Sociohistorical and Linguistic Layers of Arabic in Medieval Cairo: The Case of Judaeo-Arabic. With Editions and Translations of Karaite Manuscripts of Judaeo-Arabic Popular Literature on Biblical and Qurᵓānic Prophets. Supplemented with Arabic Transliteration
This dissertation is based on a number of unpublished Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts written by the indigenous Karaite Jews of Egypt who lived in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo during the early modern era. These 17th- through 19th-century manuscripts, all of which seem to have been copied from earlier archetypes, display narratives about Biblical and Qurᵓānic prophets in poetry and prose. The narratives are adaptations of Jewish and Islamic sacred folklore, Biblical and Qurᵓānic exegetic material and medieval Arabic poetry which seem to have been transmitted orally before acquiring their present shape. Whereas the material exhibits features typical for the spoken variety employed in Cairo today and the normative language of Classical Arabic, the texts also hold many remnants of medieval Arabic linguistic features which have fallen out of contemporary spoken or literary use, or which can be considered non-standard or pseudo-correct.
This dissertation argues that Arabic vernacular features were initially adopted by the Jewish community during times of prosperity and a high level of rapprochement between Jews and Muslims, then, at a later stage during times of hardship, became maintained and fossilized in the dialect of the Jews. Many of these features appear to have been preserved by the Jewish Egyptian community, mainly due to its initially strong social, cultural and linguistic integration into society towards the peak of the so-called Islamic golden age around the 11th and 12th centuries, and later its equally strong segregation from the overall society when under Mamlūk and Ottoman rule, a situation which seems to have persisted until the days of Muḥammad ᶜAlī in the early-19th century. For this reason, whereas old features have fallen out of use in the variety of the overall society in Cairo, it is natural to believe that some of these have been preserved in the oral and literary heritage of the indigenous Karaite Jewish community.
Moreover, this dissertation discusses how language features such as these prove to correspond to dialects which are historically and demographically relevant to that of Cairo, as well as to waves of migration and other significant societal changes which have taken place in Egypt and Cairo since the Islamic conquest and until early modern times. As the title indicates, it attempts to identify and reconstruct historical and demographical layers of the Arabic language employed all through this period in Egypt, predominantly in Cairo, and to offer possible explanations for the emergence and development of particular written and spoken features — of a particular medieval vintage.