the writer makes a call for positive exploration of opportunities  that multi-lingualism offers as he also enjoins the government to formulate necessary policies that will create enabling environment needed for acquisition of more languages. For Nigerians, the harmony, love and mutual affection that unity of language in diversity of tribes and ethnics can engender is exemplified in the ethnically heterogeneous but Yoruba-speaking Ilorin people. The importance of the linguistic uniqueness of this people was highlighted in this research so that readers will borrow a leaf from the component tribes’ consanguinity.

 

 

 

 

 

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