chapter  15
The Prose Literature of Pre-Islamic Arabia
Pages 13

In a recent article (The Language ofthe Qur"ful, hereafter abbreviated to LQ)l I argued that the traditional pious equation that (a) the language of the Qur"an is identical with (b) the Carabiyya of early poetry on the one hand and with (c) the dialect of Quraysh, the spoken language of Mul)ammad, on the other, is both late - it appears to have become prevalent no earlier than the third/ninth century - and mistaken. Evidence that the equation with (b) cannot be correct was first assembled by Vollers (though his conclusions about it were mistaken);2 but even if we stop with the cautious view of Rabin 'that [the] literary diction [of the QUr"an] contains some elements of [the] spoken idiom of the milieu' ,3 we are at one remove from the language of poetry. The absence of rhyme and metre also have a considerable effect. On the other hand, the way that the mufassiriin specifically comment on the rare Meccan forms in the Quranic text is enough to invalidate the equation with (c). However, it is clear from the strong reaction of the Meccans that they understood the Qur"an even if they rejected its message, and I suggested that this was because there were other registers that were in common use and to which the language of the Qur"ful has much greater natural affinities. These were the registers of the soothsayer (ktihin), the orator (khatib) and story-teller (qti~~) and also, in Medinan material, that of the written documentary style. Incidentally, in this article I shall talk about both styles and registers, whereas in LQ, in which I was focusing on variations in linguistic levels, I referred largely to registers. This is really a question of emphasis: there is a considerable overlap between style, the way in which material is couched, and register, the level of language at which it is pitched.