Arabic, Culture, and Ethnicity

Greg Fisher

in Between Empires

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199599271
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191724992 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Classical Monographs

Arabic, Culture, and Ethnicity

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This chapter explores the function of the Arabic language and its influence on notions of ethnic identity. It begins by establishing the low‐key role that ancient authors assigned to language in this regard, noting that the high‐profile connection between language and identity is very much a modern phenomenon. It surveys the evidence for Old Arabic, and revisits the Nemara inscription — one of the oldest Arabic inscriptions — to ascertain what it might say about ‘Arab’ identity. The chapter also examines the role of Arabic in Nabataea, the function and importance of other Arabic inscriptions in Syria, the pre‐Islamic oral poetry corpus, and so‐called ‘Ishmaelite’ and bedouin identities. The chapter notes that the lack of evidence precludes a definite statement of how any use of Arabic reflected any concrete notion of identity, but links its use and the evidence for increased political confidence, status, and visibility of Arab elites examined in chapter three.

Keywords: Nemara; Old Arabic; Ishmael; Syria; poetry; Arabic inscriptions; Nabataea; bedouin

Chapter.  19396 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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