In Classical Arabic, nouns without a definite article that are not in the construct state receive so-called nunation, which is a literal translation of Arabic tanwīn 'Adding the letter nūn'. This gives paradigms such as:
|Nom.||al-baytu البيت <ʔlbyt>||baytu بيت <byt>||baytu-n بيت <byt>|
|Gen.||al-bayti البيت <ʔlbyt>||bayti بيت <byt>||bayti-n بيت <byt>|
|Acc.||al-bayta البيت <ʔlbyt>||bayta بيت <byt>||bayta-n بيتا <bytʔ>|
(Note that nunation does not necessarily denote indefiniteness. Names, which are semantically definite, take nunation due to the absence of the definite article, e.g. muḥammadu-n)
Despite the name nunation you can see that in the actual orthography there is no nūn to be seen. The only 'reflection' of the phenomenon nunation that we can see in the orthography is the final alif on the accusative with nunation. We will discuss this orthographic (and probably phonetic) device in a later blog post, for now the important point is, is that any indication that there is a consonant n at the end of the word is completely absent in the orthography.
This of course suggests that the dialect which lies at the origin of the Classical Arabic orthography did not have nunation at all. The absence of nunation in the orthography is normally explained as being the result of a spelling convention that writes all words in their 'pausal' form.
In traditional Classical Arabic grammar, words can take a shortened form in pausal (utterence final) position:
- Word-final short vowels are lost in pause
- Nunation (as well as the case vowels that precede it) are lost, except for the accusative -an is said to shift to -ā (hence the orthography with final alif).
- Feminine nouns are said to have their ending -at- + case vowels + nunation shift to -ah in pause. (This development is somewhat problematic in terms of regular sound laws, and will be discussed in a later blog post).
If it is indeed true that Arabic was written pausally, it would make certain predictions that do not fully coincide with the reality. For example, In pause, the sound masculine plural suffix -ūna becomes -ū in construct. This is always written as such in construct, and never with an unexpected nūn. As such, these forms are certainly not written in pausal form in all contexts.
The idea that there is such a thing as 'pausal forms' seems to me a construct of the Classical Arabic language being imposed over the QCT. The original composition of the Qurʔān was written in rhyme, but the rhyme only works with what later became 'pausal' pronunciations, but which I think were just the "regular" pronunciations.
This idea is not completely a completely ad hoc solution. There's real reason to think that the Classical Arabic register did not have pausal pronunciations. If we look at the only other real source of Classical Arabic, we have to look at the Pre-Islamic poetry. Like Qurʔānic Classical Arabic, this poetry is rhymed, but unlike Qurʔānic Classical Arabic, at least some of the poetry does use final short vowels for the rhyme.
e.g. This fragment of muʕallaqah of imruʔu l-Qaysi:
فَفَـاضَـتْ دُمُـوْعُ الـعَـيْـنِ مِنِّي صَبَابَةً
fa-fāḍat dumūʕu l-ʕayni minnī ṣabābatan
عَلَـى النَّـحْرِ حَتَّى بَـلَّ دَمْعِـي مِحْـمَلِـي
ʕalā n-naḥri ḥattā balla damʕī miḥmalī
ألاَ رُبَّ يَــوْمٍ لَــكَ مِــنْــهُــنَّ صَــالِــحٍ
ʔalā rubba yawmin laka minhunna ṣāliḥi
وَلاَ سِـــيَّــمَــا يَــوْمٌ بِــدَارَةِ جُــلْــجُــلِ
wa-lā siyyamā yawmun bi-dārati ǧulǧuli
ويَـوْمَ عَـقَــرْتُ لِــلْـعَــذَارَي مَـطِـيَّـتِي
wa-yawma ʕaqartu li-l-ʕaḏārā maṭiyyatī
فَـيَـا عَـجَـبـاً مِـنْ كـورهـا الـمُـتَـحَـمَّلِ
fa-yā ʕaǧaban min kūri-hā lmutaḥammali
Notice that the rhyme rhymes both word final long ī with word-final short i in pause. In the Qurʔān such rhyme never occurs, as in pause short i is elided.
So, if the spelling of the QCT does not represent pausal pronunciation but actual pronunciation, this would imply that nunation was lost in the dialect, as it is not written consonantally. It is not just in the noun that word-final n before a short vowel is lost, we actually find several examples of this development in verbal forms of the QCT as well.
The verb kāna 'to be' has an imperfect yakūnu, the jussive is formed by removing the word final -u, and the superheavy syllable *yakūn that would be created is avoided by shortening the long vowel to yield the form yakun. This final sequence -un would be exactly the same sequence that is lost in, e.g. baytun. While analogy could obviously restore the form, as the n is part of the root, one would expect it to be regularly lost if there was a soundlaw *n#> Ø. And indeed we find this in Q19:9:
qāla ka-ḏālika qāla rabbu-ka huwa ʕalayya hayyinun wa-qad xalaqtu-ka min qablu wa-lam taku šayʔan
<qʔl kḏlk qʔl rbk hw ʕlỳ hyn wqd xlqtk mn qbl wlm tk šyʔ>
[An angel] said, "Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, 'It is easy for Me, for I created you before, while you were nothing.' "
(Notice that even in the normal reading tradition the word-final nūn is absent, which cannot be understood as the result of a regular sound law within Classical Arabic, nor as a pausal pronunciation, since it is clearly not in pause)
Surprisingly a little later we find the same verb stem, this time in the 3sg.m. form, with the etymological consonant in place, Q19:14:
wa-barran bi-wāliday-hi wa-lam yakun ǧabbāran ʕaṣiyyan.
<wbrʔ bwldyh wlm ykn ǧbʔrʔ ʕṣyʔ>
And dutiful to his parents, and he was not a disobedient tyrant.
Nunation is a feature that is almost completely unattested in Pre-Islamic Arabic inscriptions. In Safaitic it is clearly only vestigially present (Al-Jallad 2015: 69). It is therefore not surprising that there would be dialects in the early Islamic period that would have lost nunation.
At the same time, it should be pointed out that even today there are dialects that retain nunation. This is most prominently visible in Yemen in the Ṣaʕdah and Tihama regions (Behnstedt 1985:60, 1987). In these regions all indefinite nouns (except for some cases which will be discussed later) end in -in, -un or -ū all reflexes of the final nunation.
Also Najdi Arabic seems to retain some traces of marking indefiniteness with Nunation (Ingham 1994: 47).
The orthography of the Qurʔān does not reflect nunation. This suggests that the language of the Qurʔānic orthography did not have it. The fact that other the jussive stem of kāna occasionally loses final n in the exact same environment that it is lost in the noun, suggests that final nunation was indeed also specifically lost in the language of the QCT. Also the absence of rhymes based on nunation in the QCT, may suggest absence of nunation.