Arabic was catapulted onto the world stage by the Arab-Islamic conquests of the 7th century CE. Within a few centuries, it was the international medium of science and communication. ‘Classical Arabic’, as this stage is called by modern scholars, has traditionally provided the lens through which the earliest documents of the Islamic period have been read (7th-9th centuries CE). Yet, these documents contain considerable variation, sometimes within a single text. Since Classical Arabic was only fully canonized in the 10th century CE, approaching the early Arabic papyri, and the variation attested in them, through this standard is anachronistic.
This project will employ statistical methods to identify significant correlations between varying features, to help understand the nature of the differences between Arabic’s earliest written form and the Classical Arabic standard, which developed centuries later. A central question of this project is: What scribal tradition(s) are reflected in the Arabic papyri from the 7th-9th centuries, and how does their language relate to later Classical Arabic? The results will bring into focus the landscape of written Arabic in the Islamic world before the canonization of Classical Arabic, and pave the way towards understanding the evolution of Arabic as a written language.