Jurjī Zaydān (1861-1914)
A Modernist in Arabic Linguistics
This article explores Jurjī Zaydān’s contribution to questions that the Arabic language was confronted with at the turn of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. These questions pertained to the capability of Arabic as a medium of communication, its appropriateness to express new ideas, and its suitability for use in education and for naming technological items borrowed from the West. As can be imagined, the pre-occupation of the Nahḍah Arab intellectuals with linguistic matters was immense. Nonetheless Zaydān’s contribution to these debates consists of constant writings in his magazine al-Hilāl (1892–1913), and two books that specifically dealt with linguistic matters.Zaydān’s linguistic views were relevant to the on-going debate in many intellectual circles at that time. He had no doubts about the suitability of ‘simplified’ Classical Arabic in education as the case was proven at the Syrian Protestant College (now the American University of Beirut) in the 1860s. In order to fill the then existing vacuum, Zaydān took it as his responsibility to write (text)books in Arabic for use in Egyptian schools. The suitability of Arabic in education and the capability of the language to adapt itself to new situations was placed in a historical perspective by Zaydān. He argued that much as Arabic had adapted to new orders in the past, i.e., the rise of Islam (7th century), the translation period (9th-10th centuries), so can the language adapt itself to Western ‘imports’ at his time. Again, as if to prove his point and in order to bridge the gap between al-fuṣḥā and al-cÀmmiyyah, the language of the common people, Zaydān adopted a simple style in diction and syntax in his writings.Zaydān, unlike many of his contemporary Arab scholars, followed in the footsteps of many Western scholars, both predating and contemporary to him, by equipping himself with knowledge of many languages, Eastern and Western, and by applying some of these scholars’ methodologies of investigation. In order for Arabic to accommodate new technologies and ideas, the language must be subject to changes, in Zaydān’s view, as it was subject to changes at the rise of Islam in the 7th century and during the 9th and 10th centuries when many translations into Arabic were made. Zaydān rejected calls for the use of dialects in writing, thus arguing that al-fuṣḥā, i.e., the Classical Arabic language, was a unifying bond among Arabic-speaking lands. Zaydān’s actual treatment of language matters are innovative for his time. Arabic, in his view, was subject to change and evolution, not static. He examined the language by placing it in a wider perspective, i.e., in its context in the Semitic family, and in its relations to other non-Semitic languages that Arabic had come in contact with at its varying stages of growth such as Persian and Turkish in the earlier centuries, and French and English in the 19th century. Zaydān’s use of comparative methodology is innovative compared to the ways of studying Arabic at his time. However, Zaydān’s views on language origin and development can be characterized by the criteria of our times as superficial.
Published online: 01 January 1987
Abu Lughod, Ibrahim
Ahmad, Muhammad Khalf Allah
Badawī, al-Sacīd Muhammad
Chejne, Anwar G.
Griffith, S. H.
Hasan, Muhammad Abdul-Ghani
al-Hilāl, see under Zaydān (below).
O’Leary, De Lacy
Rousseau, Jean Jacques
1782 “Essays on the Origin of Languages”. Partial selections of this work are to be found in On Language: Plato to von Humboldt, ed. by Peter H. Salus, 138–46. New York: Holt, Reinhart & Winston 1969 [For a complete translation, see John H. Moran, On the Origin of Language, 5–74. New York: Frederick Ungar 1966.]
Sacīd, Naffūsa Zakariyyā
Tignor, Robert L.
1904 al-Lughah al-cArabiyyah Kā’in Hayy [The Arabic Language as a Living Organism]. (Reissue of Tārīkh al-Lughah al-cArabiyyah bi-ctibāri anna-hā Kā’in Hayy Khādic li-Nāmūs al-Irtiqā’ [The History of Arabic as a Living Organism Subject to Laws of Evolution]. Revised by Murād Kāmil. Cairo: Dār al-Hilāl 1965.
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