Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic (Arabic: اَلعَرَبِيَّةُ ٱلْفُصْحَىٰ‎, al-ʿarabiyyah al-fuṣḥā) is the form of the Arabic language used in Umayyad and Abbasid literary texts from the 7th to the 9th century AD.

The first comprehensive description of the ʿarabiyyah "Arabic", Sībawayhi's al-Kitāb, was upon a corpus of poetic texts, in addition to the Qurʾān and Bedouin informants whom he considered to be reliable speakers of the ʿarabiyya.[1]

The orthography of the Qurʾān was not developed for the standardized form of Classical Arabic. The standardized form instead originated from an orthography used by the Quraysh tribe from Mecca in the 6th century AD, which became common and widespread during the Rashidun Caliphate era.[citation needed]

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is its direct descendant used today throughout the Arab world in writing and in formal speaking, for example, prepared speeches, some radio broadcasts, and non-entertainment content;[2] it is also used in modernized versions of the Quran and revised editions of poetry and novels from Umayyad and Abbasid times (7th to 9th centuries). While the lexis and stylistics of Modern Standard Arabic are different from Classical Arabic, the morphology and syntax have remained basically unchanged (though MSA uses a subset of the syntactic structures available in CA).[3] In the Arab world, little distinction is made between CA and MSA, and both are normally called al-fuṣḥā (Arabic: الفصحى‎) in Arabic, meaning 'the purest.'

The earliest forms of Arabic are known as Old Arabic and survive in inscriptions in Ancient North Arabian scripts as well as fragments of pre-Islamic poetry preserved in the classical literature. By the late 6th century AD, it is hypothesized that a relatively uniform intertribal "poetic koiné", distinct from the spoken vernaculars, had developed based on the Bedouin dialects of Najd with conservative features, including the case endings known as ʾiʿrab.[4]

In the 7th century AD, the consonantal text (or rasm) of the Qur'an was composed in an Old Arabic dialect known as Old Hijazi. Its distinctive features, such as loss of final short vowels, loss of hamza, lenition of final /-at/ to /-ah/, and lack of nunation, influenced the later orthography of Classical Arabic as a standard literary register in the 8th century.[5]

During the first Islamic century the majority of Arabic poets and Arabic-writing persons spoke a form of Arabic as their mother tongue. Their texts, although mainly preserved in far later manuscripts, contain traces of non-standardized Classical Arabic elements in morphology and syntax. By the 2nd century AH, the language had been standardized by Arab grammarians and knowledge of Classical Arabic became an essential prerequisite for rising into the higher classes throughout the Islamic world, as it was the lingua franca across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, eventually developing into the modern situation of diglossia.

Various Arabic dialects freely borrowed words from Classical Arabic, a situation is similar to Romance languages, wherein scores of words were borrowed directly from Classical Latin. People may speak Classical Arabic as a second language if they speak colloquial Arabic dialects as their first language, but as a third language if others speak other languages native to a country as their first language and colloquial Arabic dialects as their second language. But Classical Arabic was spoken with different pronunciations influenced by vernaculars. The differentiation of the pronunciation and vocabulary of vernaculars was influenced by native languages spoken in the regions, such as Coptic in Egypt; Berber and Punic in North Africa; Himyaritic, Modern South Arabian, and Old South Arabian in Yemen; and Aramaic in the Levant.[6]

Like Modern Standard Arabic, Classical Arabic had 28 consonant phonemes:

The A1 inscription dated to the 3rd or 4th century AD in the Greek alphabet in a dialect showing affinities to that of the Safaitic inscriptions shows that short final high vowels had been lost in at least some dialects of Old Arabic at that time, obliterating the distinction between nominative and genitive case in the singular, leaving the accusative the only marked case:[14]

أوس (بن) عوذ (بن) بناء (بن) كازم الإداميْ أتو من شحاصْ؛ أتو بناءَ الدَّورَ ويرعو بقلَ بكانون

ʾAws (ibin) ʿūḏ (?) (ibin) Bannāʾ (ibin) Kāzim ʾal-ʾidāmiyy ʾatawa miś-śiḥāṣ; ʾatawa Bannāʾa ʾad-dawra wa yirʿaw baqla bi-kānūn

"ʾAws son of ʿūḏ (?) son of Bannāʾ son of Kāzim the ʾidāmite came because of scarcity; he came to Bannāʾ in this region and they pastured on fresh herbage during Kānūn".

Classical Arabic however, shows a far more archaic system, essentially identical with that of Proto-Arabic:

The definite article spread areally among the Central Semitic languages and it would seem that Proto-Arabic lacked any overt marking of definiteness. Besides dialects with no definite article, the Safaitic inscriptions exhibit about four different article forms, ordered by frequency: h-, ʾ-, ʾl-, and hn-. The Old Arabic of the Nabataean inscriptions exhibits almost exclusively the form ʾl-. Unlike the Classical Arabic article, the Old Arabic ʾl almost never exhibits the assimilation of the coda to the coronals; the same situation is attested in the Graeco-Arabica, but in A1 the coda assimilates to the following d, αδαυρα *ʾad-dawra الدورة 'the region'.

In Classical Arabic, the definite article takes the form al-, with the coda of the article exhibiting assimilation to the following dental and denti-alveolar consonants. Note the inclusion of palatal /ɕ/, which alone among the palatal consonants exhibits assimilation, indicating that assimilation ceased to be productive before that consonant shifted from Old Arabic /ɬ/:

Proto-Central Semitic, Proto-Arabic, various forms of Old Arabic, and some modern Najdi dialects to this day have alternation in the performative vowel of the prefix conjugation, depending on the stem vowel of the verb. Early forms of Classical Arabic allowed this alternation, but later forms of Classical Arabic levelled the /a/ allomorph: