The Arabic Language and Philosophy of Language by Jurji Zaydan

11 September, 2017

Within its broader publishing activities, the ACRPS also works to republish and reprint works which appeared during the modern "Arab Awakening" (or Arab Nahda) which began in the nineteenth century. This is motivated by a belief in the timeless value of such works and how they can contribute to the contemporary Arab discourse, as well as what they reveal about the particular time period. To that end the Center republished two books by the seminal Arab thinker and writer Jurji Zaydan (Georges Zeidan), The Arabic Language and Linguistic Philosophy, first published in 1886, and The History of the Arabic Language, published posthumously in 1922. The two books were republished in one volume, with an Introduction from Antoine Abu Zeid.

In the decades after Darwin, Zaydan was inspired by the theory of evolution to view language as a living organism, subject to the laws of evolution. He studied the beginnings of speech in ancient Arab communities, and the gradual evolution of these initial words into a structured language with rules and meanings. He then traces the relationships between sounds, vocabulary and meanings. The reissue of these works casts light on significant issues concerning the Arabic language in an era of rapid development.

The first book, The Arabic Language and Linguistic Philosophy, is an analytical study of the emergence and the development of the Arabic language. The book explores five issues related to the analysis of the cases of metathesis and transposition, prepositions, conjunctions, nouns and verbs, and their derivations, pronouns, demonstrative pronouns. "Our language is originally composed of a few unique origins, most of which are derived from the simulation of external sounds, some of which are natural sounds spoken instinctively by humans," said Zaydan in his work.  

Zaydan sees speech as having two functions: imitational and logical. The first function is characterized by the imitation of shapes and imitation of sounds. The second function is "the state of language after its words undergo the processes of metathesis and transposition and the imitations of sounds have been manipulated from simple imitation into independent words."

In the second book, the History of the Arabic Language, Zaydan discusses Arabic words and their structures, exploring the changes they have undergone. He indicates the words and structures that have disappeared from language usage, and the new words, the new structures, as well as the circumstances that led to the extinction of old terminology, and gave birth to the new, and gives examples of this. This book, according to Zidane himself, is a historical philosophical study of speech and the functions that language adopted.

In writing this book, Zaydan concluded the core of his practical and theoretical work, saying, "It is clear to the reader that the Arabic language, during its evolution from the Jahiliyyah era until the present day, witnessed the continuous extinction and generation of words. ... Standing in the way of this development contravenes laws of nature, and is pointless. Language is a living entity subject to the laws of evolution, and, whether we like it or not, vocabulary will always be a developing process.

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