Doctoral defence: Imar Yacine Koutchoukali ""Our ʿirbīt is not like your ʿarabiyya" – Linguistic and socio-political change in late antique South Arabia (550 – 850 AD)"

On 8 December at 14:15 Imar Yacine Koutchoukali will defend his doctoral thesis "Our ʿirbīt is not like your ʿarabiyya" – Linguistic and Socio-Political Change in Late Antique South Arabia (550 – 850 AD)" for obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (in Religious Studies).

Supervisors:

Associate Professor Amar Annus, University of Tartu

Doctor Peter A. Webb, Leiden University (The Netherlands)

Doctor Iwona Gajda, The French National Centre for Scientific Research (France)

Opponent:

Doctor Peter Stein, Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany)

Summary

Before the 6th century, the thousands of inscriptions found in Yemen tell us in great detail about the peoples that lived in the region before the coming of Islam. These tell us about the wars their kings fought, the gods they worshipped, who they traded with and how they solved their legal issues. Moreover, most of the inscriptions were written in a language known as Sabaic. Sabaic was one of the Semitic languages, which also includes Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. By the 8th century, however, written Sabaic had fallen out of disuse and had been replaced by Arabic. A close study of the linguistic differences and similarities between the ancient inscriptions, the medieval Arabic material and even some of the dialects spoken in Yemen today helps us illuminate the South Arabian dark age. This linguistic evidence shows that speakers of Arabic already entered South Arabia in the 4th century AD, centuries before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. There, they came into significant contact with speakers of both local South Arabian languages as well as distinct linguistic varieties originating in east Africa. With the rise of Islam, the prestige of Arabic as a sacred and administrative language grew, and the local languages were pushed into the region’s remotest areas. At the same time, some memory of South Arabia’s pre-Islamic civilizations lingered. After the Islamic conquests, South Arabians sought to carve out a distinct identity as a part of the new ruling elite. They did so by recording folkloric traditions of their ancestors’ achievements, which they then propagated within the nascent Muslim community.

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