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Lexical Borrowing in the Qur’ān

Keywords: Judaism , Hebrew , lexical borrowing , Arabic , Aramaic , Syriac , Akkadian , Ugaritic , South Arabia , Qur’ān , Torah , Targum , Peshitta , Arabia , Islam , Christianity

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The last study offering an exhaustive presentation of loanwords in the Qur’ān is Arthur Jeffery’s The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān (1938). This lexicon comprises the 275 foreign words (not including proper nouns) found in the Qur’ān. It compiles previous studies dealing with lexical borrowing – a topic at the heart of the Oriental research in an era when it focused on the origins of Islam. The quantity of sources mentioned in Jeffery’s study was somewhat detrimental: throughout the past century, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’ān was considered a conclusive work whereas the author’s intention simply was to collect everything written on the subject. It was meant to be a starting point for further studies but no additional research was undertaken in the field. Though outdated, these studies cannot be ignored. This article examines the problematic aspects of Jeffery’s work. The list and the hypotheses on the origins of the loanwords need to be revised and updated along two lines: first, they need to include new linguistic knowledge, in particular in Ugaritic and in North Arabian and South Arabian epigraphy, which was in its early stages in 1938; second, they need to be placed in their political and socio-cultural contexts. This renewal in research is important since the loanwords in the Qur’ān constitute the historical traces of the ancient contacts between the Arab populations and their neighbors. These loanwords contribute to a better understanding of the Qur’ānic text and, generally, of the beginnings of the Arabic language.


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