Monday, February 1, 2016

Research Book Post #4

February 1

Book: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

Section: More of Chapter 3 (Page 80 to 110)

Aramaic, Religion and Language, and the Spread of Arabic

The Aramaic Alphabet
     This part of the chapter discusses how Aramaic became so popular among the different states of the Middle East for so long. It became most popular due to a system first used by the Persians under Darius, through which he could communicate with all of his subjects even if he did not know their language. Darius and other Persian kings would speak in Persian to Aramaic speaking scribes, who would then write the letter in Aramaic and send it on a postal service, after which it would be picked up by the scribe on the receiving end, who would then read it to their master in their native tongue. This allowed for ease of communication despite language barriers through the use of intermediaries. This was so popular it was adopted by the Egyptians and they began their conquests up into the Near East, as they needed a way to communicate with their new found subjects. It was also the system used by Alexander the Great and his Diadochi successors, despite their attempts to replace Aramaic with Greek, an effort which failed in much of the Mesopotamia and Jordan, but effectively wiped Aramaic from Anatolia and Iran. Aramaic was so pervasive that it even survived in India, where the king Ashoka would have some of his engravings written in Aramaic alongside other languages.
     The chapter then goes on the discuss how many languages in the Near East survived by tying themselves to a single religion. This is the case with Egyptian (or Coptic) tying itself to the Coptic Christian faith, Syriac with the Nestorian faith (in fact Aramaic owes its entire continued existence to the perseverance of modern Nestorian communities), Hebrew with Judaism, and even Arabic with Islam. Early Christians spoke Aramaic, however the New Testament was written in Greek. Despite this, it was translated into Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, in an effort to spread Christianity to the east, where most people spoke forms of Aramaic. Through the method of tying language to religion, a language could survive even if other institutions supporting it should fail, through continued dedication to the faith they were tied to under its holy scriptures and preaching. This is exactly why Pennsylvanian Dutch, (aka Old German) has persevered in Amish communities in the US. To go along with the Hunters and Farmers strategies, this is described as the 'Shield of Faith' strategy.
     The rest of this section goes on to discuss how Arabic spread so rapidly on the backs of Islam and the conquests of Muhammed. It spread with its faith, as Muhammed declared that the Quran and daily prayers could only be written and read in Arabic (unlike Christianity), however an interesting phenomena occurred. It was found by many newly conquered peoples that Arabic was what they called an eloquent language, and many converted based solely on the fact that the words spoken seemed to have had to have been divinely inspired. Another interesting phenomena was that it was found that a single, noble Arabic existed in many regions to be used by the nobility, however hundreds of vernacular and small regional dialects began to appear under the large Arabic language. Another interesting factor was that Arabic was unable to penetrate Iran at all, because even though they were successful initially, the introduction of the Seljuk Turks to the region through conquest causes all their advances to fade away. Despite the Turks speaking Turkish, when the Turks first interacted with Islam and converted, they saw it as an extension of Persian, as Persians were with whom they interacted. This led the Turks who later conquered much of the Muslim world to return Persian as the language of administration in much of their empires, seeing it as what they believed to be the language of Islam. The Turks, too, held on to Turkish despite conversion. Arabic did, however, find success with the Berbers, by merging Arabic with their Punic (descended from Phoenician) languages. Despite this, many Berbers maintained their languages despite conversion, using Arabic solely as their language of faith. This ended when the Banu Hilal descended on the Berber kingdoms of North Africa and wiped them out, except for the Tuaregs of the Sahara.

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