May Ahmar “Contact and Variation of Aramaic and Arabic Scripts”

Contact and Variation of Aramaic and Arabic Scripts

This study aims to examine the origin and development of the Arabic script through its interaction with other scripts and languages that were historically present in the Levant before/during the advent of Islam. The paper compares different approaches to pre-Islamic period inscriptions, in Aramaic/Nabataean, Musnad, and Greek-letter Arabic. Many studies conclude that the Arabic script is based on Aramaic, due to similarities between the two scripts in few pre-Islamic inscriptions. Another approach assumes that Arabic is an evolution of Musnad/Jazm scripts, used from southern Arabia all the way north to Palmyra; and that Aramaic could not have transformed to Musnad/Jazm even though they coexisted and interacted with each other. Another approach describes the relationship of Aramaic/Arabic interaction and development as one of dependence, without ignoring the Musnad effect, building on a Greek-letter inscription of an Arabic text. Through comparing these different perspectives, we will explore the manner in which each approach might affect how modern linguists interpret specific Arabic grammar features.

May Ahmar is a lecturer in Arabic in the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) department at Columbia University. Her research interests include comparative linguistics, historical linguistics, Semitic languages, semantics, syntax. Her current research is an exploration of word order in Formal Arabic and the Levantine dialects of Arabic, in a historical framework, studying the development of the dialects and their contact with other Semitic languages in the pre-Islamic era. She is additionally interested in how language shapes the idea of nationalism or tribalism, in the traditional and the modern sense.


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