Recently Prof. Petra Sijpesteijn uploaded an interesting article about a 7th/8th-century papyrus that contains a fragment of a Hadith attributed to Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph. While the cultural and historical relevance is much better commented upon by Prof. Sijpesteijn, I'd like to comment on a linguistic quirk of this narration. It is about the verb qaraʔa. The piece of text that contains the relevant information is found here.
ان عمر بن الخطاب صلى المغرب ولم يقرى فيها فلما انصرف قال له الناس انك لم تقرى
<ʔn ʕmr bn ʔlxṭʔb ṣly ʔlmġrb wlm yqry fyhʔ flmʔ ʔnṣrf qʔl lh ʔlnʔs ʔnk lm tqry>
"That Umar ibn al-Khattab prayed the Maghreb prayer and did not recite in it, when he left the people said to him: 'you did not recite'"
While most of the spelling of this narration is perfectly in line with what we would expect for Classical Arabic, the verb qaraʔa "to read, recite" occurs twice, and both times is not in line with what we would expect. The apocopate, the form of the imperfective stem that is used after lam, the past negation particle, of the verb qaraʔa is y/taqraʔ which should be spelled <y/tqrʔ> in Classical spelling. However, the spelling that we find is <y/tqry> with a final <y> rather than the expected <ʔ>. Within Classical orthography, this final <y> can denote a couple of pronunciations:
- -iʔ: y/taqriʔ, y/taqriʔu, y/taqriʔa
- -ī: y/taqrī
- -ā: y/taqrā
The first reading seems quite unlikely, as verbs with a final glottal stop verbs never have another theme vowel than /a/ in Arabic. The second reading, basically for the same reason drops out. The third reading, however, is exactly the pronunciation that you would get with the loss of final /ʔ/, and the subsequent lengthening of the preceding /a/ vowel. This is a development well attested in the modern dialects, where it has merged completely with /y/-final verbs, e.g. in Egyptian Arabic ʔara impf. yaʔra.
If this merger has taken place in the language of the author of this papyrus, though, yet another strange thing is going on. Final y-verbs in the apocopate have a final short vowel rather than a long vowel or short vowel + y. So, for example, the structurally similar verb saʕā <sʕy> impf. yasʕā <ysʕy> 'to walk' has an apocope yasʕa <ysʕ>. This is not the form we find, and rather we find the regular imperfective stem, that we would find elsewhere.
This would point to a collapse of the imperfective stem distinctions in the speech of the author. Classical Arabic has three forms for the imperfective stem, dependent on the final short vowels: indicative: yaktubu, subjunctive: yaktuba and the apocopate yaktubØ. In stems with weak consonants the distinction is expressed in a few more ways than just the final short vowels, but eventually, as a consequence of the loss of these final short vowels, these stem distinctions appears to have been lost completely, and all merged into a single imperfective stem yaktub.
This loss of distinction, and thus having a stem yaqrā after lam that would normally require yaqra, would suggest that the final short vowels had been lost completely, giving rise to the analogical leveling of the system.
While this collapse of the stem distinction system is well-documented by Hopkins (1984: 134-138) for the Early Islamic Papyri, I was surprised to see such a "dialectal" feature in a Hadith, which today is only ever published in impeccable Classical Arabic. If there is any place in Early Islamic Papyri where one would expect Classical Arabic to rear its head, it would be here. And yet, that is not what we find. This brings into question the very nature of Classical Arabic. Where did it come from? Who used it? What was it used for? When did the Diglossia come to be?