This is Yemen History, Vol. 3 (Part 3) [Archives:2007/1058/Culture]

June 11 2007

By: Nisreen Shadad
“This is Yemen History” is a three-volume book written in Arabic by Yemeni history specialist Abdullah Al-Kumaim.

This third volume is devoted to theories, studies and new discoveries presenting the origins of human language, particularly Arabic. Al-Kumaim calls this volume “the Arabism of Yemen and the Qur'an” in order to bring back the Arabism of Yemen and Yemenis, especially after the wrong and deformed picture of Yemeni history.

As Al-Kumaim says, suspicion about the Arabism of Yemen means suspicion about the Arabism of Arabs as a whole. “Many books attack Yemeni history and its language, alleging that Yemenis aren't Arabs and their language isn't Arabic.”

The main points earlier peoples used to attack the language of Yemen are as follows: differing meanings for a single term and numerous nouns devoid of al-ta'areef (the definite article of 'the'). Additionally, several linguists claim that Ishmael was the first to speak Arabic.

The conflict began during the period of the companions' rule and became widespread year after year. As a result of hatred and envy, such conflicts usually disappeared, but another replaced it – an intellectual conflict, according to Al-Kumaim.

One assertion made by Zabban ibn Ammar, a poet of Al-Basra who was born in Mecca during the second half of the first century Hijra and died in Al-Basra in 770 A.D., was the subject of much controversy.

Ibn Ammar said, “The Himyar tongue, an ancient language spoken in Yemen, as well as all remote Yemeni regions' languages, are neither our tongue, nor is their Arabism ours,” meaning that the Arabism of Yemenis and their language are a far cry from the Arabism of other Arab countries.

“Although this saying doesn't directly express his refuting of the Arabism of Yemen, people use the surface meaning and deal with Yemenis according to the misrepresented concept,” Al-Kumaim explains.

The reason Ibn Ammar made this statement was because of the rich meaning of a single word, as there was a controversy about pre-Islamic literature between two schools: Al-Basra and Al-Kufa.

The word “thib” was one example used to prove Ibn Ammar's argument about the oddness of the spoken language in Yemen. It was claimed that an Arab from the desert went to the Yemeni city of Dhafar, which was ruled at that time by a king whose palace was located on a mountaintop summit. The man decided to visit the ruler as he passed through.

The king welcomed his guest, saying, “thib.” This term has numerous meanings, but the only one the man knew was “jump,” so he replied, “I will obey your command.” The king repeated, “thib,” so the man jumped to the ground from a high point of the palace and died.

The king was surprised at the man's action because, as all Yemenis know, the meaning of this term is: “Sit on a snug mattress.” (This second meaning is available in the Arab tongue book and Al-Taj book.)

In his book, Al-Kumaim refutes Ibn Ammar's claim, saying, “Zabban's admittance to the Arabism of Aad, who is actually Yemeni, contradicts his claim that all Arabs are Ishmael's sons because Aad was before Ishmael, so how can this be?”

In chapter one, Al-Kumaim describes the concept of linguistics and the origin and development of human language. He illustrates numerous theories explaining the origin of language, the first of which is that Adam (pbuh) spoke a language and subsequently taught his sons, according to Arab linguists Ibn Jini and Ibn Faris and the philosopher Heraclete.

The second theory involves those who say that language is not a talent or an inspiration, as the first group claims, because a group of wise people gathered and created the names of things. A third alleges that man is equipped with an instinct giving him the ability to talk.

A fourth theory, according to Mohammed Shahrur, is that language is a product of the human body's physiological development. According to another group of linguists, a fifth theory is that language originates from the sounds of surrounding creatures. Humans attempt to imitate sounds like the wind, thunder, water and animal sounds and consequently, create words. This is the theory of Ibn Jini.

A sixth theory reveals what linguists say about protohumans. American linguist Merritt Ruhlen is known for his work on the classification of languages and what this reveals about the origin and evolution of modern humans.

Al-Kumaim next talks in detail about the origin of ancient Arabic language, standard Arabic, which, according to him, is the last form of ancient Arabic, or al-Musnad.

Chapter two deals with the origins of Arabic script. As Al-Kumaim notes in his book, “Professor Jawad Ali summarized scholars' assertions in this field, saying the script's origin is Yemen. It then moved to Iraq and then Al-Hijaz, after which it covered most of the Arabian Peninsula.”

Chapter three is about the Arabism of the Qur'an and Yemen. In this chapter, Al-Kumaim also refutes the claims of Taha Hussein, who belittled Yemeni civilization. Chapters four and five are devoted to the ancientness of Arabic poetry in Yemen, as well as science.