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Languages of the Islamic World Language Classification: Macrolanguage and Diglossia: A macrolanguage is a grouping of closely related languages that may or may not be mutually intelligible, that is, speakers of one group may not understand the speakers of another another within the same macrolanguage. To facilitate communication speakers of a macrolanguage usually devise a standardized version for use in formal, public occasions, and especially for written communication. This standardized version is usually not spoken at home. A culture that is characterized by this multi-tier language use is called a diglossic culture. The culture of Arabic has been very strongly diglossic. Thus, Arabic is a macrolanguage, and its standardized public form is called Fusaha; its local varieties--which may be mutually unintelligible--have until recently been neither named not standardized—they are simply what one speaks at home, and in the streets. In addition to this, Islamic cultures have also been strongly diglossic across language boundaries. One example of this is the situation in the South Asian subcontinent—which consists of the modern nations of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. South Asian Muslims have traditionally had a 3-tier system of language use. They have used Fusaha Arabic for saying their prayers in the mosque or at a saint’s tomb. For bureaucratic and literary purposes S. Asian Muslims used Persian until the middle of the 19th century. For use at home and, other informal occasions, South Asian Muslims used a variety of local unnamed and unstandardized languages. These languages were named and standardized starting in the late- 18th century, and have come to be called ‘Urdu’ and ‘Hindi’. Since Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible we can see them as one spoken macro-language. Anatolia (modern Turkey) before the 20th century presents another example of a diglossic culture. Historically Turks used (and continue to use) Fusaha Arabic for saying prayers; for literary purposes they used a mixture of Turkish and Persian, sometimes increasing the content of Persian in their Turkish depending on the formality of the occasion—thus courtly Turkish was heavily Persianized. And, finally, for informal occasions they used varieties of unstandardized Turkish. What this means is that we cannot simply equate Islamic cultures with Arabic language. Muslims do indeed recognize the centrality of Fusaha Arabic since the Quran was revealed in it, but historically Muslims in different parts of the world have used, not just another language, but combinations of other languages for different contexts. And these combinations have themselves changed over time. For example, South Asian and Turkish Muslims no longer use Persian in any context: formal or informal, bureaucratic or literary. Language classification depends on several issues which we can choose to emphasize or de- emphasize: should we take mutual intelligibility to be a criterion for a language? Which slice of time do we focus on for our classification—the modern Muslim community, or the Muslim community in the past? And if in the past, then which slice of time do we choose? Do we classify language size according to the number of speakers who grow up speaking that language (first-language), or the number of speakers who learn the language and achieve fluency in it through education--as many South Asian and Anatolian Muslims did achieve in Persian when it was considered the language of prestige and courtly elegance? The results will vary tremendously depending on which issues we choose to include or exclude. For example, if mutual intelligibility is not a criterion, then in the modern Islamic world Fusaha Arabic, with its roughly 221 million speakers, is hands down the largest Islamic language. But if mutual intelligibility is a criterion then Hindi-Urdu, with its 82 million speakers, is the largest language grouping in the Islamic world, and Egyptian Arabic is the second largest, with 54 million speakers; which puts Egyptian Arabic barely ahead of Turkish with its 50 million speakers. Literary Cultures of Classical Islam: All of the above is the case only if we focus on the modern period—after, say, the first part of the 19th century. If we focus on the historical sweep of Islamic culture in the millennium between 1000 CE up to beginning of 19th century then the picture is different again. In this millennium—which we can call the period of mature or classical Islam--the biggest rival to the dominance of Arabic was not Hindi-Urdu, but Persian. The world in which Persian was considered the language of learning, prestige and bureaucracy was much larger than simply the modern nations of Iran and Afghanistan. South Asia and Anatolia were both active participants in the Persianate world, as were the urban centers of Samarqand, Bukhara and Khiva (in modern Uzbekistan). The Persianate world stretched from the city of Istanbul in the west to Bangladesh in the east, and Uzbekistan in the north. If we define a language area in terms of the number of users--whether first-language or not--, then Persian was arguably the largest Islamic language—larger than Arabic, for Muslims in all of South Asia, Anatolia, Central Asia and the Iranian plateau were learning and using Persian for literary and bureaucratic purposes. Of course, this was a fully diglossic world in which local languages also played a part in the experience of a Muslim; the dominant language, however, was Persian, and this was the case whether one was a Muslim or not. In other words, Persian became the vehicle through which non-Muslims in this part of the world were introduced to Islamic norms of behavior. If you lived anywhere in this wide swath of the world—say in 17th century Bukhara--you would learn Persian in school, but would come home and speak Uzbeg to your kids. You would draw up a legal document--like a will--in Persian. The role of Arabic in your experience, however, would be very limited. You might say your prayers in Fusaha Arabic, having learnt passages from the Quran by heart, but you would be unable to speak Arabic for any practical purposes. In the Persianate world the one thing that would have been expected of you was to know the tradition of Persian lyric poetry (ghazal) well enough to quote it orally at different formal and informal social occasions. In other words, a knowledge of Persian poetry became the link between the educated, urban classes of cities as diverse as Istanbul, Bukhara, Samarqand, Isfahan, Herat, Lahore, Delhi and Dacca. The tradition of ghazal poetry that we will be looking at came to fruition in the Persianate world by around 1000 CE and was then imitated within the local languages of this region: Turkish, Urdu, Uzbeg, Hindi and Pashto. Modern Islamic Languages: Mutual intelligibility not an issue According to the numbers of 1st language speakers. Macro-language Speakers in millions Primary Countries Arabic varieties 221 Egypt, Algeria (Arab League) Urdu 60.6 India, Pakistan, England Turkish 50.8 Turkey Persian 31.4 Iran, Afghanistan Indonesian 23 Indonesia Hindi 21 India, England Uzbeg 20.3 Uzbekistan Pashto 20 Afghanistan, Pakistan Modern Islamic Languages: Mutual intelligibility an issue According to the numbers of 1st language speakers Urdu-Hindi 82 India, Pakistan, England Egyptian Arabic 54 Egypt Turkish 50.8 Turkey Persian 31.4 Iran, Afghanistan Indonesian 23 Indonesia Varieties of Macro-language Arabic: Egyptian 54 Egypt Algerian 22.4 Algeria Moroccan 21 Morocco Saidi 19 Egypt Sudanese 16.8 Sudan Mespotamian 15 Iraq N. Levantine 14.4 Syria Najdi 10 Saudi Arabia Arab League Members: Established:1945. Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, Yemen. Source of Information: Ethnologue.
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